Karin Nordh: “Being alone is never strong”

As Karin Nordh leaves KTH for a long-planned-for retirement, she does so having made an outstanding contribution to the development of Campus Flemingsberg. Here Nordh makes a call for continued collaboration. 

Nordh’s involvement in Flemingsberg goes back more than 20 years. She describes it as a process that started at the start of the millennium and that has now come full circle. It started when she was recruited to Södertörn Development Centre to work on the vision of making Flemingsberg a hub of southern Stockholm. Those working at the centre included Swedish national railways (SJ) former general director, Stig Larsson, who saw to it that Flemingsberg station was built and that long distance and regional trains stop at Flemingsberg.
“Today, we see how Larsson’s vision has come to fruition, which illustrates how much time it takes to work with local development,” says Nordh.

Nordh is now leaving KTH in Flemingsberg for a retirement that has been a long time in the planning. In recent years, she has gradually reduced her workload. Next up is a mountain hike with her husband.
“Many years ago, I decided that I’d make the most of my time after 65. And I’m still healthy and can still take on the Padjelantaleden hiking trail [a 10-day hike in Lappland] with all my kit on my back. My husband retired several years ago. I feel the time is right,” says Nordh.
The last of her moving boxes were taken home over the summer when the university was closed due to the pandemic.

Developed new research centre
After her time at Södertörn Development Centre, Nordh took on a position as business manager at Haninge municipality for six years. From here she was headhunted to develop a new research centre for KTH in Haninge, the Centre for Health and Construction. When KTH decided to relocate to Flemingsberg in 2016 the circle was completed.
“Today, Flemingsberg is Sweden’s most complete campus. Sure, there are plenty of campuses in the country, but nowhere offers the same degree of diversity or as many universities and colleges in one and the same place,” says Nordh.

Work on regional development projects has characterized Nordh’s working life. She is skilled at bringing people together, motivating them to contribute, and work towards shared goals. All progress flows from collaboration and being alone is never strong, she stresses.
“It’s rare that individuals achieve major impacts, it’s always teamwork that gets results. It irritates me when individuals get all the praise. You should be honest and praise colleagues for their work, lift them and their ideas. I’ve been lucky in this respect with my bosses over the years.”

Once established in Flemingsberg, she floated the idea of a more formalised collaboration between universities in the area. Today, Region Stockholm, all universities and colleges, student unions, surrounding municipalities, companies and property stakeholders are involved in the development of an attractive campus environment in Flemingsberg.
“You have to drive involvement in a development project. If a project is headed by a small number of enthusiasts, it’ll quickly run into trouble. Flemingsberg Science has an incredibly important role as the convening partner and driver of future projects – my compliments to them for that,” says Nordh.

Roll up your sleeves
When I tell her that she is described by others as a “doer”: someone who never shies away from taking the first step, she responds with a classic 1980s rebuttal: “You can’t do business sitting on your ass”.
“If you roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, it’s easier to get others on board. This approach has probably characterised the whole of my working life. And on top of that, I’m a social person.”

Nordh has always indulged in active leisure pursuits. She sailed and hiked throughout her childhood and has continued as an adult. She has sold her boat now, but every year she goes hiking and Nordh and her husband go cycling in the Netherlands every other year.
“On my trips, I replenish my soul and recharge my batteries. You need to recharge somewhere. Everyone has dips and experience trauma. But life is no bed of roses – it’s a hard, uphill slog. The trick is to dare to sit down and catch your breath where you are. Even if it’s sometimes tough to do so,” says Nordh.

2020 has clearly shown that the outside world can serve up surprises. The closing of Campus Flemingsberg has been a break in progress, she explains.
“But there’ll be more pandemics and economic downturns. We just have to accept that. As citizens, I believe that we’ve learnt an incredible amount in the past year,” she says.
And that is on top of the learnings made in the research sphere, she says. This is where global co-operation has developed and achieved exciting results in the fight against the pandemic.
“This is where we’ve seen the importance of collaboration and of not withholding information, rather the benefits of pulling together in the same direction.”

The pandemic has also put her latest project under threat: Kodkuporna. This initiative offers middle school children afternoon and evening sessions in the college’s computer rooms.
“People who can code have a toolbox that gives them access to power. Many children are closed out from this knowledge. It is also important to throw open the doors of universities and colleges to more people. Some parents also have opportunities for further education,” says Nordh.
For KTH, it is also important to strengthen local initiatives, she says.
“Often, there’s talk about college and universities’ international training and research exchanges. But it’s as important to work locally and regionally. And I hope that the project is revived, all the preparatory work has been done.”

Karin Nordhs advice on developing Flemingsberg:

“Bring together all stakeholders: alone you’re not strong; we’re only strong by working together.”
“Effective, well-established collaboration and networking between different stakeholders, work long term.”
“Be patient. Spreading good ideas takes time, respect the fact that bedding things down takes time and that people take on communication in different ways.”

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