New general secretary is in place

On the first of August Hjalmar Bø started in his role as Digni’s new general secretary. One of Hjalmar’s more important qualities is endurance – something he has proven by running marathons and working 20 years in development.

Hjalmar Bø is now established in his position as Digni’s new general secretary. He is well known in our parts from serving nine years on Digni’s board of directors. Though Hjalmar is coming to us from his position as international director for the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM), he has also 20 years’ experience working at the grassroots level for the organization.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working on all levels of the Digni structure, first as project member and then project coordinator in China, as regional coordinator and international director. I’ve seen the importance of the work that Digni does and how it touches millions of people,” he says.

What are your expectations for your new job?

“Through my work on the board of directors I’ve seen how gifted and capable Digni’s staff is. And this gave me courage to apply for the job. The staff can do things I can’t, so by working together we can do great things,” believes the new general secretary.

Interaction is important

Digni has gotten another tall, dark general secretary with a twinkle in his eye – and again with a Rogaland dialect.  Hjalmar is originally from Randaberg but currently lives in Knapstad, Østfold with his wife and their four children ages 10 to 25. Hjalmar has been a member of NLM his whole life, with his father sitting on its board for a period of time. Hjalmar has been active for years in children and youth work, for both NLM and KRIK, which he still does when he isn’t travelling, running marathons or doing yard work.

“There isn’t much time for watching TV,” he smiles.

What can we expect from you as a leader?

“As a person I am naturally patient and persevering. I am also known to be pretty down-to-earth. I can also be a bit of a ‘time optimist’ – which can be challenging for the people around me!” he laughs.

“I firmly believe in interaction, in teamwork. I believe we can accomplish more when we work together. As a leader I try to bring out the strengths in people. I am looking forward to meeting with the member organizations and their partners and to see the strengths we’ll be can build on.”

Before the summer holidays Hjalmar sent an email to the Digni secretariat. He made it clear that, during his first weeks as the new general secretary, he wants to meet with everyone in the secretariat to become better acquainted with them, but to also visit each of Digni’s member organizations. A few memorandums on his leadership goals he will have to wait until he’s had the chance to listen to whatever anyone wants to tell him.

Working on his second Masters

Hjalmar began his education at Drottningborg High School in Grimstad. He then attended four years at Fjellhaug School of Missions in Oslo before completing a four-year study in English, pedagogy and Christianity at NTNU in Trondheim. After this he moved to California in the United States where he received a Masters in cross cultural communication, before moving to China with his family to become a tentmaker there. He is now halfway done on his second Masters, on value-based leadership, at VID Specialized University in Oslo.

Hjalmar says it’s going to be exciting leading Digni through times of great change, both globally and nationally. His goal is to ensure that Digni and the way we work continues to be relevant. In June Digni signed a new framework agreement with Norad, in which our annual support was raised from NOK 160 million to NOK 186 million. Of the 37 applicants, Norad entered into an agreement with only seven applicants, and Digni received the largest sum of all.

“This was a seal of quality on the work done by [Digni member] churches and mission organizations. Many of our member organizations have worked in countries for a long time and have built strong partnerships, which are often churches that reach out to a broad spectrum of the population. We many good projects out there that change people’s lives for the better,” says Digni’s new general secretary.

New hope

What has made the greatest impact on you through your 20 years’ work in mission and development?

“There was one time in the little village of Leng Jiao Ping in China, where we saw new hope, where the people began to believe in their own resources,” he says, and continues by saying that the village that was located at 3400 meters and was extremely poor. It took three hours to reach the village by foot. Because the village was so isolated and impoverished, the Chinese authorities had given up on it and wanted to move the village’s population to a different location. When NLM and Hjalmar first entered into dialogue with the authorities about where they could begin working, this village was suggested.

They first built a school, and then sent teachers to work there. This created a sense of new hope in the people. When they met together with the village’s inhabitants to find out about the village’s resources, something happened in the people.

“They drew a circle with chalk on the floor, and wrote down the resources they knew they had. Things went slowly at the beginning, but soon the people were seized with a sense of hope. They worked together for more than two hours, and chalk markings ended up filling large parts of the floor. Almost everyone in the room smoked, so the room was completely choked with smoke in the end,” laughs Hjalmar.

Among other resources, the village inhabitants mentioned that they had a number of valuable herbs and berries that only grew at that elevation, but the problem was how to transport them out of the mountains. They agreed that a road needed to be built to solve this problem.

