OPINION: How to make Denmark global and local

The Local Denmark
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OPINION: How to make Denmark global and local
Thomas Mulhern and Globally Local co-founder Anita Mayntzhusen. Photo: supplied

A tailor-made approach to creating a feeling of belonging for all groups in international contexts can strengthen Danish society, writes guest columnist Thomas Mulhern.


One hears time and time again that Danes live in one of the happiest, if not the happiest countries on Earth. This statement is rooted primarily in surveys like the World Happiness Report, in which Denmark has ranked in the top three out of 155 countries the past five years.

The word "happiest" in this context is defined as the sum result of different factors surveyed. Though it could be argued that "happiness", in terms of the self-understanding that underpins the Danish mentality, would be better rendered as "contentedness" (tilfredshed in Danish). 

The catch 22 is that the very same individual and societal contentedness that is largely seen as a positive metric of success stands as one of the fundamental barriers to integration and internationalisation efforts and, thus, future economic growth here in Denmark. 

This very same self-satisfaction has too often helped pave the way for black and white approaches within corporate, municipal and school communities; namely providing expats and global Danes a false dichotomy between assimilation or segregation. In addition, the tendencies of both expats and Danes to remain in their comfort zones, whether it be linguistically or culturally, have aided in perpetuating this trend. 

How can an organisation break out of this black and white mold and create hybrid models that maximize integration and internationalisation efforts? How can an organisation reap the potential benefits of having both expats and global Danes help to make Denmark a more dynamic society?

Globally Local, the company I co-launched in December 2017, aims to tear down the barriers that stand in the way of successful integration and internationalisation initiatives. We do this by having a team of experts, over a 6 month to two-year process, provide essential services and "retention packages" that are tailored, holistic and lead to achievable and sustainable integration and internationalisation efforts -- chief among them the retention of global talent. 


Why should a company, municipality or school push the boundaries of their comfort zones; think differently, strive to create new systematic approaches within the fields of talent attraction, integration, education and retention?

Companies have the potential to bolster their bottom lines by reducing costs with relation to failed foreign assignments, while simultaneously enhancing the retainment of global talent within their organisations. 

Intercultural communications expert Craig Storti has estimated that it costs the average company roughly US$250,000 a year in salary, benefits, and subsidies to keep an expatriate and his or her family in an overseas assignment. That is one family! In addition, the added organisational value that can be provided by employees that have both an understanding of foreign markets and have cultivated an understanding of the Danish work culture is invaluable. 

Municipalities can implement initiatives and establish the right conditions that lead to successful integration and internationalisation strategies and increase the well-being of domestic and foreign-based Danes and expats living in these communities along the way.

Schools, by having the right tools to successfully integrate these focus groups (expat and foreign-based Danish families), have the potential to increase the well-being of their students, parental group, staff and overall quality of the school.

In terms of adult students, there is a clear benefit for Danish universities in attempting to retaining talented foreign researchers and reaping some of the potential benefits of these researchers if they are properly embedded in Danish universities. Universities invest substantial resources in finding the right person for the job, to help them - and often their partner or family - settle in their new country of residence.

If attracting, integrating and retaining highly qualified expat and global Danish families has the potential to provide the aforementioned benefits to Danish society, why should we not attempt to maximise this effort? There is much to gain economically and societally, but we have only our comfort zones to lose.

Globally Local maintains that by creating shared frameworks predicated upon belonging, for home-based Danes, expats and global Danes, we make possible the conditions necessary for authentic integration and thus, a feeling of home for all these groups. 

This can be done by creating shared experiences that unite these families, promote intercultural exchanges, provide crucial networking opportunities, maintain and develop academic bilingual (Danish and English) communication, and allowing those in the process of learning Danish to have a voice. 

Taken together and tailored to the individual need of the family and organisation, these conditions can be met. Once these conditions are met, the barriers to successful integration and internationalisation initiatives can fall away, and Denmark will be left with a more dynamic and competitive country as a result. 

Thomas Knudsen Mulhern is managing director and co-founder of Globally Local, a private organisation that provides a variety of integration and internationalisation-related services to organisations, individuals and families. Thomas is the former International Department Head at Institut Sankt Joseph, where he created the first fully Danish-English bilingual programme in Denmark. 

READ ALSO: Inclusion in Danish higher education 'a tough task': international students


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