She has been praised by the King, been named as one of Sweden’s young leaders, and is a co-founder of one of the worlds most promising social enterprise companies – What is even more amazing is Paulina Olsson has just turned 26 years old!
Paulina is the CEO and co-founder of Peppy Pals, a series of award-winning, research-based games, e-books, movies and activities designed to teach children 2-8 years old about social and emotional intelligence through storytelling and humour. The series is based around five gender-neutral animal characters, who have vastly different personalities – for example, Gabby the rabbit is shy, sensitive, and caring whilst Izzy the owl has strong opinions and an eccentric temperament. Founded in 2013, Peppy Pals was named as one of the world’s most successful social entrepreneurship companies by Ashoka and UBS Social Innovators in 2016. Paulina’s individual achievements were recognised in 2018, when she was awarded the the Compass Rose scholarship from the King of Sweden’s Young Leadership Program for, “having worked, with value-based leadership, to teach children about soft human values and empathy, using technology”.
It is certainly not a stretch to label Paulina as a super impressive, driven, ambitious young entrepreneur. Inicio sat down with her to find out what makes her “tick” and why she was inspired to carve out a career path that seamlessly blends psychology, child development and technology.
Q. How did you think your childhood experiences shaped you?
I grew up in a small village on the Swedish West coast. There are only around 2-300 people living there, so it’s really like a community. Everyone knows everyone, and you take care of each other.
Q. What did you study at university and what drew you to this subject area?
I started university straight after high school, at that point only 18 years old. I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do, and I’m still not certain what I’ll end up doing. All I knew was that I wanted to do something related to business. And so I ended up finishing my Bachelor Degree at University of Gothenburg, and then a Master in International Business at Copenhagen Business School.
Q. Why were you inspired to co-found Peppy Pals?
It was actually during my time in Copenhagen that I got in contact with Rosie Linder, the Founder of Peppy Pals. The vision and idea of Peppy Pals really spoke to my heart, and when I met Rosie and the team I knew it was the right thing to do. We’ve worked together for about 4 years now and it has been one of the best choices that life made for me so far.
Q. How has working with Peppy Pals changed you as a person – I expect it is very rewarding to know you are making a difference to the lives of children everyday?
It’s a privilege, and it makes me so happy when I hear stories from parents about how we’ve helped families – by helping them open up, communicate more, decrease conflict, or by simply helping children labels emotions such as happiness, anger or fear. There’s so much more to life than your academic performances, but what I didn’t realise before was how interlaced IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient) is. Practicing EQ is good not only for your mental health or social skills with research showing it can improve academic skills by as much as 11% percentile points.
If you think about it, if children are feeling safe at home and in school, if they’ve learnt to label and handle emotions related to stress or anxiety, and if they have the skills to form healthy relationship – of course, that’s going to impact on how they act and perform in other areas in life.
Q. The King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, has recognised your work with Peppy Pals. In fact, you were awarded the King’s Compass Rose scholarship through his ‘Young Leadership Foundation. How did you feel about meeting the King and receiving the award?
I still have to pinch my arm that I, and Peppy Pals, received an award for our value-based leadership – let alone from the Swedish King! I’ve never been nervous or treated anyone differently just because they are “famous” or someone that I look up to, but, of course, I had my preconceptions when it came to the Swedish King. Surprisingly he is just like any other human being. A bit quirky and full of humour!
Q.Who is a person close to you that has inspired you the most in life?
Wow, this one is difficult to answer! I’ve always felt great support from so many people close to me – both family and friends. Most recently it’s Rosie, without a doubt. Her courage, resilience and warm personality is rare to find. I will always be grateful that she had the courage to believe in the 22 year old me and my potential. It has boosted my self-confidence and helped me grow as a friend, sister and leader.
I’ve also always looked up to my two older brothers, and still do. I remember wishing that I was like them when I was younger. I secretly practiced reading books when I was 4, just because they did. Then I bought my first basketball cap when I was 7 ( based on a colour I liked of course, not a team I rooted for) because they wore one. They’ve inspired me to test new things, taught me that you don’t always have to know what you want, and, most importantly, they’ve always made me feel safe.
