Introducing Siri O. Kvalø, CEO of AWA Norge

Hello Siri. Last month, we chatted with your partner, John Inge. He spoke about himself and how the two of you work together, running AWA Norge. I’m keen to hear from you too.

Can you share with us a little about yourself?

Of course! I’m an anthropologist by education and have spent most of my career working within communications, mostly in the field of international development aid. I’ve worked on everything from building websites to media training to political advocacy to project management. I’ll be working on the day-to-day operations of AWA Norge, in close collaboration with our global team. 

Originally I come from a small coastal town in Norway called Kristiansund. I have since moved around quite a bit – from Trondheim and Lillehammer to London before settling here in Oslo. John Inge and I now live in the suburbs with my two wonderful step-children and our cat, Luna (named after Luna Lovegood!). I also just turned 40 this year and am now super excited for this next chapter that is AWA Norge! In my spare time I like to cycle and I’m currently learning SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) which is really challenging and fun. Now I sound all sporty, but I’m really not – most evenings are spent with books (ok TV) and often a glass of wine. 

If you weren’t running AWA Norge, what would you be doing, do you think?

The last few communications and outreach projects I worked on were in the movie industry. That was quite a lot of fun! I do think I will always be happiest working with something that has a deeper meaning that I can connect with. So I can easily imagine myself running outreach programmes for people in need in my hometown, be that refugees or marginalised groups such as people struggling with substance abuse etc. I love organising events and the like as well, so that could also be an option. I’d be open to a lot of things, I guess, haha.  

Tell us about your Agile journey, Siri…

I’m actually pretty new to the Agile world. Coming from a sector where plans are detailed long in advance, the switch to shorter sprints was a bit challenging at first. 

One great example I recall is from a communication project I worked on a few years back. Our aim was to reach Norwegian farmers with information about climate change and the consequences for global food production. We made lots of plans together with several farmers’ organisations on how to reach all their local chapters, all with the best intentions and with lots of really great communication material. We made lots of material ready to use and for the local chapters to just implement. And we got funding for a three-year project and we were really happy with it all.

The only problem was, when we finally released all the material and sent it to the local chapters, almost none of them were interested in hosting the events we had planned. We did manage to turn things around a bit and the project became quite successful. Still, looking back at it now it is apparent to me that using Agile methods such as shorter planning sprints, contacting say for instance ten local chapters and testing out our material, we’d have gotten instant feedback that this wouldn’t work. We could have planned it all differently – and, I believe, been even more successful. 

The way forward…

I really do believe that Agile is the way forward for most of our working lives. The problems we are facing in today’s world are so often complex and the solutions just cannot be predicted in the way that the complicated problems of the past could. The Agile mindset is an inspiration in my work. I strive to always have the three beliefs at the core of what I do. That’s not to say that I always succeed! But I am learning and evolving along the way. 

We have already heard from John Inge, but how do you find working with your partner?

Well, I’ll agree with John Inge that it is both challenging and rewarding! But on one of the first full days of the two of us working together, I remember feeling this burst of happiness and telling John Inge about how I feel completely safe and not at all concerned with “office politics” and the like. I felt that I could bring all of me to work. We’ve been together for many years now and know each other well, and can both support and challenge each other in our daily lives. 

Currently, we’re not great at the whole work-life-balance-thing. Our aim is to at some point have all weekends off, but we really do love what we do and that’s also what makes it hard to step away from. 

Lastly, John Inge shared his personal purpose with us. Would you like to share yours?

I’m deeply passionate about finding solutions that make us work better together. We are a global community and unless we start working together we will not be able to solve the massive challenges ahead – from poverty to climate change. I’ve travelled a lot in my life and it has broadened my perspective and given me experiences that have really stuck with me. 

An unthinkable question

A few years ago I was travelling in Somalia, and visiting with a family that were beneficiaries of a large-scale irrigation system that the organisation I then worked for had funded. I interviewed the woman about the impact of the project. She told me about how all four of her children were now in school and how well they were doing. Then she told me a story of when the entire country was affected by a massive drought, and the village she lived in received lots of internal refugees from other villages. She told me how she and her family shared everything they had until everyone was in the same boat. I remember asking her why she shared everything, and if she was not afraid that her own children would starve.

She just looked at me like she did not even understand the question. For her, it was unthinkable to sit behind the fence of her property with food and water while the children of her neighbours were starving on the outside of the fence. I remember feeling so embarrassed to even think of the question, let alone to ask it aloud. And she was so right! We are all in this together. We need to work together to create a better future for ourselves and our children. I truly believe that if we manage to live the Agile mindset and show up as our full selves in both work and personal life, we can solve the challenges that lay ahead. Big words, yes, but absolutely possible in my mind! Let’s be the change, all of us!

Finally, if you enjoyed this article, you might like to read Introducing AWA Norge next.

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