KTH Great Prize goes to social entrepreneur Dilsa Demirbag-Sten

Published Jun 14, 2019

Entrepreneur, author and journalist Dilsa Demirbag-Sten is this year´s recipient of KTH Great Prize for 2019. She is awarded the prize for her work in helping children in underprivileged areas gain access to education and knowledge.

Dilsa Demirbag-Sten, this year's recipient of the KTH Great Prize. Photo: Håkan Lindgren.

How does it feel to receive the KTH Great Prize and to join the company of Assar Gabrielsson, Max Tegmark, Elise Ottesen-Jensen and others?

“It feels bewildering, honourable and a it seems a bit improbable when you think of the names of the previous winners. I don't go around thinking I'm doing a great deed. It’s more like I´m pegging away with things that I´m working on on a daily basis. But it's incredibly honourable. It makes someone like me reflect on what I do, thinking `that's how you can also formulate it´, they way it is formulated in the prize motivation. Even though you should be cautious when using war metaphors, I do see myself as a soldier in the service of democracy. Someone who fights for journalism and the freedom of speech and for a more fair allocation of resources,” says Dilsa Demirbag-Sten.

What would your thoughts on the role of technology in support of education, integration and democracy?

“Despite my humanistic education, I have a pathologically nerdish interest in technology. I can go to the Boston Dynamics website and dream about how their robots for example could be used in natural catastrophes. However, generally speaking I think we ought to have a living and structured dialogue on what we should use technology for. That is something that is missing today, at a time when we are facing a new age. Just because we can do something with the aid of technology, should we do it? And if so, why? You could liken this with us sitting in our girls and boys rooms with a manual on how to make a bomb. What we are lacking is an adult person who can explain why we shouldn't go ahead and do it.”

There is a need for us to talk about human qualities, Demirbag-Sten adds. It is about recognizing the opportunities that technology can offer rather than being struck by a feeling that humans will be outcompeted by technology, she says. With a critical and a searching dialogue on what it means to be human, these qualities can be strengthened in a time when technology takes an increasingly bigger place in our lives, according to Demirbag-Sten.

The prize motivation to why Demirbag-Sten has been awarded the KTH Great Prize for 2019 states:

“With a strong and inspiring conviction that knowledge and critical thinking are crucial for social development, Dilsa Demirbag-Sten has turned words into deeds. Via robust involvement, she has managed to combine social entrepreneurship with the view that education is both a right and a possibility - via the creation of Berättarministeriet. This foundation not only opens doors to higher education, it is also, by extension, an issue of democracy. Dilsa Demirbag-Sten is a very worthy recipient of the KTH Great Prize.”

Berättarministeriet (a Swedish non-profit-driven, politically and religiously independent foundation that encourages children to use their imagination in order to develop creativity and critical thinking) has been working since 2011 to help young people in underprivileged areas gain access to education and knowledge. This has been done via education centres and writing workshops in Södertälje, Husby and Hagsätra in Stockholm and in Gamlestaden in Gothenburg, for example.

“Via Berättarministeriet, Dilsa Demirbag-Sten has managed to communicate the message that learning is both fun and very important. This is fully in line with the KTH view on education and broader recruitment where more children should see the opportunity to go on to higher education, and be inspired to do so,” says KTH´s President Sigbritt Karlsson.

For more information, please contact KTH President Sigbritt Karlsson on +46 (0)8 790 70 01 or rektor@kth.se.

Peter Ardell

Facts

  • Dilsa Demirbag-Sten has written several books, including Stamtavlor (Norstedts, 2005) and Fosterland (Albert Bonniers förlag, 2010).
  • Demirbag-Sten was previously a member of Globaliseringsrådet (Sweden´s Globalisation Council) and had a seat in the Kulturrådet´s (Swedish Arts Council) reference group for culture periodicals. She is also a director of AllBright and has previously been a director of Riksteatern (A publicly funded theatre institution and Sweden's largest touring theatre), the Swedish Institute, Linnaeus University, the Swedish Red Cross, Humanists Sweden and the think-tank FORES.
  • The KTH Great Prize will be presented at the Graduation Ceremony in Konserthuset in November.
  • The KTH Great Prize, that this year amounts to SEK 1.2 million, is funded by income from investments from the KTH Great Prize Foundation, established by an anonymous donation in 1944. The Prize is to be awarded to a Swedish citizen who, via epoch-making deeds or the discovery and creation of new values, especially within technology but also within art and science, promotes the well-being of our people.

Here´s the full list of award winners.