Q. Famous inspiration – which famous people have inspired you? If you had to invite three-five people to dinner who would they be and buy?
To be honest, I haven’t had one big, famous role model that I’ve held on to my entire childhood. And I think that needs to be highlighted more often – that you don’t have to have “the one, big role model that changed your life”. I’ve always found inspiration from people I meet in my everyday life, a biography that I read or a TedTalk I’ve listened to – and these change depending on where I am in life. A tip I always give to people is to listen to Brene Brown’s different talks on the “Power of Vulnerability” and “Dare to Lead”. She’s super inspiring.
One of the few role models I do feel inspired by, and have for a couple of years now, is Eleanor Roosevelt. Many of her values are values I also strive to model in my leadership. For instance she once said: ”Success must include two things: the development of an individual to his utmost potentiality and a contribution of some kind to one’s world.”
I also have a coaster with a hipster version of Dalai Lama by my bed. He reminds me every morning and every night that the most important thing in life is to strive for happiness in small things, and to treat others with kindness and compassion.
So I guess the people I would invite would be: 1) Brene Brown 2) Eleanor Roosevelt and 3) Dalai Lama.
Q. What do you wish you had known before entering the tech/start-up field?
How fun it was! I didn’t picture myself going in the tech/start-up field when I was in high-school, nor studying my masters for that matter. Mostly because I wasn’t exposed to it, and I didn’t know that you could do it without having to be a coder yourself (even though I would’ve loved to know how to code!).
Q. Do you have any general advice about succeeding as a woman in a tech-related field? What are some of the challenges, and what are some of the opportunities? Do you think there are more opportunities in Sweden (especially in the start-up field) than abroad?
Be yourself, and remember you’re a role model for other young girls. I’ve never really seen challenges with being a woman in a tech-industry, instead I have seen more opportunities. There’s a really strong fem-tech movement, and I think that has paved the way and one of the reasons I haven’t met with as many challenges as many other women.
On the other hand, I think there’s a bias in talking about Sweden in general. There are definitely more opportunities in Stockholm, perhaps Gothenburg and Malmö too – but where I grew up, in Varberg, I think there’s still a barrier for girls to get into tech, and especially coding.
Q. If you could pass on any life advice, what would it be?
That it doesn’t matter what job, title or salary you earn. The most important thing is that you find your ikigai – that is something you like doing, something you feel you’re good at and that that thing can pay your bills. Then you won’t see your job as something you do just because it’s cool, or because you’re expected to – you do it because you enjoy it, you thrive doing it and it makes you happy.
Q. Where do you think technology is heading?
I definitely think there’s an interesting trend looking at what’s going on in HealthTech, as well as FoodTech and environmental tech-solutions. I’m positive we’re only years away from finding a cure to cancer for instance. Personally, I’m still waiting for the “aha-moment” when we can get rid of our devices but still have tech as a natural part of our routines – maybe through a lens or a chip.
Q. Are there any inspirational quotes that you live by?
I have two. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” and, “Good things happen to good people”.
Q. If you had to give yourself a pep talk everyday before “taking on the world,” what would you say to inspire yourself?
I do that every day (almost). I look myself in the mirror and depending on what I need to hear that day I tell myself that “I’m the best, that I can do anything I want or that I simply look good.” If I’m doing an important pitch or presentation, I sometimes do “superman poses” before leaving my apartment/in the bathroom to muster up my superpowers ☺
Q. What are some activities/ hobbies that you are involved in outside of work?
I’m a big fan of yoga and try and get at least 3 classes in every week – either on my own or at a studio. I also love reading books.
I also have a “holy hour”, usually in the mornings, where I do whatever I feel like doing – if it’s going for a run, yoga, walk, reading a book or gathering my thoughts. The important thing is that I’m just by myself for a moment, where I can refuel and recharge my batteries. Because when the day starts I know that my body, mind and heart will belong to my friends, family and Peppy Pals, and I want to be my most present version of myself in those moments.