by Emelie Ekblad May 12, 2018




I’m in Jordan. It’s night. I’m looking out over Palestine from my bedroom window. Seeing the lights from Jerusalem on the hill in front of me. Trying to take in the fact that I am here. Here.  I’m fine-tuning the last things for tomorrow’s workshop for the Civil Society Organization (CSO) I’m here with. In two days, we are driving up north towards Syria, to meet with a few partner organizations. Session with UNHCR and Syrian refugees.  


Journeys through Jordan. 


I should have written these lines long ago. But life happened. I’ve started writing this piece over and over again. Why so hard? Even though I couldn’t be more excited about the endeavors ahead, I also know that to be able to fully move forward, I needed to let go of the past. You need to empty the cup before you can fill it again. And it’s simply hard, even if I’ve taken leaps of faith before. Yet again I find myself in a cross road, leaving what many would consider ”safe” behind, moving into the unknown. It does become easier. You realize what power your choices and actions truly hold. But it never becomes easy. For me, regardless the amount of excitement, doubt and fear is lingering there too. My practice is not in trying to shut those feelings down. I’ve tried before and know it doesn’t work. It's rather being able to sit with them. Still chose to act in accordance to what you believe in, who you are and want to be - rather than what is necessarily easy. I am grateful that I get to choose. That I feel all of these emotions, and that I still chose to take the steps I believe in.

How did I end up here? Long story. This is the short version. For those of you who’ve followed this attempt of a blog – you know that I launched an initiative; last summer, to explore and go deeper into the work as a speaker, advisor and mentor. Shifting the focus towards supporting other social entrepreneurs. It became an intense and rewarding journey:



Coming back from Nigeria in July last summer I went for a big political gathering. Amongst other people, I met with Ann Svensén, Secretary General of IM Swedish Development Partner, the CSO with which I am currently in Jordan. They operate in 13 countries across East Africa, South Asia, Middle East, Central America, Eastern Europe and Sweden, focusing on Equality and Democracy through inclusion of excluded groups, as well as strengthened civil society. Sitting down and discussing development, we realized we saw the same main hurdles, and furthermore - what could be explored to overcome them. I was offered to step on board as her Senior Strategic Advisor; advising in strategic matters and leading the work of business model innovation, cross organizational transformation and the development of their coming five-year strategic plan. A true honor to take on.



Within a few days from this, I met up with another woman - Fiona Hazell - with the purpose to hand over a few products from my journey and work in Nigeria. We’d been working in the same space for a few years, without ever having had the opportunity to sit down and talk. Rather passing by each other briefly. However, as I handed her the products, she looked at me and asked; ”What where you really doing in Nigeria?” ”It’s not the place you go for vacation”. True. The safety arrangements around the journey had been rigorous to say the least. I told Fiona of how I’d meet up with Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale, a former SE Forum global Accelerator Program participant that I’d coached the previous year. It was her products I was handing over. I had facilitated a few workshops with her and some of the women she works with (her business and organization is closer described in this blog post and this article,). Fiona looked at me and said ”mad”. That second something shifted within me. Mad. Ever since I sat off on this journey people have kept calling me mad. I quickly got used to it. As a personal philosophy, I believe that we are all mad. Mad in our own individual ways. Passionate about different things that lay close to our hearts and that sparks our inner fires. The trick is simply to figure out what makes you mad - to be able to put your full power and potential behind it.


Work with Tusin and her incredible group of women in Nigeria. 


During that fika (Swedish coffee ritual) with Fiona, we realized we shared that madness. Madness defined as the Deep, shared desire to Make A Difference. Just as me, Fiona had left her corporate career behind and gone business backpacking. Building her own business and supporting other social entrepreneurs. The more we talked, the more we realized our backgrounds where ridiculous alike. We had seen and experienced many struggles of getting sustainable businesses and organizations of the ground across Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America. That first week together, we crafted the MAD Manifesto. Not knowing each other, but believing so deeply in our joint mission that we decided to launch MAD within a couple of weeks. The rest is history.

The photo of our first MAD web page. Taken by the phenomenal photographer and MAD friend Charlie Malmqvist.



We believe in bold visions and courageous dreams. Daring to be conscious, challenging boundaries, manifesting results. Addressing the problems that really matter. 

Pushing our intellectual barriers, crafting strategies. Taking responsibility, an active choice of empowerment. Unleashing potential within ourselves, as well as the markets and people around us. We crave impact. We believe in action. Getting shit done.

Knowing that we are stronger together. Knowing there is a spark of madness within each and everyone. We urge you to listen to it. Embrace it. We bring mad people together. To make a difference today for tomorrow. We are a tribe, bound not by geography, religion nor culture, but by a fundamental belief that we can create a world free of poverty, inequality and injustice.

