Published 2020-05-12

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Mistra’s new CEO Anna Jöborn: ‘The corona crisis is a unique opportunity for research on sustainable development’

Research has become the pivot of debate in the crisis we are now experiencing. This a unique situation offers scope for conservation and management, thinks Mistra’s new Chief Executive Officer Anna Jöborn. She sees it as affording ample scope for building a stronger bridge between research and practice.

In December, Mistra’s Board appointed Anna Jöborn, Director of the Science Affairs Department at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO). She succeeds Åke Iverfeldt, who retired at year-end. In the near future, Jöborn will take up her position at the helm.

Anna Jöborn Photo: Natalie Greppi

‘It’s going to be really exciting to work at Mistra, especially at a time when the role and status of research have come to the fore. Science has become the pivot of the debate, and the research community is reaching out to the public in a way I’ve never seen before. Here, Mistra’s research programmes are fully in line with much of what’s being discussed — how society should act in the short and long term to generate sustainable development. It’s challenging for the research community to be the focal point, but a unique opportunity,’ Jöborn says.

One key component, she thinks, is strengthening communication skills on the research side and being responsive to society’s needs, while ensuring quality and integrity. Jöborn sees great potential in building up Mistra’s work on Mistra Dialogue for bringing research, politics, business and the public closer together.

She makes a point of emphasising the need for research and innovation to support the business sector’s development in a more sustainable direction.

‘Here, Mistra has been a pioneer as a funder, and will continue to play an important part in the future.’

Interdisciplinary approaches greatly needed

Cross-fertilisation of research in a range of areas is another aspect highlighted by Jöborn. As programme director of Mistra’s earlier Vastra – Water Management Research Programme, which ended in 2005, she has a sound grasp of the need to combine various areas of knowledge.

She sees social sciences and humanities as vital preconditions for environmental research.

‘We can’t always start at the scientific and technical end. Instead, we need to investigate the way society is constructed, our economic systems, behaviour, and moral and ethical considerations. Mistra’s interdisciplinary programmes do just that, and I’m keen to develop this further.’

Colour TV aroused interest in the sea

Anna Jöborn has a PhD in microbiology and is a construction engineering graduate. She has also studied history of art and architecture, and development studies at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). She has worked as a manager, moderator and lecturer, and on environmental issues in both the private and the public sector.

As a world-class expert in her field, she has been elected as a member of the planning group for the launch of the United Nations’ Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–30). This is a role she will retain, and is safeguarding with particular care these days. Although the various stakeholders’ forums cannot now function as they used to, the key questions remain. The need for new ways of communicating bring into focus the issue of a communicative power balance as well.

‘Here in the west, we can continue to communicate digitally. But it isn’t self-evident that those who are most severely affected in this crisis, and in other crises, have this opportunity. For us to be able to engage in a dialogue about new knowledge, it’s important to think about which channels we can use to reach out to different target groups in society.’

In Anna Jöborn’s childhood, it was the family’s newly purchased colour television and a programme about the Red Sea that inspired her interest in the oceans and water.

‘I became fascinated by the colours below the surface of the sea and the fact that the oceans are so unexplored. My commitment to environmental issues began with what was happening in and by the water; and over the years it’s evolved into genuine curiosity about the interplay between humankind and the environment. What’s hidden below the sea’s surface is still relatively uncharted territory, and Mistra could make a contribution here in the future.’

Timing a precondition for decisions

Going from a position as head and official at a government agency to a foundation’s CEO is a move she finds exciting. She sees how her experience from a national agency, ensuring her decisions are scientifically based, has taught her the importance of timing — when, as well as how, we communicate — in enabling research to influence policies and regulations.

In Jöborn’s view the corona crisis also means, for the research community, what is now an open window for discussion of environmental and climate issues, and society’s continuing transition. This is an opportunity not to be missed. Researchers must seize the chance to join in discussions and contribute new knowledge at local and global levels.

Her position at Mistra may involve a greater degree of freedom, which she would like to use for finding new ways forward.

‘I hope that in my role, jointly with Mistra’s secretariat and programme researchers, I’ll venture to challenge and experiment, and that together we can help to create a testbed for new ideas in a close dialogue with the knowledge users.’