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Dialogue #2 - Alexandra Hvalgren, Visionsfonden

Welcome to this next episode of Dialogue with This Is Helsingborg, a video series where I chat with different people from around the city about projects, ideas, initiatives but mostly about community engagement. In this episode, I speak with Alexandra Hvalgren of Visionsfonden about how Sweden's only such community fund works and what goes on behind the scenes!

The next deadlines for Visionsfonden are February 21, August 15 and October 31. You can read more here on our website. Find them on Facebook and Instagram here.


If you prefer reading the interview, here is the full transcript:

Parul - So it's been great to see that, every time I see the list of people who got it, there's more international names and it's really really nice to see that people are finally trying and getting it.

Alexandra - Yeah and that has been so important to me that this is a fund for everyone in Helsingborg, not a selective part of the city who has a background in specific departments or sectors. You don't have to have any experience to do this. You just have to have that new way of seeing the city.

Parul - Hi and welcome to this next episode of dialogue with This is Helsingborg. This is a video series where I talk to people from across the city running projects, initiatives, community engagement ideas and innovation. I would have loved to do this in real life but if anything 2020 has taught us, it is that to improvise.

So I'm here sitting with my coffee, well my tea and I'm very excited to have this conversation with Alexandra Hvalgren from Visionsfonden. I'm sure most of you already met her or know of her or have seen her. Alexandra is the idea coach and the facilitator at Visionsfonden, also called the Vision Fund.

Thank you Alexandra for being here, very excited for this conversation.

Alexandra - Thank you that was an amazing presentation. I never had and it's nice people talk about me and I'm also drinking tea, so we have that in common too.

Parul - So my first question would be what is Vision in the Vision Fund?

Alexandra - That's a great question to start with. Okay in 2012, a new journey began for the city of Helsingborg because then everyone who works within the city, were asked to do some kind of work about a greater vision for the city and its future.

And in 2014, it was set so we now have a vision it's called Vision Helsingborg 2035. And if I could sum it up it's about that the city should be more equal, it should be more creative you should be more global but it should also be more sustainable. It's huge big words that you can use them almost anywhere and any how.

But it's a beautiful picture to see a city grow into a much more modern sustainable way of handling all of the challenges that we are seeing today so Visionsfonden has been active for almost eight years now.

Parul - Wow!

Alexandra - And granted over 120 projects and usually it's always two people working with the same projects and so we had a lot of people passing by the Vision fund and the vision.

Parul - Wow, This is Helsingborg is existent because of the Vision fund and I have to thank you and the municipality for this journey that I've had in the last one year. But what kind of projects, have you seen a change in the kind of projects from the beginning eight years to now? I mean what is that journey been like?

Alexandra - Absolutely. If it's something that we know it is that the fund is really sensitive to trends and what's happening in society. In 2014, it was a completely different wind in politics and in the culture sector. And also when it comes to media and press we were not using Instagram and Facebook like the way we're doing today.

So in the beginning, it was mostly projects that was very linked to culture like theaters, documentary films, books and things like that but as the funds grow and it's word of mouth, it's started to be more innovative projects, it was a bit more helping refugees to build their own bike and it began to be a bit more about integration. We've also seen that it has been a lot of about um how do you say this in English? Psykisk ohälsa?

Parul - Mental Health.

Alexandra - Mental health, thank you. We saw that a lot in 2016-2017 and last year was a big smash in the face for everyone. And then we opened up the fund towards if you had a project that could help the Corona crisis somehow in Helsingborg you can get funding in a lot shorter time that we usually do and then we got amazing projects.

For example, we have this mobile sound gallery. The project is not done yet because they're walking around in elderly homes. It's a mobile gallery to show sound, artistic sound music which is a really really small genre in the artistic field in Sweden, and they're doing that outside just to give them something.

So it's all about projects that makes the society better, and that is creative and is creating something new that is the most important thing, and then it could be in any sector.

