Accelerating Goals – United Nations Western Europe

When 45-year-old Icelandic entrepreneur Haraldur Thorleifsson was unable to get to a local store in his wheelchair one day, while the rest of the family walked in to buy soft drinks, a change happened. is produced. It was not the first time that Mr Thorleifsson, who had been in a wheelchair for two decades, had been separated from his family in this way.

But then he decided to do something. He was in an ideal situation, having just sold his company Uneo inc. for a handsome profit on Twitter and returned to his home country of Iceland from San Francisco.

First there were 100 ramps…

Mr. Thorleifsson’s initiative recognized by the Icelandic President, Mr. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, writer Bragi Valdimar Skúlason and Sigríður Thedóra Pétursdóttir director of the Brandenburg advertising agency. Photo: Rise of Reykjavik.

“The idea for 100 ramps was born,” Mr Thorleifsson told UNRIC in an interview. As his family exited the corner shop laden with cold drinks, he informed his wife and children of his plan.

“I had this enlightenment. I have missed experiences, as have thousands of people in this country and millions all over the world. I thought it was silly not being able to join my family and fully participate in life.

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“100 is a nice number. I know that Icelanders like actions with concrete objectives,” adds Mr. Thorleifsson.

….and then there were 1,000

In just eight months, the “Ramp-up Reykjavík” project reached its goal of 100 ramps, four months ahead of schedule. The project has been expanded to reach the whole country with a new goal of 1000 additional ramps.

“We have built 100 in addition to the initial 100, so there are still 900 left.”

rise in power
The city of Reykjavík has actively participated in the Ramping up Reykjavík project. Rise of photography in Reykjavík

Due to genetic muscle atrophy, Mr. Thorleifsson has encountered accessibility issues over the past two decades that many people with disabilities face. Besides his home country of Iceland, he has experienced it in Asia, as well as in North and South America.

“You can easily see that accessibility is very different from country to country and from city to city. It is simply a choice. There are people who decide whether there is access or not. For some reason it was decided that Iceland should not be an accessible country”.

Visible improvement

About a third of shops in central Reykjavík needed better access when it started, says Mr Thorleifsson. In Reykjavík, with a population of 120,000, the 100 ramps have already made a difference.

“I can see for myself that there are a lot more people in wheelchairs in Laugavegur,” says Mr Thorleifsson, referring to the mainly pedestrianized main shopping street in central Reykjavík. “I’ve had people tell me they’ve been downtown in a wheelchair for the first time in decades, or dined at a previously inaccessible restaurant they’ve always wanted to visit, thanks to the ramps. “

And Mr. Thorleifsson does not intend to stop at 1100 ramps. “We are already in talks with small towns in Europe to expand the concept.”

Goals and Inclusion

Rise of Reykjavik.
No wonder traders have embraced the project. Photo: Rise of Reykjavik.

Mr. Thorleifsson’s initiative aligns with many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a call to action to end poverty and inequality, protect the planet and ensure health, justice and prosperity. Inclusion is central to the goals adopted by world leaders at a United Nations summit in 2015. Goal 4 calls for the inclusion of people with disabilities in equitable quality education. The same goes for Goal 8, on promoting inclusive economic growth and full employment for all, not forgetting Goal 11 on inclusive, safe and sustainable cities.

But Mr. Thorleifsson’s recent activities tick more boxes when it comes to global goals, as the Sustainable Development Goals are often called. Inequality is an integral part of the goals, with Goal 10 calling for reducing inequalities and ensuring that no one is left behind. “I’m quite sensitive to this issue and I want to help people level the playing field when I have the chance.”

Reimburse to company

Coming from a working-class family, he is aware of and grateful for the privileges he has had such as access to quality education, including university, which is largely free. “Someone has to pay for this,” he replies, when asked about his decision to move to Iceland and pay relatively high income tax on the profits from the sale of his business. In other words, he made sure that he would not benefit from any tax evasion. On the contrary, he kissed the tax collector.

Ramping and the city.  Haraldur Thorleifsson (centre) receiving an award for his contributions to mobility in the city of Reykjavík.  Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson second from right standing
Ramping and the city. Haraldur Thorleifsson (centre) receiving an award for his contributions to mobility in the city of Reykjavík. Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson second from right standing. Photo: Rise of Reykjavik

“I don’t think society works if everyone can’t participate. I’ve lived in the United States and people with my condition struggle to move up in society,” says Thorleifsson.

The reactions to his decision to start his ramp project were remarkable in his opinion.

“I only talked about it once on Twitter,” he explains. “Few of my tweets get attention. But this one did.

“It goes without saying that someone wants to contribute to society. But I find it interesting that it has attracted so much attention. In a way, the reaction was more remarkable than the act itself.

With the world roughly halfway to the target year of 2030, and war and pandemics adding to the challenges included in the global goals, there is certainly room for more people like Mr. Thorleifsson are accelerating the SDGs.

Mary I. Bruner