Michael Bach Petersen is the new Secretary General of Danes Worldwide. In November, he and legal advisor Lisbeth Kjersgaard visited Bangkok and Singapore on a roadshow to present the organization and the new rules affecting Danes living abroad.
For Danes living in South East Asia, this roadshow was the first tangible example of what Michael Bach Petersen wants to achieve in his new position. He wants to make Danes Worldwide more useful and relevant to Danes living outside of Denmark. And not only for those living abroad already, but also for Danes living in Denmark with a globalized mindset, maybe based on a past experience of having lived abroad.
The strategy is still underway, he says. Eventually it has to be worked out in more detail and passed by the members of the board of Danes Worldwide in December. But that should not be a problem since they all share Michael Bach Petersen’s overall vision to sharpen the focus on being relevant.
Michael grew up as a diplomat’s son in a home where the organization Danes Worldwide was part of the environment living as a Danish expat abroad. The organization had another name at that time but that doesn’t change the fact that he grew up with this organization. He later studied and lived in France, Belgium and Germany for several years. Eventually, he joined the Danish foreign service and was posted to Cairo, Egypt. This background was ideal for the job as the new Secretary General.
His second strength comes from leaving the foreign service and working for many years in the IT business before rejoining Danish government service as head of department in the Danish Agency for Digitisation and later on as Director in one Denmark’s leading digital agencies. This was also an ideal background for the successful applicant for the job.
“When I read the announcement of what was expected of the new Secretary General, I literally felt like this job was written for me,” he laughs, admitting that he had mostly forgotten all about the organization during his years doing many other things.
“It turned out that I could more or less tick off every item on the list of requirements. It was astonishing. I have never written an easier application for a job in my life because it was just listing what I had done so far and adding what I wanted to do in this position.”
The board was looking for someone to further develop the services already being offered by the organization and Michael Bach Petersen’s background was ideal for this. At the core of the services of Danes Worldwide are all the legal and practical issues before, during and after a period of living abroad when returning to Denmark. These services will be packaged and served via the website of Danes Worldwide, which will be re-designed in 2023.
The board also wants to increase the political impact of the organization and also there he has a useful past experience working for a member organization and working almost 15 years as a civil servant in a political context.
Danes Worldwide has 15.000 family memberships but the potential is much larger. The official estimate is that there are 250.000 Danes living outside of Denmark. Reaching out to this audience is where his digital expertise comes in handy.
Danes Worldwide had for many years a popular magazine called Danes but the magazine was increasingly costly to maintain and was only published three times a year. The advertisers did not cover the cost of content, graphic production and distribution. Closing down the magazine was not first of all a cost saving operation, but more a question of re-prioritizing the spending of the budget. What was saved on discontinuing the magazine could more cost effectively be spent on increasing the digital communication and outreach thus improving the services to the organization’s members.
“We need to reach out to more people with the wide range of services that Danes Worldwide offers. We have the products on the shelf. We can serve a member from their very first exploration into whether living abroad is a good idea and until they later return and want to reintegrate in Denmark.”
There are several levels of involvement, ranging from a Standard Membership, which includes the whole household including children until the age of 18, a Student Membership for young people under the age of 26, over a Passive Membership for people who have returned to Denmark, but still want to support Danes Worldwide, to ultimately a Corporate Partnership, where the whole company, including employees and their families, receive a number of benefits in one single membership.
Danes Worldwide has branded a number of issues as cornerstone issues. The top priority issue is that Danes living abroad lose their right to vote in Danish elections. But of equal importance is the facilitation of Danes living abroad who want to bring their family back to Denmark with them, and the situation where a Danish citizen born abroad wants to retain their Danish citizenship. The right to receive a full Danish pension while living in a country outside Europe is also high on the list of almost 30 identified key areas of focus.
Recently, many Danes had major trouble installing and activating a new public identification app called MitID. This was picked up by the press and became an area where Danes Worldwide could profile itself as the spokesperson for Danes living outside of Denmark.
“It turned out that when the new app was developed, it was overlooked that not all Danes live in Denmark. It is hard to believe, but that was the case. So now they are looking for a solution that can help Danes living abroad installing the app,” Michael Bach Petersen explains.
“We are an organization representing our members, but in order to do that we must focus wider than that. We need to influence the authorities in order to improve conditions for all Danes living outside of Denmark regardless if they are members.”
“Next, we have to present our cases to the press and eventually, we need to communicate what we did and what we are still doing to the members.”
Coordinating the efforts of Danes Worldwide with the efforts of other organizations serving part of the same audience is an important element in the strategy to strengthen the usefulness of Danes Worldwide. Michael Bach Petersen mentions – apart from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs – the Danish churches abroad and the Danish business organizations abroad. One less self-evident partnership is with the Danish trade unions, he says.
“We have already formalized a relationship with Djøf, which is a union for graduates within law, business economics, political and social science. One of tThe events in October in Singapore was in partnership with them,” Michel Bach Petersen says.
One of Michael Bach Petsersen’s ongoing tasks is to hold meetings with the extensive network of Danes Worldwide representatives around the globe to help them be active and engage them in the strategy on a local level to work together with the other actors in the field of serving Danes abroad.
“Most of the organizations that we have reached out to have responded positively, since we focus on different aspects of the members’ life situation and therefore complement each other more than we overlap each other. Our strength has traditionally been focusing on the family.”