Sweden Uses Social Media to Connect with MENA Countries

The Swedish Institute (SI) is a public agency that promotes interest in Sweden. One of the major goals for establishing the SI is to create mutual relationships with other countries around the world. In order to achieve that, awareness of and interest in Sweden must increase. The SI believe that contacts and strong networks increase sharing and application of knowledge and innovative ideas to all areas; whether they be trade, culture or even politics. That has set the ground for the birth of the Young Leaders Visitors Program (YLVP), a program that uses social media at its core in order to lay a foundation for dialogue, mutual understanding and knowledge-sharing among young opinion-makers from different Arab countries and Sweden.

The Danish Cartoons highlights Cultural Barriers

Young Leaders Visitors Program

Young Leaders Visitors Program

Being the northern neighbor of Denmark, Sweden felt the heat of the aftermath of the cartoon facade. Cultural barriers and common misconceptions aggravated the cartoon problem and left the Danish government with no clue of how to handle the rage of Muslims around the world while at the same time maintaining their own values of sacred freedom of speech. Denmark has most probably been very -let’s say- unlucky, but what are the chances that a similar problem would hit Sweden next time? There are obviously big cultural and moral differences between countries around the world, differences that may just spin out of hand and turn into a huge financial and economical loss.

Would stronger communication channels and networks help?

The huge risk of a similar problem necessitates better communication channels and stronger networks. That is exactly where the YLVP program excels. Started in 2008 – with yearly iteration in mind – the YLVP brings around 25-30 young entrepreneurs from different Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries and Sweden together in an attempt to build a stronger network. The selection criteria of the participants focus mainly on their level of engagement with their local societies through different media outlets  (newspapers, blogs, film making, …etc) and their passion towards human rights and human development related issues.

The Young Leaders Visitors Program Focus Areas

The program focuses on improving the participants’ leadership and social media skills in order to empower them with the needed tools to maximize their reach. It tries to build knowledge related to theoretical and practical perspectives on democracy and human rights issues through lectures, seminars and workshops by prominent speakers. Moreover, the YLVP provides practical experience through assigned  projects run throughout the program in combination with study visits to Swedish authorities, organizations and institutions that work in the spheres of culture, society, business and politics.

Through lectures, the participants are encouraged to start their own blogs and twitter accounts. They have daily tasks that involve reporting their experience in Sweden (which is part of the SI mission of sharing Sweden with the world), and researching /coming up with ideas for a future social networking platform that would help improve the level of freedom of speech around the world.

Social Media to empower young leaders for positive change

The result is a passionate network of young leaders with strong social media skills that help them share and support each other through their own endeavors in their respective countries. One can listen to the conversations of those young leaders over twitter by searching for the #ylvp hashtag and by reading their blogs.

YLVP Participants

YLVP Participants

“Via the Young Leaders Visitors Program, the Swedish Institute is embarking on the highly important task of strengthening the blog movement in the Middle East,” says Javeria Rizvi Kabani, the YLVP Project Manager at SI.

By strengthening the blog movement in the Middle East, the Swedish Institute has guaranteed better open channels of communication with people in the region. Thank you Javeria for acknowledging the strength of social media in taking the relations of different nations to a whole new level.

Below is a list of some of the blogs of the participants in the YLVP program

Would Social Media help in breaking cultural barriers? Would people use it smartly to communicate their differences rather than promote racism and share anger and hatred? Sweden has set a precedence for using social media to communicate its values with the world and promote human rights and freedom of speech. Do you think other countries should follow?

Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.

Comments and Reactions

11 responses to “Sweden Uses Social Media to Connect with MENA Countries”

  1. ulul says:

    Dear Fadi, I am very impressed by how you, as always, manage to compose such a clear and convincingly engaging article about this somehow complex project… I really do agree with your main point: a strong network can help both the individual participants and the wider societys around them, in all countries, to develop better communications and relations. Isolation has never proved to be a good method to understand each other in the world, has it… ;)
    And the opportunity we have got through YLVP to actually build bridges and networks, is outstanding. To me personally it has been a true luxury. To all these new people in my life;i hope you know how much you have opened my eyes… in so many ways. I am forever grateful for being accepted as your friend. And i will stick with you, whether you like it or not, for as long as i live. Be so sure :)
    Thank's Fadi for publishing this text. It is important to remember how good and strong we can be togheter. I like it.

  2. salima says:

    Very breif and clear article ,so you are an expert in social media tools ,that's cool ,can you teach me how to use twitter i'm still enable to love it .
    Salima (YLVP partcipant 2009)

  3. hibafarhat says:

    I'd like to hope that we can really rework the world we are living in to better suit our humanity. Certainly, I am hopeful that we can fight authoritarian regimes that continuously create borders and boundaries for young activists to prevent them from communicating together…
    Anonymous YES, but invisible NO!

  4. FadiPick says:

    ullll, that is so sweet from you. You are the kindest person ever :)

    The YLVP is just a great program that really breaks cultural barriers. Cultural barriers that sometimes can be enormous to prevent people from seeing the human side of each other. That is were social media comes in had, it brings people from all over the world face to face in order to embrace their differences and celebrate their humanity.

    The YLVP has been able to create a great network of young passionate people to take on social problem and really make change.

    I will make sure to keep you stuck with me as long as I live :)

  5. FadiPick says:

    Hey Salima, actually twitter is a very cool and effective social media tool. It is very easy to use but you need to give it sometime in order to get used to it. I would recommend you to follow the YLVP participants and engage with their conversations first. I am sure that with no time, you will get hooked to it :)

  6. FadiPick says:

    Hiba, having people with such energy, passion and creativity like you, I am sure that we can fight whatever challenges we may face. Keep it up! :)

  7. Fadi,

    Interesting article, thanks!
    In Germany the Max-Planck-Institute had set up a similar event that was aimed at educating Lawyers, Judges, University professors etc. from the post-war Afghanistan. I attended one of those meetings in 2004 and learned from my fellow Afghans that they sometimes had the feeling they were being indoctrinated with issues going against the Shariah. I guess that's an important issue to consider, especially in a time of cartoons, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the problems with Iran and other highly sensitive topics.
    I like the idea behind the YLVP and hope similar events take place in the future – wishing you all the best!


    P.S.: Just followed you on Twitter – congratulations on the @aplusk effect on thoughtpick.com :-)

  8. FadiPick says:

    Hi Rias, did the max-planck-institute event focus on social media? SM has powerful tools to sustain such networks.

    Yes, I hope other institutes follow the lead of the SI, it is a great idea :)

    I follow you back now on Twitter :)

  9. Max-Planck-Institute: No, that was a pure political thing and didn't involve anything else. I was just showcasing how Western influence is sometimes perceived by our people, even if it's meant in good faith.
    Twitter: Thanks for the follow :-)

  10. bathmateus says:

    This is wonderful posting. Thank you.


  11. webroalty says:

    Very good posting. I just love it.
    Good luck man with your work.


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