From Executive MBA to orphanage in India

With a big heart and a desire to both be moved and make a difference, Linus Eriksson combines his position as Traffic Director at Skånetrafiken with creating a better life and future for orphans in India. In an interview with us, Linus tells the story of how his trip to Bangalore with the EFL Executive MBA program led to the creation of the non-profit association Help for children, how this experience enriches him, what challenges the orphanage faces and how the Executive MBA program has transformed his career.

 


Hi there Linus! You went from the Executive MBA to an orphanage in India. Please tell us how it happened.

To be honest, India had never crossed my mind. But then we went on a study trip to India with EFL as part of the Executive MBA program in 2011. I was so moved by all the poor children everywhere and became determined to meet someone who made a difference. I searched on Google, got a hit, made a call, gave my phone to a taxi driver and said: “Drive where he tells you to.” That’s how I met Dhiraj John, 28 at the time, who chose to give his life for the children. All of us from the Executive MBA raised funds for mattresses once we realized that all the children were sleeping right on the bare ground. When Dhiraj came to our hotel to collect the money, he asked for our business cards. I thought to myself, “What does he need them for?” Once we were back home in Sweden, we all received a thank you drawing from the children and a short video clip of them on their new mattresses. When we played the video for the class at the next residential session, the room became so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It was so moving. We realized that we could make a difference. An immediate difference. We then started helpforchildren.se (only available in Swedish) for the sole purpose of raising funds to support these children. At that time, there were around 100 children. Now there are 179 children with their own school encompassing five school years. 

How do you combine your Traffic Director position at Skånetrafiken with your involvement in Help for children?

I’m glad that I’m not alone. The board of Help for children consists of people from my Executive MBA class and are all skilled leaders in their careers. We are doing this together. I’m pretty good at making things happen, so that’s what I bring to the table. This trait comes in handy both in an organization with 250,000 customers daily and in meeting the needs of the children.

How does your experience with Help for children enrich you in a strictly professional sense?
The greatest insight I’ve gained is to not be afraid to be moved by what I see. What moves me also gives me energy, focus and drive to create change.  I want to feel moved when we fail to provide good traffic services or to treat a passenger well.  My leadership is now largely based on this insight – constantly allowing myself to be moved, wanting to make a difference and to create value. I hope this will also inspire the people around me, both those at helpforchildren.se and at Skånetrafiken.

What are your greatest challenges for the orphanage right now?
The absolute greatest challenge is building a new orphanage. The current situation, expensive rented premises in a highly unsafe area, is unsustainable. They own suitable land and building permits have been obtained. Construction is planned to start in January, but we need roughly 2 million kronor more to be able to finish it. Our dream here is to get multiple donors who can team up and make a large donation so that we can complete a brand-new orphanage for 225 children.

Christmas is fast approaching. What will Christmas be like for the children at the orphanage?
The children have an exam period before Christmas so they are working hard on homework and evening studies. Education is their way forward. Then they’ll prepare for the last party of the year, the Christmas party, when many of the children’s families will visit the orphanage. There’ll be dancing, shows, singing and food. I am very impressed with how they manage to make so much out of so little – so the children can get to feel important and celebrate. I am also pleased that we can donate Christmas presents again this year.

If someone wants to support your efforts, what should they do?
People can make the biggest difference by choosing to become a partner and make a monthly donation. For just 150 kronor, you can meet all the needs of one child. School, clothing, food and a roof over their head. However, people are of course also welcome to donate any amount on one or more occasions. www.helpforchildren.se/bli-partner (only available in Swedish)

All of the work we do is on a volunteer basis, and so everything you donate goes straight to the children. Companies can get in on the action as well. We currently have several companies that regularly contribute as a part of their CSR efforts. The equation is simple: When more partners contribute, they can take in more children.

It’s been a couple of years now since you graduated from the Executive MBA program. What would you say were the most important things you learned from the program?
Given that I was originally trained as a fire engineer, the reason I took the Executive MBA was to broaden my skills in strategy and management in particular. Now five years later, I still regularly refer to both the literature and discussions from the program. They stimulate reflection and help me see paths to choose. For example, Porter’s theory came up again this past week in relation to a reorganization process we are in the midst of.

How has the Executive MBA changed you in your professional life?
The program is both a door-opener and a network. I’m not sure I would have been asked to be a director at Skånetrafiken without my Executive MBA. However, the greatest asset is the network I’ve built consisting of talented individuals, from my class and alumni as well as at EFL through its partnership with the Lund University School of Economics and Management. And yes, this year I completed the EFL Management and Corporate Governance program (EFL:s Styrelseprogram), so the journey continues…