Encountering Difference in Denmark

IDCN Encountering Difference_front page

On 23 November 2018, I was invited to give a motivational speech or presentation at one of the quarterly International Dual Career Network (IDCN) events on career branding, which was being held at Aalborg University Copenhagen Campus. IDCN is an international organization present in several cities in Europe as well as New York, Dubai, Mexico City, Singapore and Hong Kong. Each IDCN location is managed by a committee, cleverly made up of highly skilled and well-educated volunteer partners as well as corporate mentors.

I was not sure what the make up of the audience would be … or so I thought … when I asked the people before me about their status in Denmark, I realized that I did in fact have a preconceived idea that the majority would be professionals with mid to short-term plans of being in Denmark. It was in fact about 50-50.

The first presentation was by Catarina Bettencourt, co-founder of the hugely successful World Kitchen – a series of dinners and talks that celebrate diversity in Aalborg, Denmark’s third largest city. Catarina’s presentation was a very personal account of a her life and career path in Denmark, including all of the rules that she did not follow and the massive obstacles she faced. At this point in her journey, Catarina is happily employed at Aalborg University and last year, her World Kitchen initiative won the prestigious Ebbe Kløvedal Reichs Demokratistafet, an award given to individuals or organisation that make a notable contribution to the pursuit of democracy in Denmark.

My presentation, which followed Catarina’s, focused on acknowledging our privileged statuses and making sure to tend to our individual basic needs when encountering difference in Denmark. Among other things, I reflected on the importance of embracing one’s own identity, culture and difference, while embracing and accepting aspects of Danes and Denmark that may sometimes be challenging in everyday life.

Video produced for IDCN by Serena Faccio

The next presenter, Chanette Hemdrup Jakobsen also from Aalborg University, gave a wonderful presentation of her education-work-life path and did a great job of highlighting the importance of recognizing the value of the unintended outcomes of the work-life choices we make. Both Chanette and Catarina encouraged the audience to focus on the aspects of their careers and life path that make their profile different to other people’s. They did a great job of highlighting that when career branding, it is important to take the time to explore how one’s differences can benefit the organisations one is applying to or creating in the pursuit of employment.

The final presentation was by business advisor, Zikoh Jean-Luc Kouassi-Zessia. Zikoh gave the audience a great introduction to Københavns Erhvervshus (Business House Copenhagen), which is a free service offered to Copenhagen residents. Advisors at the House support and advise residents on their businesses in the start-up, operational and development phase, on different topics such as for example financing, marketing, sales, leadership and especially in relation to recruitment.

After a light lunch participants had the opportunity to network. I parked myself at a table and had the pleasure of  speaking to lawyer Serena Faccio, CSR professional Nadia Partatila, Chef and Food Expert, Adele Clermont and lawyer and writer, Dr Charanjit Singh. I also had wonderful conversations with several other people who I look forward to being in touch with in the future.

Many of the participants felt that the success of the event lay in the triangulation of personal accounts of how, as internationals, Catarina, Chanette and I got to where we are today, with practical advice from Zikoh from Business House Copenhagen, and the networking sessions that rounded off the event.

I left Aalborg University feeling that Copenhagen and Denmark are so fortunate to have such talented people among its resident population and also with a desire to participate in more of these types of events. The event highlighted that in the pursuit of employment, reminding ourselves of our humanity and having the opportunity to own and share our vulnerabilities in a safe space is not only liberating on a personal level, but also empowering on a professional level.

I look forward to meeting you on another occasion …