ABF don’t cancel – we digitize!

ABF don’t cancel – we digitize!

March/April 2020: From ABF President and IFWEA Vice President, Helen Pettersson: Arbetarnas Bildningsförbund (ABF) in Sweden carries out more than 85 000 study circles every year. We are present all over Sweden, in all main cities, in small towns and rural areas.  When COVID-19 hit us we had to, very quickly, find a way to stick to our method and digitize at the same time.

To meet, to talk, reflect together, discuss and share knowledge is our method. The study circle method. When physical meetings are out of the question, we have to contribute to break isolation and create digital communities that support liberal adult education, folkbildning – in a way that is according our method and is based upon interaction between participants.

We launched “The Meeting ER” as a way to support our local branches and all of our affiliates in their work to reorient and switch to digital.  When contacting our hotline affiliates will get advice, tips and a lot of ideas on how to keep popular movements up and running through this difficult time.

Most of our activities are facilitated by our tens of thousands of volunteers. We try to encourage study circle facilitators to go even more digital. We provide digital classrooms and educate how to facilitate a study circle online.

But still, we have not yet succeeded in reaching out to a lot of the most vulnerable people in society such as elderly people, isolated populations and people with low or no access to internet. That is our challenge now, when we have digitized our perspectives and our staff. We have to reach out even more. Our aim is to lower the thresholds, bridging the digital divide and encouraging people to get online, and connect online.

As an example, we will share the story of the author Hervor Sjödin, 84 years old. She regularly does readings where she talks about different authors from her region at a café in a small town in the northern part of Sweden. The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for Hervor and ABF to follow through with these readings. But we did not cancel – with some duct tape, a smartphone and a flowerpot as a stand Hervor did her reading on Facebook. And instead of the 10 people Hervor has reached an audience of 9 000 people. That’s digitizing!

Another example is the choir Blended Voices. They will not stop singing because of a virus. Now they use smartphones and computers to sing and practice together once a week. They are led by the chorus master and study circle facilitator from her home with the singers also from their homes.

Together with a famous hip-hop collective, Redline Recordings, ABF offers digital workshops online. These workshops are where young people from all over Sweden are encouraged to tell their story, to create a beat close to their own life and experiences, all with support from eminent and experienced hip hop artists.

The fourth example is from elder care homes. During this period all these care homes are closed for visitors. No relatives, friends or musicians, no study circle facilitators can enter the premises. But instead of cancelling some concerts, ABFs musicians and choirs perform outdoors, outside the care homes. Sitting in the first lovely spring sun elderly people can listen to music from their windows.

This pandemic situation has forced us to act, fast and determined, and to prioritize our formerly quite slow digitization. We have to find new ways to do things, to act and at the same time keep focus on our prioritized groups and main aims. We have learnt a lot, and we are learning even more how to cooperate within ABF, and also with affiliates and study circle facilitators. To listen and learn, move on and never give up. ABF will come out even stronger when we are back to a new normal.