Meet Michiel van Etten: Business Developer in the Nordics

June, 20th 2022
By: Nobi

What brought you to Sweden?

I lived here for about seven years once and fell in love with the culture, people and language. I speak Swedish fluently, which allows me to appreciate the country’s particularities even more. I’m also a huge fan of its stunningly beautiful nature. So I’m really glad to be back and introduce Nobi to a part of the world that places such high value on health, movement and freedom. 

What do you like about living in Sweden? 

I love how nature and the countryside hold a very special place in the collective Swedish heart. It’s where people reconnect with their roots. A lot of them own a ‘stuga’, which is a quaint little get-away in the countryside where you spend time with family and friends. In Norway it’s called a ‘hytte’. 

Both Norway and Sweden are among the healthiest places in the world. What’s their secret? 

There is a saying in Norway: ‘There is no bad weather, only bad clothes’. That pretty much sums it up. In this neck of the woods, outdoor exercise is more popular than indoor gyms. Also, you walk to the store or you ride your bike to work. Taking the car is almost frowned upon. The Scandinavians are also quite big on the concept of ‘udeskole’, which is a Danish word meaning ‘outdoor school’. The outdoors are not only seen as an excellent learning environment for kids, but also as a means to keep healthy. 

Does that apply to the elderly as well?

Yes, senior citizens are stimulated to take on outdoor activities as much as possible. So you see a lot of them walking even when it rains or snows. If the weather’s bad, just use a blanket. Being outside strengthens the immune system, that’s the core belief. And it seems to be working: in Sweden life expectancy is 81.21 years for men and close to 84.82 years for women. More than 5 per cent of Sweden’s population are aged 80 or older. I’m convinced this is largely due to how they value movement and how they embrace the great outdoors. 

How can Nobi help sustain this urge to keep moving?  

Aside from fall detection and fall prevention, Nobi could be an excellent motivator to stay fit and keep people safe as they move by watching over them. Our lamp could also monitor people’s comings and goings in a care facility. One of the reasons I really believe in the value Nobi can add to anyone’s life, is that it deals with a universal problem, i.e. making sure our elderly populations receive the care they deserve, but it also has the unique ability of seamlessly adapting itself to the specific needs of a region. 

What are Sweden’s main challenges with regards to elderly healthcare? And is it the same for the other Nordic countries? 

The Swedes are very family-oriented, much like the Norwegians and Danes. Nordic culture in general owes its uniqueness to a very strong sense of collective belonging, everyone takes care of each other. But at the same time, they are unafraid to move and start their families elsewhere, or to start a career in a different city, miles away from where they are originally from. So it’s not unusual for them to spend up to eight hours in a car to visit their loved ones. There is a huge potential for Nobi here too, in the sense that it can offer safety reassurance in a way that is both reliable and non-intrusive.

Let’s talk about Sweden, since introducing Nobi there is your most immediate priority. How is elderly care presently organized? And how does the government take responsibility for elderly care? 

In Sweden, the money comes from the state and goes to the regions, who then have to figure out how to allocate the funds. So the entire responsibility for elderly and disabled care is in the hands of the municipalities. There are presently about 33.000 long-term care facilities and 3.000 places for people with old age dementia in Sweden, and they are all subsidized by these local administrations. The municipalities also create housing facilities for people with special needs. These are called ‘ALF’s’, which is short for Assisted Living Facilities. More recently, there is a rise in ‘Senior’s Accommodation’, where the residents themselves are responsible for the activities. The number of Senior’s Accommodations has more than tripled since 2000, from 11.000 to 33.000

You are originally from the Netherlands, a country with a relatively young demographic. How does Sweden compare to your native country?  

Of Sweden’s 10 million inhabitants, 20 per cent are over 65. This number is projected to rise to 23 per cent by 2040, partly because of the large number of Swedes born in the 1940s. By 2040, nearly one in four Swedes will be 65 years or older.

How is Sweden gearing its welfare policy towards an aging population? 

Several municipalities have already started to make ambitious plans to enable the elderly to continue living in their own homes. This includes collaborating with municipal housing companies. There is also a relatively new type of housing for the most elderly that provides some professional care, as well as common premises and meals. These types of projects receive government investment grants from the same funding allocation as the other special housing units. There is also a tendency towards stimulating private initiatives to invest in innovation. 

Does this apply to the other Nordic countries as well? 

Yes, there are a lot of similarities between how the future of healthcare is envisioned and how the private sector will help shape that future. 

For now: how can Nobi make a difference in Sweden? 

Our technology will allow people to retain what they value most: their freedom. 

Is providing that freedom how you see your role as disruptionist? 

Nobi might be all about disrupting our current concept of healthcare, but it’s not about changing culture. The connection with nature is so deeply ingrained in all aspects of Scandinavian life, that taking it away would be considered robbing people of a vital part of who they are. Independence is as essential to their identity, as nature itself. Nobi is not about confinement, it’s in fact about the exact opposite: sustaining the need to move. And of course, it helps that our lamp is so aesthetically pleasing. The Swedes might outshine us when it comes to design, but I think they’ll appreciate the aesthetics of the light we want to shed on the future of their healthcare as well.

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