Sweden, the Philippines, and the Celebration of Common Ground

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SWEDEN is geographically very distant from the Philippines, that many of us may not be too familiar with it.

If you take a closer look though, many things Swedish are with us every day.

The appliance brand Electrolux, unforgettable to the ‘80s generation because of its adapted TV commercial jingle (“I’m gonna knock on your door…”), has literally been a household brand in the Philippines for decades now.

Less known by its corporate name than for its Cricket brand of cigarette lighters, Swedish Match has itself been in the country for quite some time as well. As has upscale vehicle manufacturer Volvo, makers of iconic cars, trucks and buses. Then there’s the telecommunications company Ericsson.

Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, has ‘produced more unicorns per capita than any other city in the world’

In recent years, the apparel brand H&M has made its presence felt nationwide with a strategic retail footprint. So has business process outsourcing (BPO) company Transcom, which has set up operations in Metro Manila, Bacolod and Iloilo.

These brands and companies all trace their roots to Sweden—and they all have come to do well and prosper in the Philippines.

If Sweden’s Ambassador to the Philippines Harald Fries has his way, more Swedish brands and companies will become familiar to Filipinos. A recent trade mission, coming not long after the country reopened its embassy in Manila last year, brought in some 40 companies looking to explore options of doing business here. Fries himself revealed earlier this year that the Sweden-founded furniture retailer Ikea will soon be coming to the country.

Swedish companies with smart solutions for transportation, traffic management and energy are also eyeing the Philippines. This is timely, in the context of the “Build, Build, Build” agenda of the Philippine government today.

The Philippines is a huge, young and tech-savvy market, making us ideal consumers of—or, perhaps, even collaborators to—Swedish services, several of which are in fact popular here: just think Skype (communications, acquired by eBay in 2005), Spotify (online music), uTorrent (BitTorrent client), and the products of King (gaming, maker of Candy Crush; acquired by Activision in 2015).

Our country should even learn lesson about how Sweden enables and inspires its people to deliver hit after hit in the startup world.

In 2016, Technology blog TechCrunch called Sweden “A Tech Superstar from the North,” noting that its 800,000-many capital Stockholm has “produced more unicorns per capita than any other city in the world” and in 2014, “took in 15-percent of all foreign investment in the European tech sector.” Sweden is obviously doing something right, and we should learn from them.

To bridge the distance between both countries Fries has taken to promoting another, perhaps more familiar side of Sweden to the Philippines: its creativity.

Filipinos are undoubtedly familiar with ‘70s chart-toppers Abba, but other music acts of Swedish origin have in fact also landed in local playlists—rock bands Europe (“The Final Countdown”) and Roxette (“It Must Have Been Love”), pop acts Ace of Base (“The Sign”), The Cardigans (“Love Fool”), Robyn (“Show Me Love”), Dr. Alban (“Hello Africa”) and Meja (“All About the Money”), and dance music acts Swedish House Mafia (“Don’t You Worry Child”) and Avicii (“Wake Me Up”).

Most Filipinos have probably never seen a Swede in real-life, but their infectious music has certainly been playing in our ears for so long.

The reverse also applies, with Swedes being encouraged to know more about the Philippines through tourism. More and more Swedish passports have increasingly been stamped at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in recent years, with a jump of 73-percent recorded from 2009 to 2015.

With the celebration of re-strengthening of ties, and building on common ground, the future looks bright for partnerships between Sweden and the Philippines.

BY BING KIMPO



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