“It was fantastic to how hope, vision and faith in one’s own resources was ignited. There has been tremendous development in the region,” he says. “I can send you a picture of the meeting if your want,” and begins searching in his computer files for the picture.

Digni has to install a shower

Hjalmar is no short-distance runner, neither privately or at work. He challenged himself to run a marathon before he turned 40, but Child Number Four was born around that time and he had to postpone his goal ten years. This time he was able to keep his promise to himself. Hjalmar has now run in a number of half marathons and two full marathons. He registered again to run a full marathon in this year’s Oslo Marathon.

“It’s a good way for me to relax, but I also like to compete against myself. I have some really good running friends, but [running also helps me] to disconnect, to think, to enjoy nature – and to keep me in shape. My goal is to continue running half-marathons under two hours as long as I have my health. I should be able to do this without too much training,” he thinks.

How far is it from Knapstad to the Digni office in Arbinsgate in Oslo?

“Fifty kilometers.”

So we can count on you running to work now and then?

“That would probably take too much time. But I might ride my bike. Is there a shower here?


“We’ll have to install a shower then,” he says pensively.


750 000 beneficiaries in Digni-projects

Statistics from 2016 shows that Digni-funded projects reached approximately 750 000 direct beneficiaries and 5,8 million indirect beneficiaries in 2016.

Digni received almost 168 million NOK (about 20 million USD) from the Norwegian government in 2016. It was distributed to 114 projects of our 20 member organizations and their partners. The Digni network works in 35 countries and 50 % of our portfolio is in African countries, 37 % in Asia and 13 % in Latin-America. This information is from our annual report, which was just finalized. In our annual report, you can also find stories about how societies have been transformed and people are living more dignified lives, besides systematic reports on the nine main thematic areas of our work. Read the annual report here.

Reach their goals

The most interesting part of the fresh report, is the retrospective reports from 2013-2016. This shows that the money we receive from Norad (the Norwegian government), reaches many people. In 2016, Digni-funded projects reached approximately 750 000 direct beneficiaries and 5,8 million indirect beneficiaries. This wide reach can truly transform societies and help people out of poverty. Digni cooperates with different kinds of civil society organizations, but the churches are the biggest actors in our network. The churches we are working with, have about 15 million members.

All the projects supported by Digni need to have a baseline, which means an investigation of the situation before the project starts. They also have to set specific goals. Between 2013 and 2016, 77 % of the projects report that they achieved their goal or better.

Strong local organizations

The civil society is important in order to improve any society because it can challenge the decision makers and speak up for the marginalized groups. Digni wants initiatives from the grassroots, as it prevents top-down projects which can be insensitive to local customs, and it ensures sustainability and lasting changes due to a true commitment from the society itself – even when the donors have withdrawn. Strengthening of the civil society is one of our main goals, and we will strengthen this focus further the coming years. 100 000 people received leadership training, 40 000 people have been involved in advocacy and 680 000 people learned about human rights through Digni-supported projects in 2013 to 2016. During the same period, 50 000 women were in decision making positions, because of project intervention.


A joyous increase for Digni’s organizations

The umbrella organization Digni has signed a new agreement securing nearly one billion Norwegian Kroner for its work in improving the living standards of many living in poverty.

Digni just signed a new cooperative agreement with Norad for the 2018-2023 period. The long-term subsidy has increased annually from 160 million Norwegian Kroner to 186 million. In addition to this, a number of member organizations will also receive support through earmarked programs.

Digni is an umbrella organization for twenty church and mission organizations that do long-term developmental work in the global south.

“That Digni has received such a solid increase in its annual appropriation in relation to the previous period, we interpret as a statement of trust and a result of the solid work being done by our member organizations and their partners in the south,” says Digni’s functioning general secretary Elizabeth Laura Walmann.

In addition to contributing to building a strong civil society in the south, the funds will be dispersed to projects that are establishing good and inclusive educational systems, quality healthcare services, a sustainable environment, peaceful coexistence, and improved quality of life.

“Being entrusted with these funds comes with a tremendous responsibility. Through our efforts we want to contribute to the global fight against poverty, and to reaching the UN’s goals for sustainability,” states Walmann.

During the previous agreement period with Norad, 750,000 people were directly affected by projects operated through the Digni fellowship, while 5.8 million people were indirectly affected.

Norad received applications from 37 organizations, seven of which received a support agreement. Digni received the largest sum of all of these organizations.


