Turning crisis into opportunities – reflections from UN Conference in Sarajevo

“Governments and Companies must unite in support to working parents for real society impact to happen – and the key to the norm change needed is to focus on Company ROI and local leader role models.”/Tiina Bruno, Founder of the Swedish Parentsmart employers model and CEO at Föräldrasmart Sverige AB
Now the topic of family support to make it possible for both women and men to combine work with family is on top of agendas in an increasing No of countries – but often far from prioritized in everyday work life in Companies and organizations.  Government economic support to parents during parental leave will not get the planned impact if local employers don’t support the same goals. A matter of norm change needed, where local leader attitudes and role models are key. Read below reflections from an international UNFPA arranged conference in Bosnia and Herzegovina – on topics relevant in many countries.

In October hundreds of participants from UN organisations in different countries, governments, civil society, international organizations and academia gathered during two important and creative days. The conference was organized by UNFPA in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The countries in South-East Europe face increasing population challenges and the fear is that low fertility rates, ageing populations and outmigration will lead to smaller, older and weaker nations. However, experience has shown that focus should be not on figures of population size – but the human capital in the societies. The conference participants concluded that a key strategy for responding to demographic change in the region is to invest in the education, health and innovation potential of people – throughout the entire lifecourse.

“Clearly the rapid demographic change in South-East Europe requires urgent responses,” said Alanna Armitage, UNFPA Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “But we must move away from doomsday scenarios and focus on turning crisis into opportunity. In essence, the goal must be to create countries that people want to live in, and establishing societies that allow young people to realize their dreams and build their own future.”

“People with their rights and needs, not numbers, must be at the centre of population policies.”
Alanna Armitage, UNFPA Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

The human right to combine work with family – an important part of achieving Agenda 2030 goals

There are great advantages to see democraphic changes not as a liability, but as a potential for society. Young people will always be curious and go abroad to study and work, no matter country of origin. But they need a reason to go back home to work and build a family, and not consider it as an impossible option.


Many of the speakers pointed out the opportunities and power of change ensuring equality between men and women, reducing inequalities in the context of efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

There must be alternatives for mothers to be able to continue working. It’s a matter of improving the human rights in the society – the right to live a whole life with both a job and a family, for both mothers and fathers.

How can employers promote a more gender equal share of parental leave, family responsibility and attractive career paths for working parents – and what’s in it for them?

As a representative from Sweden Tiina Bruno, founder of the Swedish Parentsmart employers model and CEO at Föräldrasmart Sverige AB, was invited to lecture and participate in a panel with focus on possible solutions for societies and Companies to increase a more gender equal balance for working parents.

Government economic initiatives to support the combination of work and family is an initial must for change to happen. But governments can’t fix it all. National support will not get an impact without local employers supporting the same goal – governments and Companies must make efforts side by side. A  fast increasing number of countries invest in parental insurance from the government, also for men – but in many cases fathers risk losing their job if they use it.

If governments and employers target the same goal of making it possible to combine work with family it may have a sustainable impact on birth rates, gender equal families and work places – and thus leverage for demographic changes needed. However, nothing will happen if Companies don’t see and truly understand the benefits.

Ideas from other countries can inspire – but only local examples can change local norms
Employer support to working parents is of course a matter of norms and attitudes, with respect for the difference in cultures and local history. Therefore experience and best practise from other countries can inspire – but only local examples can really affect  local norms.

3 things are key to the change needed, no matter where in the world.

1: Find the Company WHY, with managers on top level
The way to get private sector companies to really commit to support working parents is to start helping them find their own local why – their reason connected to what they prioritize in their every day work and challenges. The reasons often vary but to get high level commitment from managers in the organization there must be clear and undoubtful connections to the Company vision, values and business goals. Like stronger attraction with lower recruitment costs, increased health with lower cost for sick leaves, increased competitiveness with a stronger corporate brand and market strength etc.  

2: Identify internal manager role models increasing commitment among all leaders

All managers must get the possibility to discuss and find their own convictions about ROI/Return on investment with supporting working parents – otherwise family friendly Co policies will get no impact and only stay at HR, with no internal commitment from managers nor impact for employees. The next local step adding to a real change is to identify truly committed role models among  top level managers in the Company, to engage and get commitment from other managers in the organization.

3: Identify local role model Companies to spread mindset and bets practise to other employers

and Companies, and let them inspire and convince other local Companies about the wins of investing in employed parents. With focus on business opportunities creating a more inclusive and sustainable work place making it easier and cheaper to attract and keep competence, get lower sick leave figures and increase loyalty, innovation and productivity among employees. Even though it may be difficult to prove with figures, many Companies try to find their KPI:s to follow up and measure the impact.

Many countries and Companies want to increase the exchange of experience and gather best practise on an international level within the area of transforming norms around the combination of work and family – for all countries and employers to develop faster together. In Sweden a group of Co/org will 2020 initiate a project to develop a new standard in the area, with ideas of employer support adapted to Company and country maturity levels. Working parents are worth investing in for both societies and Companies, everywhere. One of the most universal facts is that parents and the competence they develop is/are an asset also at work – a truth with power to change norms and impact social sustainability no matter where in the world.

Start with identifying, developing and spreading local role models supporting working parents, with clear and grounded reasons for the benefits.”
/Tiina Bruno

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