Datum 2022-09-21
Artikeltyp Portrait

Professor's portrait: Sarah Wamala Andersson

Sarah Wamala Andersson is one of the professors to be installed at the Academic Ceremony on 7 October 2022.

Sarah Wamala Andersson is one of the professors to be installed at the Academic Ceremony on 7 October 2022.

Sarah Wamala Andersson, Professor of Health and welfare technology, School of Health, Care and Social Welfare, Division of Health and Welfare Technology.

Please tell us briefly about your academic career – what decisions have brought you to where you are today?

My academic dreams began when I was a teenager growing up in a village called Kituntu, sixty kilometres outside Uganda's capital city where I was born and raised. I was always asking my mother and grandmother difficult questions who often became annoyed because they didn’t have the answers. They thought I was daydreaming or living in a fantasy world. I felt that there was something more to life than what I saw around me in my village which was separated from the rest of the world. Where I grew up, girls got married and had children already in their teens. Although I did a lot of heavy work like many children do in a typical village in Africa (such as fetching water, balancing a ten-litre water container on my head, finding firewood, cooking, helping with farming, building houses, etc.), there was a sense of freedom and security in my village. I was able to find many creative solutions by testing out different things.

My mother was a teacher in a village school e, which opened the door for me and my siblings and other neighbourhood children to attend school. After compulsory school it was difficult to move on to upper secondary school because my family could not afford to pay the school fees. I couldn’t see any other alternative but to acquire a higher education. I didn’t want to end up like the other women in the village. The constant question I asked myself was: How can I get money to pay for my school fees? I became an entrepreneur (without even knowing what it was). I learned to work on the farm in a business-like way and sold l agricultural products. The money that I earned I used it to invest further. For example, I bought peanuts cheaply, peeled, cleaned and roasted them, and sold them at the market. I hired my siblings and cousins to help with the tasks.

In fact, I was one of the few in my village to go to high school at boarding school several miles away from my village. Already then, I was called an academicianin my village! I was talented and was expected to become a physician, but during a visit to a university hospital in Kampala I realised that to make a difference, I had to study subjects that could help fix the economy and help as many people as possible to live a better life and prevent unnecessary poverty. Then the civil war came, and we were locked in the boarding school for a couple of years and I experienced the war-related miseries.. At boarding school, I had no pocket money and earned money by selling my school notes to other students who came from wealthy families. My focus was at getting high grades to be able to enroll to the university. Makerere University in Kampala was highly ranked on the African continent and was the only university in the whole country by then and very few girls who could get in. I was the first person from my village to go to the university. That was incredible!

When I came to Sweden in the 1990s, it was really tough to get into the university. My mother's voice rang loud and clear in my ear: “Sarah, if you want to eat bread you have to get an education and if you want butter on your bread you have to get a higher education.” Thanks to kind people who helped me to send my university grades for evaluation to what was then called Verket för högskoleservice, which is now UHR (The Swedish Council for Higher Education). I had high grades and got confirmation that my degree corresponded to a Swedish Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. I felt that nothing could stop me, it was a matter of focusing and moving on to get a higher academic education. I studied Swedish, computer science and economics at Komvux in the evening and worked at the same time during the day. Through a specialised education for immigrants with an academic degree, I was offered an internship at Karolinska Institutet (KI) as an assistant to an intellectual and open-minded female professor. This paved the way for me to begin my Master's degree in biostatistics at Stockholm University while workingat KI. I finished quickly and my professor encouraged me to think about research topics for a Doctoral thesis in a newly started project on cardiovascular diseases among women in Sweden. My hypotheses were based on social and psychosocial factors and their importance for cardiovascular health. It was a fantastic time and I learnt so much and also had the opportunity to study further in the US and England and presented my research at several international conferences. I completed my thesis after just four years at KI. My thesis received considerable medial attention. This was so exciting! The following year, I was recruited as director of research at a government agency and I had the opportunity to conduct further research at KI alongside. I became an associate professor at KI just three years after finishing my doctoral thesis.

My academic achievements have made it possible for me to meet many interesting people and have taken me to interesting parts of the world. For example, I have spent time in New Zealand on a postdoc research period and conducted exciting research there together with other talented scientists. I have also been able to complete a corresponding MBA at Stanford University together with successful business leaders around the world and learnt how investors think.

