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Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Stockholm, Sweden
GUEST BLOG—By Elanor Sezer, a candidate MSc in Japanese Politics and Sociology at the University of Oxford--When I first heard about the “Call a Random Swede” initiative, I dismissed it as an April Fools’ joke. Surely, a number set up by the Swedish Tourist Association that connects international callers to one of 10,000 random volunteers must be a joke. Who would really set up such a thing? And why? But the second time I heard this national news, I started to doubt that this was a joke. And, indeed, the third time I heard about the initiative was from my friend, who called me and said he had installed this “fantastic app” that enables you to take random international calls. “You should try it,” he said, adding an enthusiastic, “It's fun.” And so I had to face the facts: My dear country now has its very own number.

Sitting on my IKEA couch
Naturally, the first thing I did was to install the app myself. The only thing I needed to do to verify my Swedish-ness was to enter my local number. In the span of five minutes, I had gone from being a regular citizen to a cultural ambassador for my country. What can I say? It was magic. Feeling a sting of unfamiliar nationalistic pride (I am, after all, Swedish, and we are not known for nationalism, at least not the American variety), I sat down and stared at my phone. It didn't ring. I cooked my meatball-dinner with lingonberry jam. It didn't ring. I put on an ABBA CD and lounged in my IKEA couch. It didn't ring.

But then, right in the middle of my daily think about gender equality and the benefits of free healthcare, it rang! Excited, I grabbed my phone and answered (“Sweden speaking”). As it turned out, the caller was a journalist from a small town in the UK. “What is the deal with this initiative?”

Officially, the initiative celebrates that Sweden was the first country to abolish censorship 250 years ago. Magnus Ling, general secretary and CEO of the Swedish Tourist Association, elaborated, saying in a statement, “In troubled times, many countries try to limit communication between people, but we want to do just the opposite. We are making Sweden the first country in the world with its own phone number and giving our fellow Swedes an opportunity to answer the calls, express themselves, and share their views, whatever they might be.”

This is not the first time sweet Sweden has fostered direct communication between ordinary Swedes and the wider world: In January 2009, the Swedish Institute launched @Sweden on Twitter, an account that lets a new Swede be the face of the country in 140 characters max each week. The account, which is still running, was so Swedish and successful that it received its own New York Times profile in 2012.

This time, though, the campaign coincides with one of the largest annual events in Europe that, this year, will be held in Sweden: the Eurovision Song Contest. The event is, in a nutshell, one large promotion for the host country (the winner of the competition the year before). It would take an exceptionally clever person to come up with a low-cost/high return promotion campaign ahead of the televised event that would further spark people’s curiosity; like, say, an app, perhaps?

The “Call a Random Swede” initiative is a fun idea as it appeals to both callers and receivers. It is exciting to connect with the outside world, and also flattering that someone takes interest in your country. As far as promotional campaigns go, it is a win-win concept.

Swedish made Ericcson phone didn't ring
But like all promotion, it can only last so long. Tomorrow there will be another fun concept, and this app will be forgotten in the midst of daily life. Which will, in my own Swedish case, involve beautiful, progressive people and excellent pop music.

Elanor Sezer is a candidate MSc in Japanese Politics and Sociology at the University of Oxford.

Reposted from New America Weekly.

New America Weekly is a digital magazine, featuring big ideas and bold thinking to confront today's most pressing challenges.  It kindly shares its editorial with the public for reposting.  is an independent think tank based in Washington DC.

New America is dedicated to the renewal of American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age. We carry out our mission as a nonprofit civic enterprise: an intellectual venture capital fund, think tank, technology laboratory, public forum, and media platform. Our hallmarks are big ideas, impartial analysis, pragmatic policy solutions, technological innovation, next generation politics, and creative engagement with broad audiences.


New America was founded in 1999 to nurture a new generation of public intellectuals – scholars, policy experts, and journalists who could address major social, economic, and political challenges in ways that would engage the public at large -- and to provide a set of blueprints for American renewal in an era of globalization and digitization. The initial challenge, which continues today, was to find the minds and foster the debates needed to guide American renewal in an era of profound, exhilarating, but often threatening change.

Under the leadership of founding president Ted Halstead and his successor Steve Coll, New America became a vibrant intellectual community and public policy institute. Its Fellows and program staff have incubated and advanced breakthrough ideas[1] in a wide range of domestic and international policy arenas. Today we have a staff of some 140 people, a budget of roughly $20 million, and a wide array of programs and undertakings.


As a civic enterprise, we are committed to the solution of public problems. Solutions at scale are likely to require the combined efforts of the public, private, and civic sectors as well as a blend of technology, policy, and politics. New America provides a platform that enables individuals and groups working on these solutions to drive different stages of change, from inspiration to implementation. Our work concentrates in the following categories:

Identifying and nurturing new and diverse thinkers, researchers and writers and helping them join the public conversation.
Developing and implementing ideas and policies to address public problems at the local, state, federal, and international level.
Bridging the worlds of technology, policy, politics, and academia, both by creating, testing, and piloting new technologies and integrating existing technologies into policy solutions.
Using media and live events to share ideas and engage audiences in the nation’s capital and across the country around shared challenges.
Our Aspirations

New technologies change how we live and work -- disruptions that in turn affect families, schools, social networks, civic organizations, political preferences, and foreign policy. They reshape what we buy and sell and where and how we invest our capital, creating new winners and losers. Over time, however, the nature and impact of these technologies depend on choices made by governments, businesses, civic groups, and communities. American institutions today – the workplace, the family, the schoolhouse, the doctor’s office, the corner store, the bank, the voting booth, the town hall, the military, the embassy – have only begun to transform and adapt to a digital economy and society. It is up to all of us to make the choices necessary to ensure that transformation upholds America’s founding values of liberty, equality, democracy, and justice.

New America’s staff, fellows, board, and alumni believe in the possibility of transformative change. For hundreds of years America has repeatedly managed to reinvent its society, economy, and political system in the face of sweeping changes at home and abroad, while still holding to the promise of a society in which every individual has an equal chance to live up to his or her potential. We believe that through the power of people, ideas, technology, and participatory democracy, we can and must renew ourselves again.

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