Parul - Yeah I mean it's amazing when I look through the kind of projects that have happened over the last few years. You've got tech and innovation and on the other hand, like you said there's culture, here's books. I remember there was the skating tours in the city.

Alexandra - Yeah yeah I mean it's just so amazing.

Parul - So what happens behind the scenes, when you get projects what is it like? Is it the same jury every time or how does that work?

Alexandra - It's a bit of a complex story so please hear me out. I'm all ears. Okay. When we get all of the applications it's always very like everyone's super excited and everyone's feeling some kind of it's a very bubbly feeling to have all of those applications in your hand.

And then we have three different groups who are a part of the application process first of all we have about seven people who all work with innovation in the city. They read everything from everyone and we do a selection which we think should go forward in the process and then in the next group, we have a representative from every different department from the city.

So we have someone from the school, from the health department but also someone from the city planning's office and we basically make a selection that I present and pitch for the board. And then we sit and talk pros and cons with every project who gives back the most, like what value has the different project both when it comes to the money part but also when it comes to that we call it the innovation height. Like how innovative is this, how creative is it and then I do the presentation for the board group and the board group is all the Directors of the city. So all of the bosses and it's the City Director who is the president of the group. So this is one of the most wonderful parts with Visionsfonden for me is because everyone in the hierarchy knows about the projects.

Parul - Wow so it's quite complex! It's not that easy as I thought that you just apply and then there's a meeting.

Alexandra - No, I think we're around 30 to 40 people who read all the applications and we usually get around 40 to 50 applications each time and we have three sets of applications every year because we have three deadlines a year.

Parul - Wow that's really something! And have you seen a trend or change in the number of internationals who are applying? Are you getting more applications in English or other languages for that matter?

Alexandra - So happy you're asking me this question because yes and I worked really hard for this one.

When I started three-four years ago it was like this group of people who applied and got the money and they all came from the kind of same background. So the first thing I did was to go to different event spaces and different communities and I said hi this is my job I would love to help people that have ideas and community managers, all of the city helped me find the right people that had really new perspectives.

And then I went to all different parts of Helsingborg, not only the city and then you find people that come from other countries from other regions and has a unique perspective of looking at a city and at Helsingborg. And that is the best part of my job to find, you to find people like you who's like hidden diamonds.

And they're just one to do stuff and have this amazing ambition and drive. And you just want to channelize that. Yeah, and funding is one way to do that absolutely.

Parul - I remember, my project was approved in 2019 and when we had the welcome lunch, I was the only non-swede on that table. Ah okay. And ever since you know I've met so many people and I've chatted with so many people who have these ideas and some of them, you know that they're not going to get it, but I think the important part is to try and even fail. I didn't get it on my first try but I remember you telling me that you know try again you never know.


Visionsfonden and H22 are going to work on several projects until the summer of 2022. And that is for a lot of reasons because okay, H22, and this is me trying to explain a very complex thing but H22 it's a journey for the city to become even more innovative and creative than we already are in all the different parts of the city. It's also a city fair that we are going to have in the city during the summer of 2022.

And to show off, well a city fair is to show off. Yes and Visionsfonden is the method when it comes to innovative and creative processes together with the inhabitants of the city. And we've had this method for seven to eight years, so it's really like we have great results we can show that it works and we can show what we are still working on but we have tried it a lot and we have learned so much through that process. This is a perfect example to show the world that you can work like this we're the only fund like this in Sweden there's no other because all of the other funds there either they are culture funds or their innovative funds or integrational or there's nothing that is everything.


Alexandra - We're going to do a project called Kids edition when we are reaching out to all of the organizations and associations in the city that works with kids and youth and we say Hi would you like to help us do some work about the vision. So you still have to put in an application but you can get 5 000 kroner to do a prototype of how the city will look like, be like, smell like, how you fall in love in 2035. You can do whatever but it has to be about the city, you have to build a prototype and it has to be about 2035. And now it even gets more complex. I'm going to do a hackathon based on the different prototypes.