For me, my academic career has been mostly about what I can do with it rather than the title per se.. My academic background has allowed me to serve as executive director of a health institution in Stockholm county-council and became the first person ever with an African background to be appointed by the Swedish Government as Director General of a government agency in SwedenWith my scientific training, and together with others, I have successfully implemented several national health programmes and policies making lives better for many people and to socieatal development.

I am also involved in public debates, voluntary community activities, and contribute as a mentor and coach for several young people and managers who want to develop their personal leadership to make a difference. Supervising Masters students and doctoral students to finalization of their academic degrees is an important aspect related to this ambition.

My mantra is: It is not about the academic title per se, but it is about what you can do with it to make lives better and the world a better place!

It’s absolutely fantastic that academic education is available to all citizens in Sweden! Despite this fact, many people do not fully participate in this unique luxury that others only dream about in other parts of the world. Therefore, together with two other female researchers, I wrote about the importance of higher education and to encourage young people to take advantage of the fantastic opportunities that exist in Sweden. (Unstoppable women - does education matter? (2016).

In what area do you conduct research?

My task as a Professor at MDU is to develop research on health and welfare technology. To help strengthen this research domain, I have initiated a new research team - PREVIVE. PREVIVE focuses on evidence, policies, reimbursement models related to implementation of health and welfare technologies from a user perspective.

Even though innovations and development of health and welfare technologies are increasing rapidly, their implementation and upscaling are slow and many decision-makers are uncertain about which technology actually provides benefits.

A lot is happening - both in Sweden and globally. Every day is exciting!

How would you describe your research environment at MDU?

MDU, with its unique location on two campuses on both sides of Lake Mälaren, provides energy in various ways. Also, the research environment at MDU is exceptional with its interdisciplinary scientific approach. I meet many talented researchers and driven students. I enjoy working at my School, which focuses on healthand welfare. I appreciate my talented, open-minded and supportive managers at various levels. Conscious leadership is an important prerequisite for the researchers to constantly develop their curiosity, create new research ideas and to be able to attract new researchers and students.

What is the driving force in your research?

The driving force for me is to contribute with research that can make an impact from different perspectives and contribute to knowledge development in society and to making lives better.

In my role as head of subject for health and welfare technology, I am passionate about developing new relevant courses and supporting and inspiring students to conduct research in this area or to become interested in working actively with health and welfare technologies based on a scientific approach.

I am driven by curiosity and am grateful to conduct research in an exciting and new area that is developing rapidly.I am convinced that digitalization will become increasingly significant and adequately contribute to a paradigm shift from reactive to proactive approach to health and welfare at large.. Health is becoming an increasingly vital issue for everyone and for societies. Many people want to live longer and have good health, which contributes to a positive social development.

What drives me is positive approach and continuous improvement in everything I do and how I can develop as a human being. It’s about mindset and attitude towards life and to dare become open-minded. Not forgetting being happy and humble too. For me, It is about shifting to become greater in every moment. It is this understanding that prompted me to publish a self-help book (Shift your mind and make yourself great again, 2018).

Which research domains are particularly important for you?

I want to make a difference with what I do. I believe that I can contribute to societal benefits through my research in health and welfare technologies.

After many years serving as an executive director of health-related organisations and as a scientistin the pharmaceutical industry, it is clear that action-based research linked to health, welfare and technologies is crucial for the whole of society. I generate many research ideas all the time with a lot of positive energy and curiosity.

The digitalization of health and welfare is developing rapidly, especially with health and welfare technologies. Many people live longer and want to enjoy good health and a better quality of life and thus there is a greater interest in how technology can contribute.

How do you feel about becoming a Professor given that MDU has recently become an official University?

It was precisely this exciting developmental phase that attracted me to MDU. Previously, I have served as a professor and worked at well-established universities with a long history. It’s exciting to be part of this unique development from university college to full university.

A lot is happening - both in Sweden and globally. Every day is exciting!

What's the best part about conducting research at MDU?

It’s a young university with many opportunities, there is a sense of openness and talented colleagues. I didn't know anyone when I started at MDU and got to know new colleagues and can expand my network. Both Eskilstuna and Västerås are lovely campus locations and with high level of commitment.