Meet Håkan Silfverlin, responsible for Dispurse in Peru

Higher literacy and numeracy rates are vital to democratic development

We are meeting with Håkan Silfverlin, via Skype, who is the newly-appointed director for Dispurse’s operations in Latin America, which are currently focusing on Peru, to find out a bit about his background and his thoughts about the future. 

Hi Håkan, our initiative for educating women in Cajamarca has now been launched amid great ceremony and you were there for the occasion. We are naturally very curious to know how it all went, but first we want to find out a little bit more about you.” 

“Hi, yes, it’s really great that things are now in motion. Development needs are tremendous all over South America and, with our Focus application, Dispurse has a fantastic tool with the potential to be a ‘game-changer’ with regard to improving literacy among adults. So, who am I? I was born in Värmland, but my mother was from Halland, my father from Gästrikland and my sister from Sörmland. Summers were spent with my paternal grandfather in Dalarna and a third of my adolescence was spent in France. I attended upper secondary school in Paris, and after military service in Enköping I studied for an MSc in Materials Technology at KTH in Stockholm.  After that, I moved between a variety of industrial towns throughout the world courtesy of Haldex and then Sandvik. This involved steel research and factory development with Lean as a key concept. In 2002, my life changed direction when I met my Peruvian wife at the wedding of a French friend. We got married in 2004, and in 2005 my worldly possessions were all packed up and shipped off to Lima, Peru, and that’s where I’ve lived ever since.” 

 

Extensive experience of Peru and South America 

“When I came to Peru, I changed profession and started up an advertising agency in partnership with some Peruvian friends. As a Swedish engineer, I created processes and control systems, while my Peruvian colleagues were responsible for the creative side of things. It was a fantastic introduction to how consumers behave throughout Peru, as our clients included the biggest dairy company in the country, leading beer producers and the leading chicken producer. It was very interesting and enlightening but not really my thing, so when our family expanded from two to four children in autumn 2007, I left the world of advertising and went back to working as a consultant in leadership and business development for two American consultancy companies. Those were six exciting and educational years with projects throughout South America, from palm plantations in the jungle to mines high up in the Andes. I had the privilege of travelling around and getting to know many of the different realities to be found in Peru and in the region, and it was during this period that my desire to be able to contribute to faster and more positive development in this part of the world was born.

 “Since 2013 I have been working part-time as an independent advisor to leading Peruvian family-owned companies on business development and generational transition. The rest of my time I devote to helping to promote positive development. As part of these efforts I accepted the role of Sweden’s Honorary Consul General in Peru and it was through this role that I came into contact with the Dispurse Foundation. Ann-Britt and Anita visited me at the consulate in May 2016 and for me things ‘clicked’ immediately. Based on my knowledge of Peru and the region I felt that ‘Dispurse plays an important role as part of the solution to increase the rate of development in Peru’. I promised Ann-Britt and Dispurse that I would do my utmost to spread word of Dispurse and Focus throughout the country. I adamantly believe that we must provide better and faster education as a part of the solution to create a world we all want to and can live in. Higher literacy and numeracy rates are vital to democratic development.”

 

Education in symbiosis with social development 

“At Dispurse we employ the Swedish sustainability model as a basis (www.symbiocity.org) and we are convinced that improving literacy among adults is hugely important for sound development. Without literacy skills it is difficult to achieve the sociocultural level required for healthy and sustainable development. The biggest threat to democracy in Peru, and other parts of the world, is illiteracy. In Peru alone, official figures indicate that over two million people cannot read, write or do arithmetic, but the actual figure could be even higher. My role now is to build and develop Dispurse’s role in Latin America, focusing right now on Peru. 

“There are many things that are difficult to understand if you haven’t seen them with your own eyes and this is a problem with multiple sources. To give one example, the farmers in villages high up in the mountains are extremely poor and often have no education; their means of obtaining some economic livelihood from their crop often only goes as far as setting up a small roadside stall in the hope of selling produce to passers-by. We’re talking about long distances here and often a buyer will come past with a truck and buy up the whole lot for a paltry sum. So you are faced with the choice of not shifting any of it or accepting the money that’s offered. The negotiating situation is not easy when you can’t read or do arithmetic. The produce is later sold in some town for substantially higher sums. 

“However, there are more dimensions to all this, and it is not always the case that things get started at the right end. The country is making huge efforts to ensure the population has access to broadband, which is good, of course, but it gets forgotten that large sections of the population living in the mountains have drinking water that contains natural deposits of copper and arsenic, which makes people sick and results in relatively short life spans. So in order to help the people and the country move forward, it is necessary to work on several fronts and Dispurse’s education programme is an essential part of this.” 

That certainly gives us plenty to think about. Our initiative in Cajamarca is now under way, tell us about that!” 

 

Studies adapted to participants’ situations 

“It’s one of the many village collectives we are now building up and we were welcomed with great delight. There were speeches from the Swedish ambassador to Peru, Anna Ferry, the mayor of Cajamarca Manuel Becerra, Dispurse chairperson Ann-Britt Johansson and yours truly. Then there were performances in the form of traditional dancing and regional dishes to enjoy. We were greeted with great joy and there were individuals keen to show that they had already made some progress. The fact that you can carry a tablet with you and study wherever you are if you happen to have a little time to spare means that participation is increasing significantly; taking time out to attend school for daily lessons where you’re not earning any money is not something these people can afford to do.

“Cajamarca is a region with 1.5 million inhabitants, just over 150,000 of whom are illiterate. According to Cajamarca’s regional administrative board, 51% of all farmers are illiterate.  We have now signed agreements with three district mayors and provincial mayors who together will enrol more than 500 people on courses using Dispurse’s material as the starting point. Bit by bit we are moving forward, and hopefully we will succeed in getting Focus 1 out to all organisations involved in improving literacy in Cajamarca by the end of the year.”

Well, thank you for this brief interview and it’s great to hear that our combined efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

“Thank you, we’ll update you as work progresses. Naturally we also hope that many of you will follow and share our posts on Facebook and our website, as we need all the exposure we can get,” concludes Håkan.

Håkan Silfverlin