‘We aim to become more visible on African continent’

Therese Sjömander Magnusson will take office as director of Nordic Africa Institute next month
Photo: Mattias Sköld

“We aim to become even more visible in Sweden, on the African continent and in countries that finance the institute’s research,” says Therese Sjömander Magnusson, incoming director of the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI).

Sjömander Magnusson, who will take up her position on 1 October, comes from the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), where she has been chief operating officer, in charge of day-to-day operations.

She is a doctor of geography, and has vast experience of water issues, mainly in Africa.

She has worked in both the academic world (as a lecturer at Stockholm University) and the civil service (as programme manager, policy advisor and deputy head of policy at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida).

“To be given the opportunity to work at the interface between research and policy relevance is incredibly inspiring and important,” notes Sjömander Magnusson.

Her doctoral thesis at Linköping University was devoted to water management, against the backdrop of water shortage and urbanisation in Windhoek, Namibia.

“It was fascinating, as Namibia was among the world leaders in terms of methods to make more effective use of scarce water resources.”

After gaining her doctorate, she took up a position at Sida, with responsibility for water-sector support in Kenya and Uganda. Her next assignment at Sida revolved around cross-border water management in southern Africa, and so she and her family packed their bags and moved to Maputo.“I travelled extensively, met Sida’s partners and spent a lot of time in the field. I worked on supporting research cooperation and capacity-building programmes, as well on cooperation with the regional government in shared river areas. I also had the privilege of leading the Nordic cooperation within the framework of support for the Zambezi river for a few years. That was an extensive and strategic portfolio, and I got to work closely with the embassy and at the political level.”Sjömander Magnusson says that, as the new NAI director, she will above all listen and draw on the competence, expertise and long experience of the staff.

“The important research that NAI has long been conducting is something to be proud of and to build on, as we aim to become even more visible in Sweden, on the African continent and in countries that finance the institute’s research.”

Sjömander Magnusson says that she would like to see the institute’s relevance to decision makers increased even further, in terms of both topics and timing.

“I think we can create clearer contact points – networks with different units within foreign affairs and international development, both in Sweden and in the other Nordic countries.”

She talks about “messaging research” – working very actively with dialogue and communication to show the relevance of the institute.

“For this we need to learn more about the context in which decision makers operate and what their priorities are. We must adapt, while at the same time maintaining our research integrity.”

Sjömander Magnusson also thinks that the NAI should have an even clearer role within the work on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“In this regard, it is essential that all the institute’s operations pull in the same direction, based on a development agenda,” she says.

She also emphasises that it is important for the NAI to be a clear “go-to partner”.

“The NAI should be the natural partner for constructive, open debate and dialogue around the most important trends on the African continent.”


Text: Mattias Sköld