From open arms to marine nature reserves, and everything in between.
The Danir Group is made up of people who show a great deal of care for each other. They care about their colleagues and their customers, as well as the world and society in which they live and work. Where does this care stem from? What is this social responsibility based on? To find out, we went to Malmö to have a chat with the longest-serving members of the group, Christin and Dan Olofsson.
They are both highly committed to these questions. Perhaps these values were established in their background and upbringing. Although they have roots at opposite ends of the country, they have similar experiences of growing up in a warm and generous home. In both their childhood homes, the door was always open, and on big holidays and festive occasions, their families always invited someone who might not have a family of their own into their home.
“In that sense, our upbringings were quite similar,” says Christin. “Our families always invited people into our homes on Christmas Eve, especially people who had no relatives. And that’s what we have also done. It comes naturally and it’s not something we think much about, it’s just the way it is.”
A combination of hospitality, Jämtland, and Österlen seems to be a great breeding ground for good values. And even though they don’t have a particular role model when it comes to taking care of employees and society at large, they have certainly been influenced by seeing others selflessly contribute to a better world.
“You have much more respect for people who help others without having a selfish reason – even if they do so in small ways,” says Dan about what inspired him.
Taking social responsibility as a company or business, however, has not always been self-evident. When the young Olofssons began their professional careers, social work was managed solely by the society.
“You worked a job, paid taxes, and society would take care of everything,” says Dan about social responsibility in Sweden in the 1970s.
When Dan started Danir in 1986, he once said that he wanted to see if they could build a consulting company that focused on the employees as much as on customers and profitability. When he started his entrepreneurship, this was far from common, even at consulting firms. He had a novel philosophy in this regard: if you want motivated and committed employees, you must be responsive and take care of them.
“If you don’t create an environment in which these talented employees can develop, they will go to someone else; so it also involves self-preservation,” says Dan about the importance of creating a culture where you deliver high quality to customers while taking good care of the people in the organisation. As the conversation continues and we discuss the responsibilities a company has towards the world beyond its own operations, it becomes clear that young people today have a different picture of how their employer should act in these matters.
“When I started working, these issues didn’t exist,” says Dan. “But for young people today, it’s very important that companies get involved in issues other than just the bottom line of the income statement. They want to live in a better society, and they place new demands on their employers to get involved and take social responsibility.”
“Young people are a driving force for non-profit projects today. And that makes me happy,” says Dan about the new generation’s drive.
The best investment, all categories
When Dan and Christin started a hotel and safari project in South Africa in 2004, they heard about how many of their employees were falling ill and dying of AIDS. And when they visited their employees’ villages, they were shocked by the number of orphans there. An entire generation of parents was gone. They had fallen victim to the AIDS epidemic that was raging in KwaZulu-Natal.
“You can’t just go home and forget about it – we had witnessed it and we wanted to help,” says Christin about how they felt when they saw the impact that HIV and AIDS were having on the villages.
“The first thing I thought was that we need to start an orphanage for all the orphans, but that’s not how they think there; relatives take care of each other’s children. So, no orphanages were established. But then we thought that maybe we should start working in schools, because you need to start at a very young age for it to produce results. And that’s how Star for Life was created,” says Christin proudly.
More than 90% of the staff at Thanda Safari come from the surrounding villages. And they have received all the requisite training and education to run a five-star lodge on-site.
“They didn’t attend a culinary school in Switzerland, and they may not know all the precise technical details, but this is more than compensated for by the fact that they have such a positive commitment – and the guests notice that,” says Dan about how the lodge not only creates jobs in the region but also trains positive and service-oriented employees.
It has made a difference to the villages, and the standard of living and health is definitely better than it was 17 years ago. But the rural areas are still much poorer and more deprived than in the metropolitan areas around Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town.
The work done by Star for Life has made a difference for hundreds of thousands of South African children. And you can tell that both Christin and Dan are proud of the results.
“Christin and I both had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela once and hearing this icon say that he very much appreciated our work in South Africa – it was very encouraging,” says Dan about being praised by someone who truly knows what commitment means.
“I’ve made a lot of investments in my life,” continues Dan. “Some good and some bad. But my best investment has been Star for Life. We’ve never gotten a cent back. But the ‘total return on investment’ has been the best if you take all the factors into account.”
I’ve made a lot of investments in my life. Some good and some bad. But my best investment has been Star for Life.
– Dan Olofsson
The idea of a more accessible labour market
There are also local examples of the social responsibility shouldered by the Group and by the Olofsson family. At home in Malmö, they saw how exclusion was growing and that there was a need to make the labour market more accessible to foreign-born people.
