Vesna Jovic is now leaving her role as municipality director for Huddinge – after 28 years at the authority. Her next position is CEO for the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, SKL. As she leaves Huddinge, she can look back on the burgeoning development of Flemingsberg and Huddinge.
Congratulations on your new position – what does it mean for you?
“Thanks! It means that I can continue to work with the issues that are close to my heart: local government, but now on a more overarching level. To be there for people who we should be there for: the residents,” says Vesna.
You’ve been an active member of the Flemingsberg Science board – what has the foundation meant for the development of Flemingsberg?
“I think that the foundation has provided fresh perspectives. At the municipality, we’ve focused on the physical development of the area: infrastructure and housing. The foundation has added perspectives on innovation and entrepreneurship, both with the help the academic community in Flemingsberg and private enterprise,” she says.
What does the future hold – what needs to be prioritised?
“A new development plan for Flemingsberg is being drafted that all actors can get behind. So it’s important to maintain the shared vision, while at the same time clarifying who does what. Whatever is needed to ensure that the municipality, county council, academia and private sector can make their contributions, and at the same high tempo as today,” says Vesna.
“It’s also important to continue to communicate what we’re doing to get everyone involved. Flemingsberg residents must also participate in what is happening.”
“Vesna has been instrumental to the emergence and development of the foundation. She is determined, has driven the foundation’s agenda forward, and has always provided good advice when needed.” Björn Varnestig, CEO Flemingsberg Science.
Leaving everything in good shape
Flemingsberg is growing rapidly today, with the aim of being a regional urban hub. Construction cranes in the area bare witness to a number of major ongoing projects. Among the most recent to get underway is the Spårväg syd tramline, a project that involved Vesna.
“I had actually decided to stay until this development of Flemingsbergsdalen had started. It launched back in 2016, and since then interest in Flemingsberg has just intensified. Today, “everyone” is talking about Flemingsberg and many want to build here,” says Vesna.
“The green light for the Spårväg syd line was the result of all the work that myself and many others had invested over a considerable amount of time. These are lengthy processes, and this particular project could have taken even longer, in which case I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the fruits of our efforts in quite the same way.
“Vesna Jovic has been an active and colourful municipality director who has meant a great deal to Flemingsberg Science and our activities today,” Chris Heister, head of Stockholm’s County Administrative Board and chair of Flemingsberg Science.
The importance of believing in one another
When Vesna became municipal director in 2008, she called for better use of the competences of those with ethnic backgrounds. How has that gone?
“I’m proud of how we have worked with Huddinge in the belief that people are willing and able,” she says.
“People who have moved here can develop and contribute. We shouldn’t see them as people with problems. That’s why we were quick to provide financial support to ensure that people studied, were offered internships, and learned Swedish to improve their job prospects.
“This has produced results in the shape of improved employment with fewer people dependent on benefit payments or other types of support,” she explains.
“But there’s always room for improvement. This is not just about how society and refugee reception works, but also about our attitudes as an employer. Do we only employ people like us, or do we dare to challenge ourselves and get something more interesting and even better into the bargain.
Carving out a career is unimportant
After 28 years at Huddinge municipality, Vesna can look back on an impressive career (see box). But building a career has never been a goal in and of itself.
“No, for me the most important thing has been to contribute to the development of society. I’ve had the knack of seeing what needs to be done and directing our efforts accordingly, naturally with the support of managers and political representatives. I have always received support for my ideas, and if you take the initiative – take responsibility and deliver results – you’ll get a career thrown in too,” she says.
Many of her previous assignments have been characterised by a strong commitment to integration and diversity. Vesna herself was born in Belgrade and grew up with her grandparents in a village in the Serbian part of Croatia.
“I grew up deep in the countryside. When I was about six, my parents brought me to Sweden. My father was a welder and my mother worked as seamstress. They had no chance of educating themselves, but naturally they wanted me to do so. Both my parents wanted an education for me, but this was particularly important for my father.
“Flemingsberg has gone from being an area with great potential to an area of outstanding growth. Vesna’s role in this change can not be exaggerated. Her ability to gather actors, identify opportunities and to drive projects forward have been crucial for the development that has turned Flemingsberg into one of the region’s most important growth areas.” Daniel Dronjak, Municipal Board Chair, Huddinge municipality.
Always had support from home
Vesna’s father became a role model throughout her life who emphasised how an education would lead to a good job, which in turn would lead to earning money and independence from others.
“You become free by being able to choose how you live your life. And at the time, it was fairly unusual to have support from a man from the former Yugoslavia, but I’ve always had support from home.
Support is necessary to ensure that people trust their own abilities, she says. When she was faced with challenges herself, such as prior to becoming municipal director, she compared herself to others.
“That time I thought of Obama, who is the same age as me. He became president round about the same time, and so I thought I should be able to handle being municipal director of Huddinge,” she says and laughs.
“At the same time you have to assess risks. It’s wise to question your own abilities, and you need to have a degree of humility. But I also know that when I need to be, I can be a bloody rocket. I don’t give up.
Travel is one of your biggest interests – have you been back to the village where you grew up?
“No, when the civil war broke out [my family] had to flee. But I dream of returning to my grandparents’ house, but I haven’t made it back yet. And I realise that it won’t look how I remember it.
“But I love going to Belgrade where I have a house together with my mother and brother. Just going there and taking in the atmosphere – I like Belgrade, it’s nice there.”
Incoming CEO of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, (SKL)
Born: 1961 (age 55), Belgrade, Serbia
Family: Partner, two children, one grandchild
Career: A total of 28 years at Huddinge municipality. Most recently as municipality director, previously social services director for all of Huddinge, sub-committee leader for Segeltorp, social services director for Flemingsberg, director of refugee reception, principal of Swedish for Immigrants language courses, co-ordinator for immigration issues, and co-ordinator for culture- and community support.
Education: Studied social studies at Örebro University
Assignments include: member of governmental panel for digitalization of the public sector in Sweden, chair of steering committee for Digital Agenda Greater Stockholm and a Stockholm Business Alliance board member.
Interests: “Love to travel, feel at home in many places. Always find places to explore and enjoy, and where I can be myself. Enjoy pottering around in the garden, seeing how plants grow is a great way to relax. I try to exercise by thinking that all exercise is good, rather than focus on the exercise I don’t get round to. That’s good enough.”