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.
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?
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.