Imagining the post-coronavirus world: six Stockholm traits that offer rays of hope

Change in the 21st century has been unrelenting. But now that the world has unexpectedly been forced to slow down, it seems clear that some changes haven’t come fast enough.

Imagining the post-coronavirus world: six Stockholm traits that offer rays of hope
Photo: Funda Sezgi, Norrsken Foundation

The world is facing the gravest economic and social challenges in living memory. No single city – or even country – will have all the solutions.

But with its pioneering spirit and proven ingenuity, Stockholm punches well above its weight. We spoke with Funda Sezgi, of Norrsken Foundation, the Stockholm-based impact hub, about the city’s characteristics – and rays of hope for creating new systems better suited to the demands of our time.

1. Innovative

With only Silicon Valley having more unicorn companies per capita, Stockholm has gained global recognition as a centre of innovation.

Responding to shortages of protective gear for healthcare workers, Erik Cederberg, of Stockholm-based 3D Verkstan, found an original solution.

He designed a simple forehead band to hold standard plastic sheets, forming a face shield. Thousands of shields have been 3D-printed based on the design, including for doctors and nurses in New York.

Sezgi, Norrsken’s chief operating officer, says the city is benefiting from a forward-looking school system, including early provision of computers. “Thinking in new ways and tinkering with solutions is part of this society’s genes,” she said. 

Find out more about ‘the unicorn factory’ from Invest Stockholm

“Sweden’s early adoption of computers and the internet has creative implications. I also believe the education system helped put critical thinking in the DNA. That’s very useful for entrepreneurship, innovation and technology.”

2. Early adopters

Countries are being challenged like never before in peacetime to show how quickly they can adopt new norms. Stockholmers have already proven themselves to be early adopters in many areas of life. 

From Sweden’s status as the world’s most cashless society to a clutch of health apps offering video consultations with doctors, Stockholm moves fast. This ease with moving to newer ways of doing things when they prove more efficient could be hugely beneficial amid such far-ranging disruption.

Sezgi says Norrsken Foundation always has a “bias for action”. This enabled them to set up Action Against Corona, in collaboration with the newspaper Dagens industri and the private equity firm Nordic Capital, at lightning speed.

The platform provides funding and access to networks for start-up projects aimed at tackling coronavirus-related problems, whether in health or wider society.

Photo: Henrik Trygg/Stockholm Media Bank

“We woke up to a Monday meeting where we said we should do something to support the initiatives,” she explains. “Within literally 30 hours, we had the first platform out with over 80 partners. We like doing without overthinking; we do then we fix.”

3. Sustainable

The world has entered what trend forecaster Li Edelkoort calls a “quarantine of consumption”. Could we learn from this to make ourselves better prepared for climate change?

Sezgi says our model of consumption made reaching “the planet’s boundaries” inevitable. “Now that has hit us a bit harder and quicker than anyone anticipated,” she adds. “Systems have been built divisively, revolving around I rather than we or us. But Stockholm is a pioneer for any conversation about sustainability and innovation.”

Food waste is a prime example of our unsustainable lifestyles; around a third of all food produced globally is lost or thrown away. Karma, founded in Stockholm in 2016, allows you to buy surplus food from retailers at low prices. 

Consumers select what they want in the app and collect the food themselves. During the coronavirus outbreak, Karma has switched to offer deliveries instead in both Sweden and the UK.

hoto: Henrik Trygg/Stockholm Media Bank

Stockholm-based Pool.Farm merges small purchases of foods or supplies into bigger collaborative orders from local suppliers. The free service promises to save time, money and carbon emissions.

Interested in establishing, expanding or relocating your business to Stockholm? Find out more

“I want to enable people to act as citizens in the supply chain to ensure a diversity of products and suppliers,” says the company’s French founder, Corentin de Trégomain. “If we don’t act as a community, we will always give the advantage to the big players but they’re not always the ones I want to support.”

4. Transparent

The pandemic has highlighted a defining characteristic of our age: information overload. That can lead to confusion and even risk panic. Transparency about the information and data that can have most impact is crucial.

This is an article of faith among Stockholm’s start-up community; 3D Verkstan quickly had an impact with face shields because its open source files are accessible to all.

Sezgi believes such transparency comes from being humble. “Norrsken and Stockholm are a drop in the ocean,” she says. “We’re now dealing with global problems, so unless we’ve shifted our mindset to include each other in the solutions, the impact will only be a little splash. The only way to do this right is by collaborating.”

Read also: Imagining the post-coronavirus world: can we transform our habits for the better?

5. Trusting in people

Each day brings stories of people supporting each other in new ways amid the disruption to our usual relationships.

In Stockholm, the notions of equality, flexibility and shared responsibility run deep. This is apparent in progressive attitudes to work-life balance and flattish hierarchies that aim to give everyone a voice.

Photo: Helén Pe/Stockholm Media Bank

Sezgi sees the trust that helps give Stockholm its character as two-fold. “It means: ‘I trust you won’t harm me’ but also ‘I trust you’ll do a great job if you take this responsibility’,” she says. “Here, you have that deeper trust in people’s competence.”

