🇸🇪 From a green vision to real-life transition

May 23, 2024
En kvinna i en jeansväst och orange kjol står ensam på en scen och ler medan hon håller en mikrofon. I bakgrunden sitter en man i en beige kavaj på en soffa.

Sara Öhrvall once left a city without a sense of future. Now, the prominent business leader aims to help Boden and Norrbotten lead the green societal transformation.

When Sara Öhrvall steps onto the stage at Sweden’s Innovation Parliament, she brings a message as clear as the expectations now resting on Norrbotten’s shoulders. Especially Boden—a place she once left but now views with new eyes.

Today, Sara Öhrvall is one of Sweden’s most distinguished business figures and a digitalization expert. With a background ranging from executive roles at Bonnier AB, SEB, and Axel Johnson to leading positions in technological and strategic transformation projects, she is a voice to listen to regarding future societal development.

During her presentation, she painted a picture of what it was like to grow up in Boden in the 80s and 90s, a time when the sports halls were the natural refuge for young people. But for those not interested in sports, the options were few, and the sense of future was weak. Many sought to leave the city in search of other opportunities, and she was one of them.

A program declaration

Now, Boden and the surrounding region face a massive transformation. With 1,400 billion SEK invested in renewable energy, electrification, and green steel, the area is expected to attract 100,000 new residents by 2035 and create tens of thousands of new jobs. The question on everyone’s lips is how to lead such a massive transformation and how societal development synchronizes with the establishments and investments in green technology, infrastructure, and industry.

– It is important to have an engaging vision. In the times we live in, there is a sense of confusion and sometimes even resignation in society. During a transformation, a positive and inclusive picture must be painted for those participating, so it’s not just about which industries will be built and how many people we will become, but also about what it will be like to live here, she says and continues:

– But also to be pragmatic in how we concretely reach the vision. A credible program declaration of what will happen step by step. Clarity creates attraction, and even though the future is uncertain, the winners in major transformations are those who can describe the journey of change more concretely. They simply get the most followers.

Three people on a stage take part in a discussion. A woman in a black dress stands in the center holding a tablet, while talking to a man in a beige jacket and a woman in an orange skirt and denim vest. Flowers are visible in the background of the scene.
Government coordinator Peter Larsson was also on stage, speaking in part about new partnerships already created thanks to the green transition. Photo: Municipality of Boden

A concrete measure she highlighted was the significant advantages of creating innovation districts, where close collaborations between academia and business drive development forward. An ecosystem she has experienced firsthand during the years she was based in San Francisco and worked with Apple to develop a digital platform for newspaper reading.

– Creating strategic areas where those with exciting ideas can operate together with those skilled in execution. Where institutions of higher education become platforms for conversation and collaboration for transformative thinking about tomorrow, leading to new ideas. Norrbotten has all the opportunities to become the center of the discussion about the major green transformation of the industry.

More is needed

Sara Öhrvall also emphasized the crucial role political support plays in strengthening innovation capacity in a transformation. She expressed her admiration for the work already underway in Boden, but argued that more could be done by the government to maximize the societal benefits of the green transition.

– There obviously needs to be an attractive living environment with a vibrant city. I understand that it’s important for people to start coming up here and settling for the economic calculations to work out. Jobs will attract people here, but more housing, schools, recreational opportunities, and culture are needed to get more people to not only work temporarily but also stay and live in Norrbotten.

Sara Öhrvall concluded her speech by painting a picture of a life where, thanks to modern technology, one can work remotely with the world’s most dynamic companies as clients but live in Boden thanks to the opportunities the region’s transformation offers. It is a vision where global influence and local quality of life go hand in hand, a vision that is now more real than ever before.

Rallying Support

Her words were a strong reminder of Norrbotten’s potential. It is a region that, from being a place without a sense of future, now glitters with pride and energy. A place where innovation and sustainability meet, shaping a brighter future for both businesses and residents. But also for the whole country, as calculations show that tax revenues from the green societal transformation in northern Sweden correspond to two to three percent of the country’s GDP.

Sara Öhrvall’s journey from Boden and back reflects the significant journey her hometown has made. With the right visions and concrete actions, a city can transform from a place many leave to a beacon for the future.

– I love coming back home and feel great pride in Norrbotten. I would like to see us join forces with expatriates from Norrbotten and think about how we can also help in the transition. In other cultures, they are better at utilizing the help of expatriates than here in Sweden, but I believe there are many who could contribute, she says.

Sara Öhrvall with blonde hair in a denim vest and black sweater smiles at the camera. She is standing indoors with a blurred background suggesting that it is a café or a restaurant.
Sara Öhrvall is not only one of Sweden’s most powerful business profiles, she has also written the book Your Future Self: How New Technology is Revolutionizing PeoplePhoto: Municipality of Boden

Sweden’s Innovation Parliament was jointly organized by Boden Business Park, Luleå Science Park, and Swedish Incubators & Science Parks, focusing on green industrialization and the society of the future.

Participants had the opportunity to build new relationships and listen to some of the country’s most prominent representatives in their fields. Additionally, tours were arranged in Boden and Luleå to create a deeper insight into ongoing projects.

Originally published on 21 May by BodenNXT.

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