Okay, so we're gonna see okay what is what does kids and the youth of Helsingborg, how do they see 2035 we will probably see okay this is how they see how we're going to proceed culture. This is how they see how we're going to be sustainable and I'm going to create different challenges in these different departments, in trends that we can see in the prototypes and we are going to give during those 35 days, the city fair, we are going to grant the entire budget for one year during the hackathons. So we're going to give out one million kroner to projects in the hackathon. Exciting! Yes and this is how it all comes together.


Alexandra - Okay! Denmark. Across the ocean of Helsingborg is Helsingör. In Helsingör, there is an organization that is a part of the municipality that is called CATCH. And CATCH is the centre for design and tech in Helsingör but also the rest of Denmark. And I ran into this organization one year ago and we fell in love and we said that we would love to do something towards the city fair.

We see that a lot of entrepreneurs in the culture sector in Sweden and in Denmark, they don't get contacts in the other country, they don't get funding, they don't get jobs they don't get other contacts. They stay in their community, in their country where they're from, but they're still so close. I mean what, it takes 20 minutes with the boat? And so we thought about how can we make the artistic community in Helsingborg and Helsingör come together. Well, we can do a project with them.

So we are going to have an open call which is when you open up for applications to designers, artists, entrepreneurs, programmers that would love to do a project an installation a prototype towards the summer of 2022 and this prototype has to have an artistic value but it also has to have some kind of IOT and the project has to have some kind of link between the different countries.

So the project is that the artists, the programmers they're going to create some kind of team we're going to have one Swedish team and one Danish team. And those teams are going to meet, we're going to have workshops with them where we teach them all the newest technology knowledge in this field and they are going to get to know each other they're going to know about the different communities. And so it's not only that they're going to create a prototype they're also going to get to know each other and to do research together.

Parul - Very exciting! Considering that one would think that with 2020 and with everything that's been happening, there's not much happening in the city but with Visionsfonden it just seems complete opposite.

Alexandra - Yeah well it's crazy, okay this tells a lot about who I am as a person. I got back from maternity leave in January last year and till March, during those three months, I managed to start all of this. Well done! Thank you, I've just been lucky as well to work with the right people and I always say that in coaching to applicants. You have to make new contacts, you have to be brave but you also have to have the right people in your team, if you need a team. Because you should never be alone in hard decisions.

Parul - Absolutely, that's good advice

Alexandra - Okay first of all book a coaching session with me. You can do it on our website, it's super-duper easy. You can write to me on Facebook or Instagram. We'll meet, you can do a phone call or you can do a video session. It's super easy breezy and I'm super nice so it will be fun and in those coaching sessions I give feedback towards the idea but also the process of how you would like to get to the actual application, but I also read drafts of applications and get back with feedback.

So I do a lot I can help a lot I read a lot of drafts, and my second advice is to when you start thinking about your Visionsfonden project start with thinking about okay this is the dream, this is what I will like to do, like dream as big as you can and then after that, you take a break for 30 minutes. And then you think how can I do a test version of that dream. And then the test version is your Visionsfonden project. Because we love to test new things, we love to do small scale projects, that you, later on, could get funding from somewhere else maybe even inside of the city or in another fund. We love to help people to get the first push to start their own company, or to start a new initiative in the culture sector, that keeps on going. Those two, if you do that you will get very far.

Parul - Great advice! Thank you for that. Thank you so much, Alexandra, this was really nice.

But I'm really looking forward to I mean things opening up and yeah you know for thing for us to do more in real life.

Alexandra - And yeah when it's not corona I usually sit at Mindpark for example, once a week with like you can just come by swing by have coaching with me now I can do that and that's why we have this video coaching so usually I'm very very easy to get a hold of so let's hope that we can do that in the fall.

Parul - Yeah yeah, fingers crossed.

Alexandra - Until then I'll be here in my kitchen. Okay, take care thanks for the chat.

Parul - Bye bye.


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