The pandemic has shown we have the technology to enable many people to work more flexibly. Post-pandemic, will the world have the trust in people?

6. Visionary

Stockholm may not have the scale of London, New York or Shanghai. But the city of the Nobel Prize has vision and was the first to declare itself ‘A Woman’s Place’.

Norrsken Foundation ended 2019 by launching a €100 million social impact fund for early stage start-ups. Many issues it was designed for now seem even more urgent: poverty, food waste and mental health, for example.

Learn more about one of the most creative tech scenes in the world 

Norrsken and Action Against Corona ask big questions. “How do we use the superpowers of tech, innovation and entrepreneurship to find solutions to the problems that matter?” asks Sezgi.

This vision is further illuminated by an in-house motto: to seek to make themselves redundant. “That’s a value we live by in everything we do so that we can keep progressing,” she says. “We’re an ecosystem builder, connecting a network of actors on the same issue.”

A world in which problem-solvers gradually make themselves surplus to requirements? Now, there’s an ambitious vision.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio in partnership with Invest Stockholm

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Eating out in Stockholm: Is this the Swedish capital’s best pizza?

Pizza, people and an environment that will transport you to Campania. Perfect for a dinner with friends, a casual date night or a weekday lunch, writes Lauren Abston in this restaurant review.

Eating out in Stockholm: Is this the Swedish capital's best pizza?

On a sunny, late Sunday afternoon after working up an appetite kayaking in Brunnsviken, my friend and I stop by Magari for lunch.

Walking in, we are warmly greeted by the host who speaks to us in English. In the front corner of the restaurant sits a group of six men animatedly gesturing and speaking in Italian. They have drinks and no food, giving an impression they have been sitting and enjoying each other’s company since their lunch, hours before.

We opt for a table outside under the colourful, patterned ceramic tile and start rifling through the menu which explains the name of the restaurant as well as the origin.

Nicolas and Giuseppe are the pizza chefs who hail from Irpinia, the birthplace of pizza. Their goal is to bring innovation and fresh ideas to classic pizza, and the well-organised menu reflects this as it’s split into classic and contemporary pizza.

In addition to pizza, they have starters, snacks, calzones, and dessert. Saying magari is an enthusiastic way to stress how much you desire something. Our waiter helpfully answers our questions about some ingredients we’ve never heard of, helping us narrow down our pizza choices. 

The eponymous Magari lager, served in a wine glass, is the perfect antidote to my thirst on this humid afternoon; it’s cold, crisp and tastes faintly of tropical fruit. Magari has a concise drink menu with sparkling, red and white wine by the glass or bottle, plus classic cocktails.

Soon after the drinks arrive, our pizza is whisked out. We’ve opted for the classic Margherita Irpina and a vegetarian Nerano, with plans to split them half and half. 

Chock full of cheese on top of fresh pureed tomatoes, with scattered basil leaves and olive oil drizzled on top, the margherita does not disappoint. It’s paper thin everywhere except for the blistered, ballooned, chewy crust on the edges. I cut a piece off for myself with the crimson Tramontina fork and knife, and then I greedily pick it up to eat it instead of continuing to use the silverware.

It’s absolutely delicious, and I eat two pieces before remembering that I am supposed to share, and I offer to cut a slice for my friend.

She hands me a slice of the Nerano. It has fior di latte, fried zucchini and round slices of caciocavallo, a nutty cheese from Southern Italy placed on top. Instead of tomato sauce, it has a zucchini cream for the sauce so the pizza is a lovely green and white. It lacks a little salt; we imagine the zucchini has soaked up most of the oil and salt during the cooking, and it doesn’t compare to the margherita, but it’s still delightful.

We finish both pizzas and remain chatting as another group of Italian men spreads out over the table next to us with bubbling flutes of bollicine. 

As a late lunch, it’s a lagom amount, although we are both eyeing the larger than life cannoli that a family of three orders for dessert. I make a mental note to order that the next time. 

Magari may be the best pizza in Stockholm, and the quality food is heightened by the family feeling evoked the second you walk through the door. Going for a weekday lunch gets you a ton of value, 125 kronor for pizza or pasta, plus salad and coffee.

If you want to go on a Friday or Saturday night, I recommend booking a table in advance or planning to take it away. The best seat in the house is at the bar where you can watch the chefs expertly topping and firing the pizzas in the wood fired oven that takes up the majority of the kitchen. 

Magari Pizza Contemporanea

Rating: Five stars

Location: Sankt Eriksgatan 110, 113 31 Stockholm

Price: Starters and snacks: 40 to 250 kronor; pizza: 130 to 199 kronor; desserts: 95 to 150 kronor

Details: Monday through Thursday from 11am to 10pm. Friday 11am to 10.30pm. Saturday noon to 10.30pm. Sunday noon to 10pm.

This review is the writer’s own opinion. Lauren Abston moved to Stockholm two years ago from San Francisco. She loves exploring all the city has to offer, trying out new restaurants and bars with friends, picking up new Swedish words and learning how to dress for four distinct seasons.