בשנת 2018 הוזמנתי לבית שגריר שוודיה לציון חגיגות היום הלאומי של שוודיה. כחלק מהאירוע החלטתי גם לחקור קצת על שוודיה, הכלכלה שלה ובעיקר ההייטק שלה, וגיליתי דבר מדהים: Spotify, Skype, Minecraft, קלארנה, King (״קאנדי קראש״), ו- SoundCloud הם רק חלק מסטארטאפים שוודיים שיצרו אימפקט אדיר על העולם. בנוסף למותגים חזקים ומוכרים מאד כגון: וולוו, H&M וכמובן IKEA.
שוודיה גם מדורגת במקומות הגבוהים ביותר כשמדרגים חוזק ועושר של כלכלות בעולם, וזאת אחרי משבר כלכלי חמור שהם חוו בשנות ה-90. אז לפני שהחגיגות מתחילות, ביקשתי לקיים ראיון אישי עם השגריר, מגנוס הלגרן, – וקיבלתי אישור.
אז הנה הראיון החגיגי שקיימתי עם השגריר, ראיון שמנסה לקבל תשובות והתייחסות אודות התרבות השוודית (ואיך היא הצמיחה כאלו חברות חזקות), היחס שלהם לחינוך וטכנולוגיה, הדמויות הישראליות שהשפיעו על השגריר, איך ישראל נתפסת בעיני שוודיה ואפילו סקירה קצרה על תפקיד חדש “Innovation Counsello” שאוייש בשגרירות ומה מטרותיו.
Q: Hello Magnus Hellgren, Sweden ambassador to Israel, and thank you for taking the time and interviewing for my blog, it is a great honour. You’ve been in Israel for almost a year now, how would you summarised your experience in Israel so far?
A: Intense, rewarding and challenging. On a personal level, Israel is a fantastic place to live. My wife Annika and I have enjoyed this year tremendously. Professionally, being an Ambassador in Israel means never a dull moment.
Q: Skype (Microsoft), King (Candy Crush), SoundCloud, Klarna, Minecraft (by Mojang and then Microsoft) and Spotify (Microsoft) are just some of the amazing tech companies coming out of Sweden and making such a huge impact. What are the unique attributes of the the Swedish culture and the way you perceive education, technology and entrepreneurship – that led to this? (Oh, and this interview while I am listening to Spotify, and my son is building his Minecraft castle)
A: Although few countries can rival Israel’s reputation as a Startup Nation, Sweden has actually succeeded in turning many of our startups to leading international companies. After Silicon Valley, Stockholm is home to the largest amount of unicorns, startup companies that have reached a value over 1 billion USD, per capita.
The companies you mentioned are some of these. Bloomberg recently ranked Sweden at the second most innovative country in the world, after South Korea, so hopefully we will be able to keep turning our innovative ideas into unicorns for a long time ahead.
Sweden was also very early to expand fiberoptic cable throughout the country. The Government’s strategy is that all Swedes will have access to high quality broadband (at least 100 Mbps) by 2025, today the number is about 80 % of the population. Each Swede owns an average of 1.5 smart devices, and as much as two thirds of all 2-year olds are internet users. We are a country of early adopters. This creates good opportunities for start-ups to develop new digital services.
Stockholm has the highest share of the workforce working with high-tech related jobs compared to any other city in Europe. In Stockholm 18% of the workforce work in tech, the European average is 10%.
Sweden also has a strong focus on cooperation between public sector, private sector and the academia. There are many historical examples of this, such as ASEA/ABB, Ericsson, Telia and Saab, which has produced world leading inventions in power transmission, communication technology and defense.
Magnus Hellgren, Sweden Ambassador to Israel
Q: Sweden is also the home of some of the strongest and most familiar brands. From Volvo to H&M, Ericsson, IKEA (and many more). It was ranked at 5th place regarding per capita rankings (Forbes, 2015) and another article by Forbes declared that “Sweden Heads The Best Countries For Business For 2017“. What do you think led Sweden to have such a strong economy?
