by Jia Li, ITTF Foundation Communication Coordinator
Petra Sörling wears many hats. Many know her as a table tennis player, the ITTF Executive Vice President – Finance, the President of the Swedish Table Tennis Association, a member of the Swedish National Olympic Committee. However, not many know what she does with the rest of her time, and how she finds time for things with meaning.
Today we interview her as the Chair of the Sustainability Working Group to understand what this means and why it is important.
It all started with people:
“I started working in finance, and slowly got curious about what was behind the figures, and how we can work to create better teams that lead to better figures. Even back in the 90s during my school days, I have always cared about the human side of organisational performance. I believe the staff in a company is its biggest asset. Those people go home every day, and you don’t know if they are coming back tomorrow. Yet, they are on your balance sheets. So how do you work on that and ensure they are happy at work?”
For Sörling, people are at the core of everything; with this belief, she took on what has later been called “the craziest challenge” in her life and started a company to reposition a community in Malmö, Sweden.
“The project emerged from the pressing need of the community. It had the highest unemployment rate, as well as high crime rates but we wanted to turn it into an area where people would be proud of living in and coming from. There have been days when we cleaned up the area ourselves, bringing kids from other parts of Malmö to see the green areas and change their perceptions. This journey all started with people, I was the first one, but now I have a team.”
“Social responsibility is not something clever to work on: it is actually our business plan.”
Her project identifies the strengths and the potential of the existing community and optimises through new facilities. It is not about the mere business of building or investing, but what makes most sense is to solve a problem in the community. Learning to care for the planet, Sörling and her team went a step further and spiced up the community life with sport.
“It is a great way to add content and community life to a building. It is not about the way the buildings look but what is inside. Creating content and community life means the creation of safe spaces, employment which in turn attracts people.”
No future for table tennis without people, planet and profit
“Planet” is the word we heard repeatedly from Sörling during our interview. The heart of her company is social responsibility, and the investors backed the project because of its vision and goals. Through this major project, Sörling saw the interconnection between people, planet and profit and believes the trio should be the keystone of everything.
“It is all about balance. We cannot afford to not take care of our future. Our future depends on us taking immediate actions toward sustainability as a team. We need to learn how to meet our needs without sacrificing either the people, planet, or profit. If our sport is to survive the test of time, we need to ensure it maintains the balance between meeting the needs of the future generation, and the care for the people and planet.”
The snowball effect starts with the Sustainability Working Group
Sörling’s effort towards sustainability does not stop within her company – she is also the driving force behind the Sustainability Working Group in ITTF Group.
“Sustainability is something we should work on forever. Sport has the power to serve as a leader of change and sustainability is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. The working group is our first step as we gradually embrace the idea in our day-to-day operations. In the end, there would be no need for a sustainability working group. It becomes the air we breathe.”
Although her sleeves are already rolled up, Sörling is taking the time to carefully plan before executing.
“We want to do things right. Sport has the power to inspire people, and as a leader we are responsible to set good examples and establish proper protocols. We need to evaluate and collect more data to identify where we are and where it is most pressing and realistic for us to make changes. We also need to train and develop competency. When we are ready, we take actions and hopefully build the tools and guidelines to share our knowledge. It is a long journey ahead, but it is a necessary one.”
“What I do in my little corner in Sweden, or what you do in your corner, adds up to something bigger. This is what makes our sport a role model that inspire others. Eventually, our actions will multiply and get great results.”