We are MAD. Mad to Make A Difference.



The MAD launch at Norrsken House, Stockholm, Sep 2017.



It took another month before we were off on our first MAD Journey into Malaysia. Working together with some of the MAD Entrepreneurs - Nina Othman and Anja Abu Bakar. Sessions with the Malaysian Academy of Innovation and Creativity turned into TV, radio and podcasts interviews. I was once more heading into rural areas, working with local communities. But there was a big difference. This time I was not alone.


I am grateful for every step I've taken on my journey. Some things I simply had to do myself. However, knowing we are two venturing into the unknown this time, brings me deeper joy than I can describe. 


As we were falling in and out of sleep on the bumpy roads, having worked through the entire night, we realized that, in each other, we had found a mad companion for life. We had taken leaps of faith before. We knew what we were able to do and build on our own, separately. We also knew that that would never get close to what we could manifest together. What started as a deep respect and love for each continued to grow. The trust between us is still almost hard to describe. It’s simply there. Boundless. We know that we are doing everything we can for each other and our joint vision. As we got the question of how we divide work, Fiona replied; ”We’re like a T – Emelie is the broad one on the top, seeing the beyond MAD big picture. I’m the Deep one, anchoring us.” Anyone who’s ever seen us together know how true this is. I look like I’m doing some sort of rain dance on stage, my gestures flying everywhere. Rarely do I even finish a sentence, since there are new ideas emerging quicker than I can finish the previous one. Fiona, on the other hand, looks more like a ballerina dancer and always has her stuff together in a very clear and structured way. Without the deep part of the T, I would simply be a very broad line on the ground. With her support, I can see further than I’ve ever been able to stretch my mind and senses before. She calls me the big brained T, and says that all my MAD theories of the world makes her look up (I’ve since long stopped counting all my drawings and models, which fills more note books than I can find in my apartment). Words cannot express how grateful I am to have her in my life and to be able to build this dream of ours together.

Workshop in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur 2017. 


First time on Malaysian National Radio together! 



The days of traveling and working alone has been replaced with the power of two. Instead of having to find all the trust within to take those leaps of faith – we have each other. That email, call, look, and word that reminds you that you are not alone. That even when I break the maddest ideas, she is right there, ready to anchor them. And me, just the same for her.



Even trekking through pouring rain is much more fun when you are not alone.

Community based work, focusing on empowerment of young girls.


Everything we’ve built with MAD departs from our respective histories and the relationship between us. When we say we work trust based, instead of fear based - that starts with us. If we cannot share the biggest fears and dreams between us. Then when? Where? When we say we turn things on their head – we truly start at MAD and go beyond. That starts with us. Everything that we’ve built and piloted, starts with us staying true to those roots. No strategy nor technology in the world can replace that. I could go on forever about all the stories that are hidden behind each workshop, strategy or meeting we’ve co-created, but I think that will be a later book. For now, let’s simply fast forward six month until today.



Today MAD Entrepreneurs operate in +30 countries across Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Asia, with more than 50 businesses that ranges across industries and sectors. Together, we contribute to all of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, e.g. addressing areas such as: Conflict Resolution, Environment and Energy, Gender Equality, Health and Education.

The United Nation's 17 Global Sustainable Goals. 


For every step of MAD’s development, the question of how we can be of service has been guiding. Departing from our experience and strengths, always exploring how we can add the most value. We never really focused on competitors or alike. The driving force and intention in all iterations has been to take the continuous learnings and fine-tune how we develop the work to increase the impact together with the growing MAD community.



Realizing I drifted off a bit (as I tend to do every now and then in these blogs) - Let me briefly get back to the start of MAD and why we believe the madness is needed:

Take a deep breath. Because the simple, yet hard to grasp, truth - is that change will never again move this slow. We are in the conjunction of multiple escalating developments, of e.g. climate, conflict, and technology. A continuum of constantly accelerating change. Everywhere around us, we can see how today’s challenges won’t be solved by the same mind-set that created them. Considering the exponential curves of development we are on – it doesn’t take much to realize that today’s mindset is even less sufficient for the challenges of tomorrow. This calls for a radical shift of paradigm. Max Tegmark, physicist and cosmologist, professor at MIT, would argue that since universe wasn’t created for us to understand (but rather went on with its creation without our cognitive abilities in mind), it should seem counterintuitive when we truly break new ground. Fiona and I would say: ”We craft solutions at the horizon of what we can imagine. Starting with MAD and going beyond. Together, we provoke the frontiers of what's possible.”

Another remarkable photo from our MAD photographer, Charlie Malmqvist. 



