Meet Annika Sten Pärson, Seleni’s Chief Operations Officer

A mom of two daughters moves to a new country and makes a career change to help change lives

by Victoria Cheng

How did you come to Seleni?
We moved as a family from Sweden three years ago to force ourselves to see the world through a new lens and become beginners in a new place. I learned about the opportunity after being introduced to Seleni founder and interim CEO, Nitzia Logothetis, by an executive career coach.

Before joining Seleni, I was involved on a pro bono basis with two organizations: The Donaldson Adoption Institute, an adoption advocacy organization, and the World Childhood Foundation, which works to prevent child sexual abuse. Prior to those roles, I was the CMO of the consumer division at ComHem AB, a Swedish telecommunications company.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The cause is what drives me. Having the opportunity to really make a difference is super rewarding. Working with a team of both clinicians and marketing people who share the same overall mission to achieve our goals is unique. We aren't just an advocacy organization – we see actual patients in our offices We are improving people's lives on a macro and micro scale.

What's your best career advice?
You're never too old to change career paths. I'm a good example of that! Always have a curious approach to things, and never lose an opportunity to learn. Employ the growth mindset of always being better today than you were yesterday. I like to think, "I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way."

A year and half ago, I sat down to create my own business plan to evaluate how I could use my business and marketing background to start a new career path. The easy solution would have been to keep doing what I had been doing. But I thought about what was most important to me, including work-life balance and purpose-driven work in a field and for a cause I could relate to. Without a growth mindset, making this shift would not have been possible.

When I moved to New York, I took classes at NYU on grant writing and philanthropy. I also joined New York Cares, the umbrella for NGOs, and volunteered to read the news to the blind and bedtime stories to kids on the Lower East Side in an attempt to approach the nonprofit sector in a couple different ways. I became a beginner in the things that I knew I wanted to do.

You have two daughters. What parenting challenge did you not expect?
I didn't expect that parenting is not "plannable." Usually in business settings, when you have a challenge, you put a plan in place and execute that plan. Being a parent makes me so aware that it's not all about having a plan – it's living in the moment. It's also about having the courage to trust yourself to make decisions without advanced planning. I've learned so much. Running an organization with thousands of people is almost easier than being a parent.

What is your favorite part about being a mom?
The conversations. I love that being a parent and talking with your children is a constant opportunity to learn together. To not be afraid to say, I don't know the answer, but let's look for it together. That kind of open-ended dialogue is what really brings deep understanding – in our family and in the world.

Read more about Annika's background in her leadership biography.

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Victoria Cheng

Victoria Cheng

Victoria Cheng is the marketing and communications associate at the Seleni Institute. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, where she concentrated in economics and Africana studies. When she isn’t working with her team to promote Seleni's online presence, she is at the park with her toddler, Amory, or playing and teaching violin in her neighborhood in Queens, NY.

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