How Women Can Drive Important Change

Anna Ryott—Deputy CEO of Norrsken Foundation and the most influential female society changers of 2018 according to Veckans Affärer—shares how women can make this world a better place.

As one of the distinguished speakers at SACCNY’s Executive Women’s Luncheon 2018, she is part of a rare breed of incredible people who have Midas’ touch in whatever she pursues. Equally sharp as the Deputy CEO of the advertising firm Storåkers McCann in 2001 to 2007, she is powerfully effective in the same role at Norrsken today—one of Europe’s largest hubs for social entrepreneurship. The savvy businesswoman-slash-social-entrepreneur spared a few moments before her presentation at the luncheon to talk about her experience; importance of women; and other major driving forces for a better world.

How did you make the switch from a career in finance to your current role?
A question like this involves a multi-part answer. First, it began with a conscious decision ten years ago when I realized that I wanted to make this world a better place. After building a successful business career as a management consultant at McKinsey and Deputy CEO at advertising firm Storåkers McCann, I asked myself: ‘How can I channel my experience and knowledge to change this world for the better?’ This is where the challenge began.

To make the actual switch, it required a combination of openness, careful assessment of the global environment and understanding of my own expertise. For seven years, I worked at SOS and UNICEF fighting for children’s rights. During that time as I traveled extensively to Africa and Asia, I discovered my calling. It dawned on me that in order to prevent these children from getting abandoned, I must fight the root cause—poverty. It is through rescuing these children’s parents from their predicaments that I can truly help these children. This epiphany led me to focusing my efforts on investing in the private sector in Africa and Asia, which creates more job opportunities for people in need—as I became CEO of the government-owned Swedfund and most recently the Deputy CEO of Norrsken.

In sum, my richly diverse background; personal conviction; plus involvement in the business, social and political sectors are what equipped me for dealing with the complexity of my leadership role at Norrsken today.

What are the essential ingredients of a successful social enterprise?
An effective social enterprise is about solving global problems. In order to do that, we need to identify and analyze the issues, find new ideas and resolve them effectively. That being said, having a great solution to a global challenge is not sufficient, we also need a viable business model to make the approach sustainable. This is why, striking a balance of expertise—between the innovative entrepreneurial sector and the practical business sector—is absolutely critical in building a successful social enterprise.

Why do you think it is important to have more women in leadership roles?
To fully appreciate the importance of bringing more women into business and investing in female entrepreneurs, one must stop seeing it as just an inclusive goal. If an organization wants to create strong, positive change and deliver groundbreaking development, recruiting more female leaders is key. I firmly believe women have all the tools necessary to be great ambassadors, investors and owners of fantastic companies.

What is the best way to increase female leaders in the workforce?
In the business world, change goes where the money flows. As it stands, 50 percent of our members at Norrsken are women, which is a lot when it comes to entrepreneurs. However, still nearly all the investors are men. Therefore, if we want to increase female leadership in the workforce, we have to make sure that women are influencing decisions as owners, and investors as well as entrepreneurs. Then, that is where real change happens. On the bright side, I have noticed that solving global problems is becoming most lucrative in today’s business climate. Given female entrepreneurs are typically more focused on saving the world and benefitting society, there is hope that many of these entrepreneurs could become big investors further down the road.

How would you encourage those who feel helpless about driving this change?
As someone who chose to work at Norrsken because of our mutual focus on driving change, I can understand why one could feel helpless in certain situations. Nevertheless, running the risk of contradicting myself, I would remind those people that everyone can help—no matter what or where they work. I would urge them to understand how gender equality could lead to bigger, more important changes to the workforce as a whole. If we do not get more women into the workforce as leaders or investors, we will never move forward.

With technology as a helpful tool, one can do more than what is expected. The importance is not hinged on how big or small your role is, it is just about getting started—so use your power to make a change!

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