Meet Julie Granhøj: Fieldwork from Copenhagen to Groundswell

Arrived from Copenhagen to the "old" brick site of Groundswell on Powell Street.

Arrived from Copenhagen to the "old" brick site of Groundswell on Powell Street.

Last spring, Groundswell received a spirited email from a Danish anthropology student asking us if she could come to Vancouver and do her fieldwork on the Groundswell community.  How cool! Baited with offers of workshop facilitation and fresh baking, and getting to know her over several Skype calls, we were happily excited to bring her into our world.  August arrived and the bright, curious and brave Julie Granhøj touched down in Vancouver and has been working closely with us ever since, notebook and pen in hand, ready to jump into every aspect of our community and engage in deep discussion about the challenges of doing things differently, doing good, and doing it all, in community. 

My path to Groundswell

I was born on a carrot farm in the small Danish village of Jørlunde. When I was a kid, I remember teachers and other adults always asking: “so; what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I never really had an answer to that question and I remember not really succumbing to the idea that not having a profession or an educational strategy planned out was a big problem. All through school and college, I firmly held on to the right to respond with a short and somewhat unsatisfactory “I don’t know” whenever someone posed that question. Contrary to my beliefs at the time, I actually did discover a vocation that I feel truly passionate about. It is this passion that led me to Groundswell.

I experienced the transformative power of empathy and understanding at quite an early age. My father’s sudden death when I was just 14 years old shattered the world as I knew it. While everybody’s lives carried on around me, I was caught in a painful void of grief and soon went down a spiralling road of bitterness and cynicism. Fortunately, I got to spend a life altering year at an ‘efterskole’ before continuing to college. An efterskole is a unique Danish independent residential school with a strong focus on community, compassion and personal development. Here, I found the space and support to face my pain and gradually open up my heart and regain my faith in people.

When I discovered the world of social anthropology a few years later, I was thrilled. I found that social anthropology is all about people, perspective and caring; interacting with people, participating in their lives, learning about their ideas and visions, attempting to see the world through their eyes and figure out what is important to them. And to somehow use all that knowledge and insight to do good.

I embarked on my anthropological studies at Copenhagen University but I also wanted to apply the methods and principles I was learning to solve real world problems and issues. I did this by joining forces with passionate anthropologists and designers at the consultancy firm Antropologerne/‘The Anthropologists’. Here, we combine anthropology and design approaches to create ‘insight and change’ through a broad range of projects for public administrations and private companies. I’ve learned how much social anthropology has to offer to the world and that there really is nothing quite as extraordinary as the ordinary struggles, practices and motivations of real people.

Discovering the significance of social ventures

My love of compassionate communities also led me to seek out the non-profit organisation that has since become my second home: Indvandrer Kvindecentret/‘The Immigrant Women’s Centre’; an activity centre for women with ethnic minority backgrounds and their children. I work as a facilitator of the weekly homework cafés where 60-70 women, kids and volunteers come together twice a week for a night of homework assistance, counselling, cooking, common meals, play and mutual exchanges of stories and perspectives. I am deeply invested in the work we do and I am beyond grateful for all the amazing people I have gotten to know.

The Immigrant Women’s Centre is also where my interest in social ventures was sparked as we launched Send Flere Krydderier/‘Send More Spices’, a social venture café and catering with the aim of creating jobs for women with ethnic minority backgrounds who face severe barriers to employment due to mental and/or physical disabilities, language barriers and lack of training. We are continually expanding this successful venture and are able to train and hire more women while also advocating for more diversity in the Danish labour market. Oh, and the dishes these women create are absolutely amazing!

When I experienced all the hard work, thrills and tough challenges involved in launching – and growing – a social venture, I knew that this was something I wanted to delve deeper into. Anthropology offers me the tools and opportunity to do just that.

In Vancouver for the rain and social initiatives

hygge def.jpeg

I am currently doing fieldwork towards my master’s at Copenhagen University. I had my heart set on being amongst social entrepreneurs and I wanted to do it in Vancouver. Why Vancouver? Well, I know some good-hearted Canadians in and around the city that I wanted to reconnect with, and my frantic Google searches told me that a lot of social initiatives were arising here. Oh, and I love rain! I'm not kidding. Some of my best childhood memories revolve around rain. There's just something about rain that throws me straight into ‘hygge’ mode (Maybe you’ve heard of hygge from all those surveys claiming that we Danes are the happiest people in the world?). So what better place to go during the fall than Raincouver, right? When I found my way to the Groundswell community I was amazed and absolutely convinced that this was everything I was looking for! So here I am, doing fieldwork on social entrepreneurship while collaborating with the team and feeling overwhelmingly grateful to have been welcomed with open arms. I am excited to have the opportunity to learn while contributing to the inspiring work that takes place here.  Amongst anthropologists, fieldwork is often viewed as a ‘rite of passage’ and said to be self-transforming. I cannot imagine a better place to undergo this process than as a member of the Groundswell community; surrounded by so many caring people who are also committed to undergoing and creating change.

While I’m still not sure what my future job will hold, my fascination with people’s personal stories and motivations now means that I have more of an answer to offer when people ask me what I want to do: I want to build on the power of empathy to spread awareness on the inherent promises, challenges and key concerns of social ventures and social justice-oriented organizations. This fieldwork is part of that journey.

I encourage anyone who wishes to exchange stories and perspectives with me to drop by the café and say hi whether the comforting rain is pouring down or the sun is bright and shining. I can’t wait to meet you!