A: I think some of our success can be explained by our free, well, at least tax-payed, education system, which ensures that good quality higher education is available for everybody, creating a highly educated labor force. Swedes also tend to have strong English skills, at least that is what we’re told, which facilitates international contacts. Swedish companies and organizations are also relatively free of hierarchies, which facilitates exchange of ideas and opinions between managers and the people “on the ground”.
I think this culture empowers the workers and makes it easier to delegate decision-making down in the organizations. It promotes a bottom-up, problem-solving approach, that stimulates productivity and creativity.
Second, the importance of gender equality. Sweden now has the first feminist government in the world. This means, among other things, that the perspective of gender equality is taken into account in all governmental decisions and when we distribute resources or recruit.
Through our parental allowance we try to encourage shared parental leave, which enables more women to take part in the labor market. We also believe that women’s experiences should be valued higher in companies and on company boards and we are working to ensure equal pay. It is our firm belief that diversity is a key to generate success in business and to increase competitiveness.
Finally, openness to the world. Sweden has a long and deep-rooted tradition of free-trade. As a small country it is vital for us to seek partnerships and collaboration on the international arena. This has contributed to a culture of innovation in the Swedish business sector. Companies such as Ericsson, Volvo, Astra Zeneca and Sandvik emerged from this unique and broad culture.
Today, our large multinational companies are by themselves important in creating a strong infrastructure for research and development, for fostering talent and creating a domestic market with a demand for high end services and products.
Q: Ann-Mari Fineman is going to start a new role (good luck!) at the Swedish embassy as the Innovation Counsellor. What will be her main responsibilities and what are you looking to achieve in Israel regarding Innovation?
A: Ms. Fineman will be sent out from Sweden’s Innovation Agency, Vinnova, as a pilot initiative, the first of its kind, initially for a period of two to three years, but with the aim to establish platforms and structures for long term collaboration. The only other Vinnova office in the world is located in Silicon Valley, which tells you something about how interesting Israel is to us.
The purpose of the innovation counsellor is to connect the innovation scenes in Sweden and Israel, for mutual benefit, to promote sustainable growth and for the benefit of society. My colleagues and I at the Embassy of Sweden are naturally very glad to have this additional resource with us.
The idea is for her to be present in the Israeli innovation ecosystem and act as a contact point for Swedish corporations, entrepreneurs, start-ups, academia and investors, and to provide support to Swedish corporations and other organisations looking to the Israeli innovation system for collaboration, business relationships or new ideas, and vice versa, i.e. act as contact point for Israeli organisations with an interest to collaborate with actors in the Swedish innovation system.
Q: Can you mention 3 people you met in Israel and has greatly inspired you?
A: In the field of business, I have met many innovators and start-up leaders. But I must mention someone from a more traditional sector, Mr Shalom Fischer, one of the owners of the IKEA franchise in Israel. He is an inspiring mix of ultra-orthodox tradition and modern business.
The wisdom and clarity of Professor Yehuda Bauer is truly inspiring. It has been a privilege to discuss with Yehuda the lessons of history and how to effectively today combat antisemitism, racism and hate.
In the area of culture and sports, I must mention two: The a cappella choir Vocatikva, a remarkable ensemble and story, and one of my football heroes Yossi Benayoun, formerly of Liverpool etc but now back in Israel, still playing but also a sports ambassador for Peace.
Q: Israel just celebrated its 70th independence day. Sweden is about to celebrate its own National Day at June 6. What are your wishes for both countries and the connection between them?
A: Peace, security and prosperity. As the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven put it is his speech at the celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary in Stockholm: ”Sweden and Israel are old friends, and like all old friends we have our political disagreements. But we want to work with you. We share an excitement about the opportunities of globalization. And we share a passion to challenge ourselves, to innovate, to create the new.”
Q: How can Israelis who read this interview, and want to know more about your innovation activities, reach out, join or follow the embassy activities?
You are also most welcome to follow me on Twitter, @hellgren_magnus, I write frequently about everything from events to policy. Second, you should get in touch with the Embassy’s Head of Commercial Affairs, Kristoffer Eliasson, on email@example.com, and of course Vinnova’s Innovation Counsellor on firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m sure you will run into them if you haven’t already.