Pegah Afsharian and Natassia Fry met in 2012 when they both worked with the same integration project. At the end of the project, they went on a trip with a few common friends where they got to know each other further and quickly became friends. That’s where the idea first was planted: “what if we could continue working with this?”. They both came together in the frustration over the short-term solutions in the projects that were conducted at the time and also over the general view on what integration is.
The new friends felt that the integration work they knew of at the time was rooted in a framework of the established swede being a guide or a mentor for the new swede, who should be helped. But that’s not what integration is, according to Pegah and Natassia, it’s about both parts integrating, and interacting, with one and another. Pegah tells us: “It’s not until the meeting happens when we can both include and feel included in our society. So, we created Kompis Sverige which would work with long term based solutions, we would not be dependent on project founding and we wanted to create equal meetings where everyone who becomes part of Kompis Sverige are called “buddies”.
We wanted to change the view on what integration is.Pegah Afsharian, Co-founder
The personal incentive and what happens if we do not connect
Pegah tells us about how her parents came to Sweden in the 80’s and that she herself witnessed their journey of integrating into society. Through their experience she gained an understanding of the importance of the first Swedish contact who can function as a link to society – someone to speak Swedish with and who introduces you to the culture. Pegah’s burning interest in integration grew from this which also led to her involvement in multiple integration projects. Another thing that motivates Pegah is her gratitude to Sweden: “The contrast between the life my cousins live and the life I have in Sweden has always made me feel very privileged. A very strong motivation for me has always been how I can contribute to a better Sweden.”
Natassia’s involvement in this matter grew from the existing conflicting forces in society. She noticed an increasing number of negative opinions towards people coming to Sweden. This frustration, in combination with her interest in societal issues, led to her engagement in integration. She realized very quickly that there lies a great strength in bringing people together and that the meetings which are created hold the power to break preconceptions and the us-versus-them-mindset.
Pegah describes what happens with a society if we don’t connect with each other: “I think it would become a society where we all live parallel lives. It becomes a society where preconceptions are made, it creates an “us-versus-them”, and in the worst case we will dehumanize each other. Our preconceptions become more extreme, and we can turn quite black and white in the way we see each other.” They both realized quickly how The Buddy Program could work as a force against these negative trends. Both parties also get the opportunity to feel like they are part of a social context. To have this feeling is important in order to stay healthy, happy and motivated.
The beginning and to help each other out
Starting a non-profit organisation does indeed come with some challenges, but they both describe the first year as an incredibly fun time. They spent the nights at the same extra job and during the rest of the time, they worked with Kompis Sverige. In other words, the first six months of Kompis Sverige were completely driven in a non-profit way.
“It hasn’t been all easy but looking back I’ve never felt lonely and that’s because we’ve always been two. I feel so lucky that Natassia is who I started it with. I can’t imagine a better person to start an organisation with. Natassia is so prestigeless, intuitive and purpose driven. And we have always had the same core foundation in that Kompis Sverige should be purpose driven and that we shouldn’t talk too much, but rather act instead”, Pegah says.
A lot changed when Botkyrka municipality in November 2013 joined as a collaborative partner. It gave new possibilities and started a perseverance that laid the foundation for the organisation’s work. It also meant that Pegah and Natassia could check out a part time salary for their work with Kompis Sverige. The collaboration with Inkludera also meant a lot: “Inkludera helped us in the beginning with bringing everything together in a way which made it easier for us to communicate with the recipients and municipalities, and facilitated what we have to offer. And they also helped us argue for why it helps the municipalities to achieve the missions they have towards their inhabitants.”, Natassia explains.
Receiving help from people along the way and including those who have been just as engaged in the matter has been of great importance for Kompis Sverige to become what it is today. It has been the easiest to ask for help when it comes to areas they don’t know themselves, both explains. They talk about it in terms of openness. You cannot possibly know in advance exactly what the journey will look like. Instead, you have to stay flexible, let the road guide you and not be afraid to ask for help on the way.
If you genuinely succeed with keeping your focus on the purpose, your ”why”, then everything will fall into place and be easy and fun.Natassia Fry, Co-founder
We asked both of them what they are the proudest of. Natassia explains: “Seeing others’ commitment for this organization we have started. It wouldn’t matter if I quit today because others will carry on this goal, purpose and passion. We have become so many. And not only in the team but also in the municipalities we work with, our buddies and volunteers. It’s so cool.” Pegah’s answer comes quickly, and she explains how she feels the proudest when thinking about all the meeting and connections created when people share about the friends they have met thanks to the organization. She also expresses pride in the low staff turnover, that many volunteers and collaborating partners have stayed multiple years. For example, Botkyrka municipality changed everything when they joined back in 2013 and still today remains a strong collaboration, ten years later.
When Pegah and Natassia look back on their journey and everything that has happened during these ten years, they both describe a feeling of great gratitude. A gratitude towards everyone who has been engaged, who stay engaged in the matter, and for everything in life that led them here. They also describe the strength in always crossing bridges when they arrive at them and figuring out stuff along the way. At the same time they express a clear frustration over the amount of work that is yet to be done. The job is far from finished; this is only the beginning.
The dreams for Kompis Sverige’s future are big. Among a few things, they wish to be able to make sure that everyone, regardless of where in Sweden you live, will get the possibility to access this type of platform which Kompis Sverige offers. There are also international dreams of bringing the Kompis Sverige-method to other countries in order to create more inclusive societies.
Where will we be in ten years? Tag along and let’s find out together!