Alumni Spotlight #20 Milja Norberg

Read about Milja Norberg who graduated in 2014 with a major in Economic History. The flexibility of the Economic History Department allowed her to spend a year in Lebanon in the middle of the early refugee crises. Among other interesting points, Milja writes that in the field of development, “it is easy to be critical, but not as easy to come up with better alternatives”.



Who is Milja?
Milja Graduated from the BIDS programme in 2014, where she describes she has met “lovely people (…) with similar interests who managed to stay funny in spite of all the critical thinking and serious issues discussed”. Milja now lives in Stockholm and works at the Swedish Migration Agency.

Major, Exchange and Minor Field Study.
“I chose to major in Economic History because I found the Economic History lectures to be the most interesting during the first year – I just couldn’t stop taking notes. I am to this day very happy about that choice, as it shaped my exchange-, my fieldwork-, and my master-experience. The Economic History institution is very flexible and allowed me to take all the opportunities I received.”

Moreover, Milja chose to go on exchange with EU’s WELCOME project to Lebanon for one year – a project outside of the Erasmus Mundus opportunities provided by Lund University, as these were not satisfying to her. The circumstances made the application process complicated, however.
The Economic History department allowed her to stay abroad for a full year and study on a double workload. “The objective of the exchange was to promote inter-cultural understanding between Europe and the Middle East in order to contribute to sustainable development in accordance with the external policy objectives of the European Union. (…) This experience changed my worldview, and put me in the middle of the early refugee crisis in Lebanon at the time.

“In my third year I did a minor field study in Zambia for three months, researching a new land right system on customary land. I enjoyed the country’s welcoming attitude and learned how to work and communicate in a way I was not used to in order to get forward with my research.”

Critical thinking from BIDS and the complex reality
“It is a broad programme, that touches upon many topics and although I initially struggled to grasp what skills/tools I was developing, it is actually very useful to have obtained a more complex understanding of how these topics are affected by each other. The BIDS programme teaches us to analyse and to be critical, which is great. After BIDS, however, I felt locked in perfectionism, and heavily criticised all development projects I came in contact with. It took me a while to learn that there is no way to design a perfect development project in reality; development is just too complex when working with different actors – but if no projects are pursued, then no difference will be made. It is easy to be critical, but not as easy to come up with better alternatives. I think that is something we have to work with.”

After BIDS
“After BIDS I stayed another year in Lund to do a master in Economic Demography, while completing my second bachelor degree in Economics (which was possible as I had majored in Economic History). During this time, I also had the opportunity to further develop my BIDS thesis together with Erik Green. This lead to an article soon to be published by the Journal of Southern African Studies. I then moved back to Stockholm and joined two volunteer organisations, Action10 and AIESEC. Action10 works with development projects in various African countries, while AIESEC is a platform for young people to explore and develop their leadership potential.”

“Since early November I have been working for the Swedish Migration Agency as an asylum case officer at the application unit. I interview newly arrived asylum seekers, and will soon help the asylum examination unit with unaccompanied children. On my spare time I continue to be involved in AIESEC and Action10, now as a team leader for the sustainable economy workgroup at Action10 where we apply for a Forum Syd grant to help socially reintegrate former child soldiers in Liberia.“

Do you have any advice for future BIDS-graduates?
“It is OK to be unsure in the beginning of the programme. I had no idea what I was doing the first year. If you take all the opportunities you can get, you will notice how you get more and more specialised, hence more and more secure in what you’re doing.

“I also recommend you get involved with an NGO while studying in Lund. I focused too hard on the academics, and graduated without much experience, which was a big mistake. Take time to be involved, and stay committed, and you will graduate with three years working experience on top of your bachelor degree. To employers, that is worth a lot.”

What would you like to get out of the Alumni BIDS page?
“I would love to hear how the BIDS programme is developing. It is still a relatively new programme, so the students play a crucial role when it comes to making changes. It would also be very interesting to hear how BIDSters have moved on after the programme. Networking is the key to new opportunities.”

Do you have any BIDS-related future plans?
“I plan to continue to work within development, but I am open for where my degrees and working experiences will take me. I definitely hope to meet more BIDSters in the future!”


Interview conducted by Anna Butondo
Edited by Yannick Schwarz

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