“We live here in Malmö, which has a large immigrant population. And Sweden is extremely bad at integrating immigrants into the labour market. It can sometimes take ten years for an immigrant to get a job, as opposed to six months to a year in many other countries,” Dan says about Swedish inability to get immigrants into employment.
“So, we started something called Uppstart Malmö 12 years ago, and 4,000 people have found work through that initiative,” says Dan about their successful labour market initiative in their hometown. An initiative in which several local entrepreneurs have joined forces to make the labour market accessible to more people.
Once again, children’s play is heard on the slopes of Kaxås
And to get even more local, our conversation turns to the initiative that gave new life to a depopulated area in Jämtland. In Krokom Municipality is the village of Kaxås, where Dan’s parents grew up and where he has visited every year since childhood.
“It was a vibrant village in the ’50s when I was growing up, but the population has decreased year by year,” says Dan about this all-too-common problem around the Swedish countryside. “And in 2019, the politicians announced that the school would be closed. And if the school closes, no new young families move in, and then the gas station closes down, the grocery store closes down, and the village ultimately dies. There are numerous examples of this in the inland of north of Sweden. And it’s a bit tragic.”
They wanted to see if the negative trend could be reversed by getting young families with children to choose to live in this fantastic, scenic area again. And that’s when Project Kaxås was started. An initiative that is based on two parts: the fantastic drive of committed villagers and the construction project that has built 29 new houses on the hill above the village.
In addition, a number of abandoned farms and houses have been put up for sale. Farms that no one had any hope of ever being able to sell. Unlike many other housing projects, potential buyers have been able to visit the village with their families, where they can get a feel for the atmosphere and determine whether living there would suit them.
The project has been a resounding success, and Kaxås has gone from 100 inhabitants in 2019 to 260 today. The village is once again teeming with life; children playing can be heard again across the area and the preschool will be expanded.
“There are many committed people living on-site who have gotten involved and who are running it, and they have done a fantastic job,” says Dan. “Some fifty new families – around 80% of whom don’t come from the local region – have moved there and now have a fantastic environment for their children.”
The project has successfully presented a lifestyle concept including a skiing club, nature, fishing, hunting, and a calm and safe environment close to a preschool and school. And in doing so, has managed to reverse a negative spiral and revitalise an entire area. An area that offers a great quality of life and high natural value.
Nature’s significance must be taken seriously
Nature is something that Dan and Christin are passionate about and, together with various companies within the Group, they have initiated several nature and wildlife conservation projects.
Their latest conservation initiative can be found off the coast of Tanzania. This is where Thanda Island is located, which is one of Thanda Group’s five-star establishments. In the area around the island, they have formed a marine nature reserve to protect and restore the corals after many years of abuse by dynamite fishing, and to provide shelter to sea turtles that nest on the islands in the area.
In another important project, they have worked intensively for several years with the conservation and protection of rhinos in the nature reserve in which Thanda Safari Lodge is located. In addition to normal conservation work for the various species in the reserve, there is a constant battle against poachers.
Small things are not to be underestimated. It doesn’t have to be a big project – small things can have a very big impact.
– Christin Olofsson
“There are around 20,000 rhinos in South Africa, and over 1,000 are killed by poachers every year, so numerous measures are implemented to protect them,” says Dan about wildlife conservation in Thanda Game Reserve. An area where wild animals get a chance to live as they always have.
They dedicate a lot of resources to wildlife protection, including by employing more than 35 guards. And their diligent work is paying off – the latest figures show that the rhino population is increasing. Which is very pleasing.
Dan and Christin are asked if they have any advice for those wanting to take on greater responsibility. Both believe it is better that many people contribute a little than only a few doing all the heavy lifting.
“Every person has an environment where they see needs of some kind,” says Dan. “And that’s where you can do something. You will enrich your life and you will feel that you are doing something meaningful for someone else.”
“Small things are not to be underestimated,” says Christin. “It doesn’t have to be a big project – small things can have a very big impact.”
Our conversation oscillates between care and consideration for colleagues and customers to social responsibility at both ends of Sweden, for nature, for other people, and to prevent exclusion. It is clear that the Olofssons are devoted, involved and committed to these issues. For them, everything is connected, and you can instantly recognise their desire and hope for a society where we care about each other a little more. A society where all of us – citizens, entrepreneurs and society in general – work together and show a little more care for each other. It could be opening your home to someone during a holiday, or starting a marine nature reserve. And everything in between.