People-centered with a passion for learning

After an hour together with Anna Kirah a metaphor from the Bible strucks me: Sarepta’s jar. It never turns empty.


Anna Kirah is full of enthusiastic ideas and point of views. Actually I think she is made of a mix of enthusiasm, positivity and flexibility that is getting refilled all the time. She is an American who grew up in China and Japan, studied in Norway and USA, lived in France and Denmark, and now she has settled for good in a small town in Norway. - The search is over, this is home, she says. She is a social anthropologist, psychologist and innovator, working with a consultant company, Making Waves, in Oslo.

EDEN 2013

Anna Kirah is key note speaker at EDEN 2013 in Oslo. Certainly she is going to engage and involve the minds and thoughts of the listeners, like she did some time ago at the NADE conference. With her about 150 centimeters and soft personality she lightens up the stage and embraces the audience. Her approach to learning as well as to health service or anything else is that it has to be people-centered or learner-centered. And – she will make her presentation genuinely learner-centered on the EDEN stage 13 July…


To Anna Kirah it is obvious that the best way of learning is to learn from persons that are just like us, not experts. “If she can do it, I can do it, too”.
- Do children and adults have different ways of learning?
- Sure. Children are open and curious. Adults are closed. Much of the success in our generation is related to our ability to follow a linear path. We push this linearity into what we do, but the society is not linear, and we do not know how to handle the chaos. This linearity will not do for the future. Children are not linear! Today we have access to all the knowledge we want and need, and the authority of the experts has gone.
- What about the teacher?
- The teacher’s role is to meet the student where the student is, to inspire and to be a “veiviser”. She switches to Norwegian for a second to find the right word. “Veiviser” is a guide or a mentor.
- With so much knowledge and information we get lost and frustrated?
- Yes, learning is also about creating frameworks, but not linearity. Teacher can help learners to find frameworks and hooks for structuring the knowledge. And the joy of learning to me is passion – and compassion.

Promote curiosity

- We need to encourage the children to explore. We have to let go of the old idea of what learning is. The teacher’s job is to push the student’s boundaries, to go further, to learn more. They cannot rely on a textbook written by one person. They have to learn to ask questions, they have to learn how to be critical, and they have to learn how to connect others to learn more and to collaborate. Teachers have to reinvent ways to promote curiosity and creativity.

From the user’s perspective

Anna Kirah believes in diversity – diversity in knowledge and diversity in people! And diversity in perspectives. Her job is to make people-centered innovations, and then she need diversity to make good solutions. She has conducted many astonishing projects working from the user’s perspective. She has travelled all over the world to learn about the user’s perspective in dealing with computers and software (Microsoft), and passengers’ perspective by air travelling (Boeing). One of her present jobs is to make Gardermoen airport functional, secure and pleasant for the passengers. To do a good job she has of course studied the passenger’s perspective, and now she is helping to make an e-learning program for thousands of employees at Gardermoen.
- They will learn how to express themselves in a warm way showing their unique self.

I am here for you

The project goal as well as project slogan is “I am here for you”. The employee is here for the passenger. She has found three categories of employees: heroes, potential heroes and non-heroes.
- The non-heroes are good at other types of jobs and should not work as service staff. The first two groups are those who are in contact with the passengers.
- How are you going to teach them to become service-minded?
- The e-learning program is going to be based on real stories and real experiences at Gardermoen, they will learn from each other, and not from experts. They will think that “When somebody who is just like me can do brilliant service, then I can do, too.”
It is going to be an e-learning course plus follow-up when they go back to their job.

Learning in the ghetto of Soweto

Anna Kirah was a teacher for top leaders from top companies in Denmark when she was dean at an innovation school for leaders in Jylland. Once she took a group of top leaders to the ghetto in Soweto in South Africa. They were going to learn project work. She divided them in groups together with Soweto inhabitants to solve certain problems. Four out of five groups failed because the leader from Denmark put forward her or his solution. The fifth group was successful because they collaborated all the way.
- When I am engaged to do a job for managers, I use to say that you have to get out of your nice management room and leave your fan club. You have to involve your employees.
- And they are very happy?
- Well, I push them out of their comfort zone, of course they don’t feel good. But that is what it takes, involve the people and try to understand their perspective, then the solution will be so much better.

User-oriented health system

Anna Kirah seems to have an internal power to use her abilities to make the society a better place for people. She is involved in “Design without borders” which is like “Doctors without borders”. In the future she would like to work with the authorities to make public services user-oriented.
- Norway has an historical chance to make user-oriented health systems for patients, drug addicts and others in need of help. The resources are available, and it is possible to do it.


Anna Kirah refers to one of St. Francis’ prayers:
“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Anna Kirah was the key note speaker at EDEN Conference 2013.