Film about Christian persecution in Pakistan

Stefanus Alliance International, an organization working to help persecuted Christians, recently came out with a film that gives needed insight into the situation of Christians in Pakistan.

In the documentary Fighting for the Freedom of Faith, which can be found on YouTube, we meet a representative from Human Friends Organization (HFO), which is the Pakistani cooperating partner for Digni’s member organization Stefanus Alliance. We learn how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have led to the imprisonment and torture of many people, as well as violent sanctions imposed on them by extremists in society. In the film we meet people like Younis, a family man who sat in prison for seven years before he was acquitted by the Supreme Court in April 2013. He speaks about having experienced severe torture and murder attempts while in prison. We also meet representatives from a church that experienced an attack by a suicide bomber in March 2015.

First ever Christmas attack

The situation for Christians in Pakistan was again in the news after at least nine Christians were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a church in Quetta in the province of Balochistan just before Christmas.

Thea Elisabeth Haavet, Stefanus Alliance’s film and development producer, filmed and produced the new documentary. Thea Elisabeth is seen in the picture above together with a mother who lost her child during a recent terrorist attack. She has followed the situation for Christian Pakistanis for a long period of time.

“Unfortunately things are going in the wrong direction due to the increase in extremism. The attack [just before Christmas] was the first directed against a Christmas event. There have been many attacks during the Easter holidays,” states Thea Elisabeth.

“Do you think we will see more of these kinds of attacks during the Christmas holidays?”

“There is always a danger that this can happen again. Christians in nations such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Egypt always live with this kind of uncertainty. But they won’t allow themselves to be frightened from going to church – quite the opposite,” says Haavet.

Severe blasphemy laws

Over 200 million people live in Pakistan, making it the seventh most populous nation on earth. The nation is the second-largest Muslim nation with 96.4% of the population being Muslim and just 3.6% coming from religious minorities. The 1998 census counted 2.7 million Christians, though the Christians themselves are convinced that the number is much higher.

The controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan judge a person to life in prison for insulting the Quran, and a death sentence for insulting the prophet Mohammed. According to Stefanus Alliance, no one has yet to be executed on blasphemy charges by the government, but dozens of people accused of blasphemy have nonetheless been killed by extremists. Even those who have been acquitted by the court system have had to ‘go underground’ for fear of the extremist groups. Haavet knows of many examples when a mob of people has attacked those who have simply been accused of blasphemy, attacking their families, also.

“It has happened that, when someone is accused of blasphemy in the local community, a whole mob attacks them and their families. Even an entire Christian community has been attacked when one Christian person has committed blasphemy, burning down all of their houses. A couple of years ago a married couple was killed by a mob after such accusations – even before the case was registered with the police. So it’s not just acquitted victims of the blasphemy laws that are in trouble,” she explains.

HFO works under the principle ‘Clara’, which stands for counseling, legal assistance, rehabilitation and advocacy. Those who have lost loved ones to a suicide attack receive treatment for trauma through the help of psychologists and priests, and those accused of blasphemy receive free legal aid. According to the American organization USCIRF, each year around 700 Pakistani women – about 300 Christian and another 400 Hindu – are kidnapped and forced into marriage with a Muslim, and forced to convert to Islam. HFO offers free legal aid to these women in the event that their marriage needs to be annulled.

Helped to a new life

Those who have been acquitted of being accused of blasphemy and women who have had their forced marriages annulled often must find another place to live and a new livelihood. HFO helps these people start a small business by offering them such things as free sewing courses or buying them a rickshaw (a three-wheeled taxi).

HFO also does advocacy work. After a terrorist attack has occurred on the Christian community the relationship between Christians and Muslims can be very tense. “In certain periods we have worked intensely with building dialogue [between the two communities] and have succeeded many times in calming down the situation. We regularly organize religious dialogues between priests and imams, and also translated a brochure that teaches that religious freedom is a basic human right.

“Are people willing to accept this message?”

“It varies. We are in contact with many religious leaders and are seeing some progress and an increase in understanding. Knowing what the other religion believes helps to build against prejudice,” says Haavet.

Stay updated

The stories in Stephanus Alliance’s documentary represent minority groups living in very challenging circumstances.

“What can we who are living in Norway do to ease the burden of these people?”

“Those of us who believe in the power of prayer can pray. We can also support the work financially, since giving free legal aid can be very costly. We can also send letters of appeal to those who have decision-making authority. We can keep ourselves informed on the situation. And we can work in our own communities and try to influence our politicians,” says the film maker.