Social Impact Heroes: “How Cajsa Wiking is helping to drive change around children’s rights issues”

Yitzi Weiner
Mar 24 · 10 min read
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For example, Warwar, from Myanmar, was just ten years old when she had to drop out of school. When her father became paralyzed, the whole family moved to Yangon to get him medical treatment. Warwar wanted to attend school in Yangon, but without a birth certificate and a school transfer certificate, which her family couldn’t afford, Warwar had to drop out of school. In 2018, brand auditors saw Warwar in the factory where she was working long hours and initiated a remediation program. She was enrolled in vocational training where, alongside other young people, she started received a living stipend and importantly, started to learn skills that would serve her well into the future. Today, Warwar is 15 and says that she can make her own clothes and that life has greatly improved. When she finishes the vocational program, she would like to open her own shop.

Warwar is just one example of how businesses can benefit young people.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cajsa Wiking.

Cajsa Wiking at Global Child Forum wants businesses to integrate a children’s rights perspective into everything they do

Cajsa has a long track record from the business and non-profit sectors. For the past five years, she has held the position of Executive Director for Operation Smile Sweden. Cajsa has extensive experience and knowledge regarding children’s rights from her work at UNICEF and Plan Sverige. From her years working at SEB and Skandia, she also has a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing business today. Cajsa holds a Master of Law degree from the University of Stockholm.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was 10 years old, Sweden was in the midst of debate around prohibiting the use of corporal punishment against children at home and at school. My father, who worked for the Swedish Justice Department at the time, was at the center of the reform and we had frequent conversations about the implications of this new policy.

During this time, he traveled to the US and was featured on Good Morning America and in People Magazine to talk about children’s rights. I remember being quite surprised that some adults believed strongly that children should be disciplined by violent means. It was also the first time that I realized that I had rights, even as a child. Understanding this was very empowering.

While I started my career in finance, given my upbringing, it’s probably not surprising that I’m now leading a children’s rights organization. What is surprising, however, is that nearly four decades later, children are still not being afforded their rights in many situations. With my background in both the private and public sector, I know that corporations have the power to make profound social changes.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I’ve worked in many different settings and with many different stakeholders but interacted with a royal family for the first time after starting to work at Global Child Forum.

Global Child Forum is founded by the Swedish Royal Couple and our offices are next door to the Royal Palace. When I first started, I was surprised at the Royal Family’s level of involvement, and profound engagement with children’s rights. The family cares very much for the world’s children; they are very knowledgeable and work tirelessly to support the issues that are important to them, and are involved with all of our Forums.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I worked for UNICEF and I recall one very fateful meeting that didn’t go exactly as planned. We had a meeting with a large global retailer and me, being young and enthusiastic, felt it was my job to share my passion for our work. And share I did — nonstop for nearly two hours! I totally missed the subtle cues that my colleagues were trying to communicate to me to take my foot off the verbal accelerator, and give room for our partner to ask questions and share their ideas. That experience taught me the value of listening — and leaving space for others to share.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Global Child Forum acts as a facilitator, bringing together civil society, academia, governments and most importantly, the private sector to drive change around children’s rights issues. We all know that governments alone can’t solve all the world’s problems. The corporate sector can play a huge role in creating a better world for children — one where there is justice, opportunity, and well-being for children. We engage the corporate sector by hosting global Forums for leaders and learners to come together to share best practices and commit to action. In addition, we provide companies with tools, guidance, resources and research to help them integrate a children’s rights perspective into their operations, and the communities in which they operate.

It is rewarding to witness the transition that has occurred during these past ten years around children’s rights and business. Ten years ago, the concept of children’s rights and business was, for the most part, limited to concerns around child labor. The private sector was largely unaware of the broader ways in which their operations impacted children, such as protecting the environment and ensuring safe marketing practices.

Our latest global benchmark report, The State of Children’s Rights and Business 2019: From Promise to Practice — had some encouraging findings, showing marked improvement within the corporate sector in terms of the adoption of child-focused policies and practices, and in the development of a deeper understanding of how business impacts children. Though this is heartening, serious issues — some familiar, some emerging — also demand urgent action.

The digital age, for example, has continued to usher in advances and opportunities for children and youth, but growing connectivity also leaves them vulnerable in ways we couldn’t imagine a decade ago. As a result, companies need to closely evaluate how their products and platforms impact children as a distinct stakeholder group, and how they can protect them through responsible marketing and product safety.

We’re also witnessing broader global currents that have a profound impact on children’s lives. The refugee crisis has sent economic, social and political ripples throughout the Middle East, Europe and beyond — leaving many children adrift. We are also witnessing environmental consequences to children’s health that undermine many of the gains made when it comes to child survival and development.

At the same time, issues of concern are being expressed in ways that were unseen and unheard of a decade ago. This young generation is speaking out, demonstrating passion around important social issues, and taking their message to world leaders. Business is being challenged to act.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

The business has an important role in respecting and safeguarding children in everything they do — the way they operate in the community, the way they market their products and services, the way they treat their employees who are parents. They can positively change a child’s life.

