I received so many warm responses - from Swedes mainly, it must be said - to my observations on some of Sweden’s inspiring responses to the Covid-19 pandemic (thoughtful, creative, collaborative, people-focused).
Several people shared how many Swedes feel pride, together with a sense of empowerment and responsibility to contribute to Sweden's answers to societal challenges. I want to remark on what such a positive response reveals, in my estimation: the deep and genuine appreciation of trustworthy, transparent and engaged leadership in the face of the unknown. The power of trust in society is something precious, and only rarely so clearly on display for all to see.
I know that Sweden has been criticized both from within and without for some of its responses (e.g. selective approach to school closures). But from my vantage point, it’s so encouraging to find positive examples of successful, bold and ingenious interventions, wherever they arise. We are a human family after all. Our instinct is to seek out one another under duress, to use all our skills to survive, and to find ways to work together. As we navigate unknown waters it is helpful to have a polestar as we steer.
This particular global crisis happens to be an opportunity to watch this phenomenon in action. In the Nordic countries, trust is the highest in the world (US News and World Report 2017- 2020). Trust is something you build over time. You can’t command it from a boardroom or a pulpit, you can’t beg or plead for it. The characteristics of leadership which I highlight in my article - transparency, intellectual honesty, a holistic approach - have been cultivated over time and through prior episodes of thoughtful and hard-won successes.
Sweden, and other Nordic countries, have invested persistently, and at times in challenging circumstances, to build their culture of public discourse and governance models. As a result, they enjoy their high level of trust in one another and in their institutions, and that sure comes in handy in times like these. This is a pandemic. Mistakes will be made- are being made. But I see many reasons to feel confident that societies such as Sweden are taking on these challenges in ways that citizens can see and evaluate for themselves, participate in, and from which they can learn.
Moments like these are important opportunities to sew seeds of trust that can bear fruit in the near term and the long.
The entrepreneurial and clever crisis responses I highlighted span public and private sectors, often bridging the two. Such widespread distribution of initiative and leadership is a key feature of resilient organizations and societies. There is an ease that facilitated the swift responses that I find somewhat unique.
I think it all comes down to hard-earned trust and empowerment.
I hope we all become curious anthropologists and better critical thinkers as a result of this global pandemic. May we all take the time to think deeply about small and big changes we can make, wherever we live, that guide us to a better tomorrow.