Maria Wetterstrand: How to change the world?

Maria Wetterstrand is an independent political commentator, former long-serving MP and spokesperson for the Swedish Green Party. She gave a keynote speech at the Helsinki Challenge Impact Camp on how researchers can save the world.

What sort of information do politicians need from researchers in order to change the world?

“The first and main thing is facts. What do scientists know about a certain subject? It would be influential if scientists would talk about not just research findings but how they should be implemented. Researchers should cooperate with other researchers, interpret research results from different points of view and make them usable for politicians. Cooperation between natural scientists, political scientists, economists and social scientists, among others, helps see the impact that research can have on society as a whole.”

Where should a researcher start when they want to solve a massive problem?

“The starting point is to learn more about the problem and see what factors are in the way of solving it. When it comes to for example clean water there are so many questions to ask. Why is it not clean? Why do only certain people have access to clean water? Many times you will eventually run into a political wall. Money, bureaucracy, legislation or something else prevents you from proceeding. In order to smash the wall down you need knowledge about policy-making and political processes.”

What sort of scientific breakthroughs do we need to achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development goals?

“We need better possibilities and technologies for restoring solar energy or wind power, for example. There’s a need for breakthroughs in recycling and reusing materials as well as in the circular economy in general. For example now we throw a computer out when one part of it is worn out. We should be able to use the rest of the parts that work just fine. But to take the computer apart and reuse the rest is much more expensive than building a new one.”

What is your one piece of advice to the Helsinki Challenge teams?

“I’m sure you do already but believe in yourselves! Don’t give up when you face a problem or a hardship. And if you realise your idea won’t lead to the impact you thought it would have, adjust it. Many successful ideas have been adjusted several times before actually becoming successful.”

Read more about Impact Camp, impact and Helsinki Challenge here.