For example, Warwar, from Myanmar, was just ten years old when she had to drop out of school. When her father became paralyzed, the whole family moved to Yangon to get him medical treatment. Warwar wanted to attend school in Yangon, but without a birth certificate and a school transfer certificate, which her family couldn’t afford, Warwar had to drop out of school. In 2018, brand auditors saw Warwar in the factory where she was working long hours and initiated a remediation program. She was enrolled in vocational training where, alongside other young people, she started received a living stipend and importantly, started to learn skills that would serve her well into the future. Today, Warwar is 15 and says that she can make her own clothes and that life has greatly improved. When she finishes the vocational program, she would like to open her own shop.

Warwar is just one example of how businesses can benefit young people.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

No one entity can solve all of the world’s pressing challenges; we must work together and strategically. For example, we recently hosted a multi-stakeholder workshop on how AI can help prevent the horrors of online sexual abuse. We brought together some 40 representatives from the corporate sector including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and IBM, as well as research institutions, law enforcement agencies, policymakers, and children’s rights organizations. AI is already being successfully used to prevent and investigate child abuse online, but perpetrators are constantly finding new ways to misuse technology for their own purposes. To fight this crime in this challenging environment, we need new and innovative approaches to work faster and more collaboratively.

Three things that the community/society and politicians can do to help are:

  1. Understand how your business impacts children. All businesses impact children either directly or indirectly, and understanding that can open up a world of opportunity for your organization — as well as society.
  2. Collaborate. We see that when sectors or stakeholders collaborate, real change can happen.
  3. Listen to children. Don’t assume that, just because they are young, children and youth can’t contribute to improved understanding of the threats they face, or that they can’t contribute with creative and innovative thinking. Include children as important participants and stakeholders in the process of driving meaningful change.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I’m honored to be at the helm of an organization that has such an important mission. As Secretary-General, it’s my role to execute and expand upon the vision that the Royal Family set out in 2009 for a world where children’s rights are respected by all. But I also see myself as a facilitator. It’s my job to ensure that we continue to develop the competence of the organization and that we have the right partners to help deliver on our mission.

A leader needs to create an atmosphere of growth and innovation, where we can think creatively about the challenges we face. Ultimately, leadership is about relationships — creating teams and cultivating partnerships that enable us to do our best work, go beyond mere vision statements and inspire real action.

To me, true corporate leaders are the ones who go beyond the company mission and see the role the company plays in the society as a whole — and takes responsibility for that.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Don’t expect things to change fast. Real change takes time.

2. Don’t expect things to move slowly, either! With new ways of communicating, it’s exciting to see that people with a passion can ignite fast-moving change.

3. Be bold! Don’t be afraid to question built-in and old-fashioned structures. I have been profoundly inspired by the #MeToo movement!

4. Choose a job you feel passionate about, and also maintain balance with things that you care about outside your job. Don’t let the job define you.

5. Work-life balance is not about filling your time with appointments and “must do’s” but about learning how to manage to do “nothing.”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be?

What’s important to me is to empower others to be the influencers. The real influencers are today’s youth. I am impressed and humbled by their tenacity, determination, and innovation. We’re seeing the incredible bravery, creativity and determination of this young generation, especially young women, to set the world right — from Malala on education for girls to Sweden’s Greta Thunberg on the climate crisis to last year’s Noble Peace Prize winner, Nadia Murad, who spoke up against sexual violence.

The ones with the real influence to drive large-scale change are the corporate leaders — CEOs, Board Chairs, investors. Without change being driven from the very top of the organization, any real action is hard to implement and maintain. In fact, one of our recommendations for companies is to make sure that these issues are taken to corporate boards. What we need to see is a solid, information-based commitment from senior management to lead change around issues that impact children.

I would really like to inspire corporate leaders and see them drive a movement for protecting children’s rights.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back.” — Charlie Brown

When my daughter was young we loved reading Charlie Brown and we watched all the movies over and over again. This quote is actually her favorite (she will now blame for stealing “her” quote). It prompted a lot of family discussions about its meaning. Life isn’t always black or white and there isn’t always a right or a wrong answer. Life is about constantly learning, and it is how you use your knowledge and what you do with it that counts.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

There isn’t just one person I’d like to have lunch with — but 168 million. According to UNICEF, there are 168 million children aged 5 to 17 who are engaged in child labor. They don’t attend school and have little or no time to play. More than half of them are exposed to the worst forms of child labor. They are denied the very chance to be children. I would like to have lunch with all of them — to hear their stories and bear witness to their lives and give them hope that we are working to create meaningful change.

How can our readers follow you on social media? Twitter and LinkedIn

Please do follow me on social media! I’m on LinkedIn and on Twitter @WikingCajsa.

For more active engagement, please also follow Global Child Forum on Twitter @GCForum as well as on LinkedIn and on Facebook. To find out more about our work please visit the Global Child Forum website.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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