We phrased this paradigm - of starting at MAD and going beyond - during a walk between meetings in Stockholm. We joked a bit and said that this was going to be the base, the fundament, for the MAD Methodology. Little did we know how true that was going to turn out. Ever since that day, whenever we’ve faced struggles, we simply taken a deep breath, looked at each other and ask: “What’s the MADest possible solution?” As time went on, we’ve also come to realize what a remarkable power this question holds when we are working with different groups. It’s so easy to get stuck in your current paradigm. Losing track of what is important, or stop daring to challenge yourself with what is possible. In bootstrapping a global community, for us, the only way to operate starts at MAD and goes beyond. On a more tangible note, one could compare the MAD method with an exponential approach versus a linear. As one shoots for 10 times improvement – versus 10%, one approaches the problem in a radically different way. This opens up for completely different solutions. An example of this, is when we started working deeper with Samuel Malinga, MAD Entrepreneur and appointed Young Leader for Clean Water & Sanitation by the UN. Together we were looking into growing his business and impact through increasing the sales and distribution of toilets. Through co-ideation and -creation, we turned Sam’s challenge from increasing the sales in toilets - to creating the first cholera free community in Uganda. A pivot of focal question that radically changes the paradigm viewing it, as well as approach moving forward with action. Reframing the challenge from a distribution struggle - to catalyzing communal behavior change, hand in hand with business model innovation that cultivates further local social entrepreneurs. Now, one could argue that the latter is as lot harder. It is more difficult to go after the cholera free community approach, versus selling incrementally more toilets. That is true. Seen from the other side though - 10 times vs 10% improvement is 100 times more worth it... But it’s never 100 times harder. That’s what we call MAD growth hacking!


Samuel Malinga, MAD Entrepreneur and appointed Global Young Leader for Clean Water & Sanitation by the United Nations. 



This bring us to another fundamental idea behind MAD: It’s the people who are MAD enough to think they can change the world who actually do. If you don’t believe it, you can’t envision it. And if you can’t envision it, it is going to be very hard to manifest it.

During that same first week when we wrote the manifesto, we also wrote down ”We bring MAD people together Today, to Make A Difference for Tomorrow”. It might sound like a slogan, but for us it was simply what we set out to do. We know the power in bringing together people with the shared deep desire to Make A Difference. And that the time to act for Tomorrow is Today. Now.

With the methodology of starting at Mad and going beyond also came the notion of asking the big questions. To come together around some of the biggest societal challenges of our time. We are starting with Clean Water, Sanitation and Health – and plan to focus deeper into Gender and Education during the fall. With the Mad ambition to take on Conflict Resolution, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities during 2019. On a more practical note, we work to catalyze change across individual, organizational and institutional levels by co-creating interdisciplinary solutions through Think Tanks, Hackathons and Journeys. The initiatives are anchored in local high impact Social Entrepreneurs across the world, aiming to unlock their key challenges.


The MAD site with offerings to Go MAD and Make A Difference, through Think Tanks, Hackathons and Journeys. 



Recent research released from MIT, referred to in the ”U Theroy”, states: ”The Success of an Intervention depends on the Inner Environment of the Intervenor.” We believe this to be very true. And this goes just as much for the local leader we are working with – as every single individual who engages to support. Based on the experience from our MAD sessions and workshops, we would say that the first step, in any sustainable intervention, is to explore and embrace your inner madness. Then you come together, start taking action and going mad. All change does start with ourselves. From there, we can explore what it takes to move from the current reality into emerging future possibilities. 

Next journey Fiona and I will make together will bring us into Uganda, followed by Tanzania and Kenya. The notion of the journey is very special for us. As you now know, that’s how we began once upon a time. Leaving our old life behind, grabbing our backpacks to build and support sustainable businesses from the ground. That’s how we met. That’s how MAD was born. We know that bumpy car-rides, mixed with bewildering business challenges and exceptional local thought leaders will change yours and others life.


Another of Charlies photos, illustrating the notion of our MAD Journeys. 



On the note of changing yours and others life, I will finish this blog post of with a few questions that Fiona and I have found very powerful:

  1. Where, in your life right now, do you feel and see sparks of future? In your mind and heart. Where do you feel a chapter closing and a new one emerging?
  2. From where you are right now, what is your sense of your highest future possibility?
  3. Define the intention, what you want to explore, going forth to manifest that future opportunity.


Last but not least, I want to thank you for following me on the journey of Dessaga. That chapter is now making room for a truly MAD one. We haven’t fully decided on how to share our mad updates. There might be new blogs and whatnot surfacing. But for now, you can follow our madness here: FB page, and


With love. Sincerely MAD,




Emelie Ekblad
Emelie Ekblad


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