Maria Gratschew: Investments in people are never wasted!

Wednesday, 27 September 2023
Photo: Kertu Kärk

It has probably not gone unnoticed that the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Estonian office has a new director since the beginning of August. Meet Maria Gratschew!

Maria has a very colorful and versatile background both in her private life and in her professional life. She is a true Nordic - her father is from Denmark, her mother is from Finland, her grandfather is from Russia, Karelia, but she herself was born and raised in Sweden. However, due to her work, she has lived in many different places around the world, so she can be considered a global citizen.

Maria has four children – three sons and one daughter, and a husband Fredrik, Swedish man who works as a chiropractor.

Maria has worked in many places all over the world: Sweden, Uganda, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Moldiva and Austria, and now she has finally arrived to Estonia: “I have had the opportunity to work for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in many different roles. Both at grassroots level in rural Tajikistan and Moldova, but also as a representative of the politico-military dimensions for the OSCE Chairpersonships in Vienna“.

During her time at International IDEA (The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance), she focused on election administration and voter participation, and served as the lead writer to four major handbooks on these topics.


A representative of Nordic values, now also officially

The positions Maria has filled over the years, are the positions she has chosen with heart and soul, the jobs that seem interesting and important: “I have not been actively trying to climb a career ladder. Every position has been incredible and worthwhile, in its own way,” says Maria.

She adds that she has been the only or among the few Nordics in many of the places and countries where she has worked. This way, she represented many of the Nordic values, even if not formally. But eventually, she wanted to represent Nordic values also formally.

“During the last few years. Estonia has been popping up in many different places around me, which has really allowed me to get the chance to see more of the international and national work of Estonia, and the Nordics. I have been working on cyber security with many Estonian experts, with the Nordic countries during OSCE chairpersonships and in different committees, where Estonia has been a leading example of work on e-governance. And finally, an interesting position opened, and I managed to lay my hands on it. I wish to give a lot of credit to the gender equality work of the Nordic Council of Ministers, as all male recruitment panel recruited a woman for the position,” Maria rejoices.

Strong societies and investments in people

In her work, Maria wants to ensure that the activities of the Nordic Council of Ministers contribute to the development of a strong and resilient society: "By a strong society, I mean such values as inclusive, sustainable, equal, peaceful, based on human rights, etc. Such a society where people can interact peacefully with each other on an equal basis; a society that can cope in both good and bad times. A society that the so-called dark forces don't even bother to deal with, because it is so strong, so resilient and with high social capital. In such a society, these values remain strong even in difficult times, and everyone has the opportunity to build their life and find the right place for themselves."

“One of the main lessons I've learned from working in various positions is the importance of outreach. In our field, it is so important that we reach different social groups, government structures at different levels and all people throughout the country," continues Maria. In Moldova, where Maria worked with the OSCE on promoting gender equality and combating human trafficking, she emphasized the importance of outreach. She found it important to move away from the focus on the capital, distribute tasks, activities and funding evenly and equally across the country and do as much work as possible at the grassroots level. "This is something that I would also like to implement while working at the Estonian office of the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the fact that we also have offices in Tartu and Narva is a big help in this," she adds.

Maria believes that investments in people are never wasted. This is what her very first supervisor, Swedish/Estonian Therese Laanela, told her almost 25 years ago. " I see no limit to the investments I would be willing to make in my staff, but they need to show that they use it wisely," emphasizes Maria.

Maria continues: “My former manager, former Danish minister Erling Olsen, once told me: “Maria, you need to celebrate more. Celebrate every success, no matter whether big or small.” Every Friday, he brought pizzas to the office, as he was so sure that there would be something to celebrate. And he always found something.“


Estonia - an agile mix of modern and traditional

What Maria likes most about Estonia is the mix of modern and traditional. For example, digitization makes people's lives much easier, while at the same time keeping textile and wood crafts high on the agenda.

"Estonia is a very agile society, people and institutions seem interesting in development, changes and flexibility. My impression is that anything is possible here, if you just have an idea and you are willing to work for it."

Maria is a former swimmer and she likes that there are so many good swimming pools in Tallinn, including an Olympic-sized pool. In addition, Maria appreciates life close to nature. At the moment, she lives with her family in Tallinn, but there is a forest directly behind her house. Maria considers this a real luxury. In addition to being in nature, she loves to crochet, garden and read books.
"Unfortunately, I tend to read late at night and often have to continue from the same place the next night because I fall asleep with the book on my nose," says Maria.

Maria's life motto is "Seize the day!". "I am so grateful to be healthy, to have a family, a job that I really like... It makes me feel rich. I try to find a moment every day to remind myself of that, and to not just rush through the days but to make sure to have time to focus on all those things that make me happy and energetic," she concludes.

  • Maria Gratschew
  • Author: private collection
  • Maria Gratschew hiking
  • Author: private collection
  • Maria Gratschew's home in North Sweden
  • Author: private collection
  • Maria Gratschew in the yard of Nature Museum
  • Author: Kertu Kärk
  • Maria Gratschew with a daugther
  • Author: private collection
  • Maria Gratschew in the yard of Nature Museum
  • Author: Kertu Kärk

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