An international perspective on the pandemic from a Canadian living in Sweden

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I’m a Canadian, and I have been living in Sweden for the best part of the last 10 years. Many parts of Swedish life feel quite comfortable and familiar to me. Both countries love nature and sports, both countries place a high value on family, and both believe in the welfare of the community and therefore have a fairly large social net.

With this foundation- my Viking husband and I find lots of common ground. Our biggest arguments naturally come during the national hockey playoffs.

Rewind to March 2020. Corona has just hit. The US, the UK and most of Europe have closed their schools overnight. And Canada has also announced that they are closing their schools. I call my sister in law (a teacher in Toronto) and she confirms the news.

I search frantically for the news that Sweden will also close its schools. I hit refresh a dozen times. And the news doesn’t come. In fact - Sweden is telling us our kids (4 and 10) have to go to school.

What? One of the reasons I love Sweden is how highly it values kids and family. This just doesn’t feel right.

I am confused.

I feel like a child of divorced parents. Mom is telling me to stay home, and Dad is telling me to go to school.

Who do I listen to? And if I listen to one does that mean that I don’t love the other parent just as much?

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I look up from my computer at my Viking husband. It’s decision time.

At the time there wasn’t enough information to make a fact based decision. We ultimately decided to be cautious and keep the kids home from school.

Phew! International trade war evaded.

4 weeks later post-Easter we revisited the decision. Sweden remained (one of) the only western countries with its schools open. Its strategy has been to take a more holistic approach in accordance with its value of societal harmony.

I had expected that Sweden would have followed the rest of the world on closing down its school for small kids. And the rest of the world would have come to closer agreement on big things like the importance of testing and the role of masks. I was expecting that someone would make the decision for me.

But I was wrong.

This time the decision on whether or not to send our kids to school felt harder. Mom and Dad still didn’t agree, in fact they felt further apart than before. And each of our neighbour countries were following their own unique solutions. Some chose strategies that were more based on science. Others had different priorities. And no one really took on the job as global leader or mediator.

So how was I going to choose?

I turned to my girlfriends and family who live scattered across the globe. We zoomed one-on-one and in groups. These were not only therapeutic, they were essential. I learned that what we each took for a given in our home countries was not being discussed in the same way in other countries- be it Canada and the US, to the UK, Germany and Spain to as far as China and Australia.

Despite being curious and well read, we were unknowingly and unwillingly in information bubbles. In hindsight this feels like it was inevitable. At the time it felt shocking and jarring.

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Due to this I started to read more from a broader range of than my usual ‘go to’ news sources. And I reached out further in my network and talked to doctors and psychologists in other countries to check what they were seeing with COVID and kids. I also looked at Swedish data and talked to Swedish teachers to understand how to interpret the numbers that were being reported.

In the end, my Viking and I decided to send our kids back to school. We decided to prioritize the well being of the kids and as a counter measure we were extra vigilant with social distancing/ isolation. After all of the collaboration- we knew instinctively that this was the right decision.

I respect everyone that would have or has made a different decision. This still isn’t black and white. We did what was right. For us.

This was the first big crisis that our tribe (largely in our 40’s) have lived through. This experience has shown me that we are collectively both as citizens and as a society woefully unprepared. For the coronavirus. And any other type of global crisis.

It feels like we in the middle of a trust deficit right now. Trust levels in governments in many countries are low which weakens their toolkit to respond to a crisis. Trust in facts and science is also low, so misinformation spreads too quickly. And when people don’t feel that they can trust, fear emerges. As people and countries become scared, we turn inward and shut ourselves off from our neighbours which in turn shuts off the power of empathy and collaboration.

It’s a vicious spiral that we are in. And I feel compelled to find a way to help course correct. My experience to date has highlighted how critical collaboration is … and how we need to do this across borders more than ever before.

As part of my journey to see what I could do- I encountered the Grey Swan Guild. This is a global collaboration network of over 700 thought leaders from over 50 countries with a common desire to ‘make sense of this new world’. The group came together at the start of the COVID-19 crisis — and their mission is to discuss the impact of this crisis and look at the road ahead.

As an example of the work we are doing- here is the prediction of the Sensemaker group on what other ‘Grey Swan’ events might happen. (Grey Swan Event: a potentially significant event that is unlikely to happen but possible. Grey Swans should be anticipated because of their potential impact on civilization).

I believe strongly that while this might be the first big crisis of my 40+ years, it won’t be my last. What do we need to do to be better prepared next time? How do we create a better playbook for our kids?

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Like the discussions with my girlfriends — the discussions with this group are both informative, nourishing and inspiring. I’m convinced that the only way we can make the future better is through collaboration- and this group is a great place to start.

The Grey Swan Guild has an impressive and ambitious agenda in front of it. If you are interested in tackling some of the biggest questions, we are recruiting more futuristic and international thinkers to collaborate with. If this sounds interesting, there are many ways to participate. Hop over to our website, become a Guild member and join our global change agent group in our attempt to help make sense of this changing world!


Kim Lindqvist comes from Toronto Canada and has her MBA from Harvard. Kim has 20+ years of experience as transformative leader in international consumer goods organizations spanning three continents, working with building some of the world’s best brands. Her focus has been on driving growth and architectural change through leveraging innovation, technology and culture. In 2018, she founded Blooming Advisory — which focuses on emerging technologies, trends and cultural shifts. Kim works with companies on defining the organization’s purpose, vision and strategic planning.

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