Is a book fair just about books? Not really. More than paper and ink, visitors are want to be transported to the worlds behind the words. Curious and open-minded, book enthusiasts might just be an ideal audience for SDG communicators.
For more than two decades, the organisers of Globala Torget (or “Global Square” in English) have been engaging with visitors of the Gothenberg Book Fair on a wide range of issues like climate change, freedom of speech, indigenous rights and, now, recovering from the pandemic.
Globala Torget, led by a network of about 60 non-governmental organisations, has become an established part of what is the largest literary festival in Scandinavia and the second largest book fair in Europe. The Global Square’s stands and stalls make up one fifth of its surface area. The Gothenburg Book Fair attracts about 100 000 visitors per year and in past years, between 20 000 and
40 000 of them visited the innovative space.
Globala Torget’s live events are held on several stages – in 2021, there were 60 programmes; although in 2019, before the pandemic, there were three times as many – 180. Globala Torget is also present at another smaller literary festival: Umeå Littfest (which attracts around 10 000 people). Visitors can attend authors’ readings, interviews, and panel discussions, with new books often being the starting point for conversations on climate change, human rights, or trade imbalances. There are exhibitions and art installations, live music acts and poetry performances. The events bring together the worlds of journalism and art, politics and music, social activism and poetry.
Recent events have also included the democracy-building initiative #ViMåstePrata, which combined elements of panel discussions with a musical! “Bodies Under Siege”, a programme on equal rights, brought together poetry and music. Pussy Riot activists Lucine Djanyan and Alexey Knedlyakovsky, who now live in exile in Sweden, built a replica of a room in a Swedish refugee centre. Visitors could also see and installation from Lawrence Abu Hamdan “the missing 19db” on prison and torture in Syria (documentation of an earlier performance).
Big names attract visitors and the media. Over the years, Globala Torget has held events with many prominent guests, including Nobel Laureates in Literature Olga Tokarczuk, Svetlana Alexievich, and Nadine Gordimer; Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu; UN Assistant Secretary General Ulrika Modéer; and many other well-known writers and politicians. Members of the Swedish government participate regularly.
Whilst in-person events are at the heart of the initiative, Globala Torget enjoys broad reach across channels. Most stage events are accessible on Globala Torget’s YouTube channel, where you can find more than 500 videos. There is also an array of podcasts.
The initiative also enjoys substantial coverage in the traditional media, probably due to the sheer size of the event. In 2021, 10 out of 60 programmes aired on Swedish TV and national radio stations contributed as well. All these activities have resulted in Globala Torget becoming a major hub for the public to exchange on how to make our world a better place. Its organisers have built on their growing reputation to innovate further. Since 2019, they have organised events where school students can meet NGO activists.
When it was set up some twenty years ago, Globala Torget was funded by the Swedish government agency for development co-operation. Today the initiative operates as a network of about 60 NGOs coordinated by the Olof Palme International Center. The initiative provides a platform not only for big NGO players like the Swedish branches of Amnesty International or World Wide Fund for Nature, but also for smaller NGOs. While the Olof Palme International Center is rooted in the Swedish labour movement, Globala Torget includes participants from a broad political spectrum.
Big events like fairs have always been communication hubs, bringing together people from various regions and socio-economic backgrounds, and with different motivations, to share a common passion. Globala Torget is thus a great way to reach new audiences. Its organisers estimate that about 30% of event visitors have been in touch with NGOs before, while 70% are first-time contacts.
Globala Torget picks up on this wealth of influences and inputs, bringing together culture and activism, politics and entertainment, global citizens and locals – in a format that is appealing to visitors and the media alike. So when fair goers return home, they not only take with them a few new books, but hopefully also a host of new SDG ideas.
This post is published in partnership with Engagement Global, a German service agency working on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to engage civil society on issues of development co-operation.