By: Vilde Skorpen Wikan, Communications Adviser FK Norway

This was a main take-away from last week’s conference held in Førde about freedom of speech. Speakers from the political, academic and judicial establishments warned against the forces that want to restrict the range of acceptable expressions. Among the speakers were FK Norway’s Director General Jan Olav Baarøy, who talked about FK Norway’s role amidst these changes and the importance of mutual exchange and respect as fundamental principles of international development cooperation.

“This reciprocity is a fundamental part of FK Norway,” he said. “Aid that has been given year after year has largely failed to hit the target.”

Reciprocity – giving and receiving in equal amounts – is necessary to create balanced relationships that are sustainable in the long-term. Previous development policy has failed to appreciate this, leading to money being spent in ways that do not really benefit the people it is meant to help, said Baarøy.

But mutual exchange and cooperation also bring more tangible short-term benefits.

“Things have happened out there that have not yet happened in here,” said Baarøy. He pointed out how technological changes, such as mobile-based money transfer solutions, were adopted in Sub-Saharan Africa long before they reached Norway. If Norway is to keep up with technological developments, we need international expertise.

Increased international travel and tourism also puts new demands on the Norwegian hospitality and services industry. Tourism from abroad is on a steady upward trajectory, according to numbers from Statistics Norway. Living up to expectations means hotels and travel company staff must be familiar with different cultural practices, something achieved through exchanges with the help of FK Norway.

Images, videos and messages, transmitted from every corner of the world, gives us a unique chance to get a glimpse of what somebody somewhere else is up to. But longer face-to-face interaction, dialogue and working together teaches us about the motivations, contexts and explanations for why people behave the way they do.

We need this deeper understanding if we are to avoid the misunderstandings that can arise when people only see a picture or a snippet of text, disconnected from its context.

That is why FK Norway believes that by making the world smaller, we are also making it better.