3 quick questions for Jan Thesleff, Sweden’s ambassador to India, the Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He has worked as a diplomat for 36 years and has previously served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt among other countries. Jan Thesleff describes Sri Lanka as innovative and green. The pace of innovation is high in the country’s IT sector and the country’s energy system is now being converted to renewable energy.
1. What are Sri Lanka’s main assets as a trading partner? The biggest asset is human capital, a highly educated workforce, especially in the IT sector where many global IT companies have strategic establishments in the country. Another way to describe the role of human capital is Sri Lanka’s third place behind China and India in terms of the number of student visas to Swedish universities. Sri Lanka is also geographically very well placed with proximity to larger neighboring countries and can therefore serve as a springboard for establishments in the Asian market.
2. How can trade between Sri Lanka and Sweden be developed? Next year, Sri Lanka and Sweden will celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations. We look forward to further strengthening the relationship over the next 25 years and beyond. Based on the manufacturing industry, the assessment is that Sri Lanka’s IT sector will play an increasingly important role in trade in the future. The sector has experienced rapid growth in a short period of time and it is therefore reasonable to speak of a Sri Lankan IT wonder. The tourism sector also has great potential as part of trade in services. Sri Lanka has gone through a steel bath and can now offer a very high quality and updated tourism product to discerning Swedish visitors.
3. The SSLBC member survey identified business visas to Sweden as a problem area. How does the Embassy work with this? The ability to travel is fundamental to doing business across national borders and for maintaining existing business relationships. The Embassy is aware of the current situation and is working to facilitate business travel to Sweden. In this context, it is also important to point out that the issue is not specific to Sri Lanka. At the same time, it is valuable for the Embassy to receive feedback from the SSLBC members through the member survey. It is also important to mention that there is a new honorary consul in Colombo who has an important role in promoting our bilateral exchange in trade and visits.
”Social entrepreneurship and innovative startups can have an important role to play in solving societal challenges” We met the scholarship holder Eric Deoul Raj, who, after studying leadership for sustainability for a year in Malmö, reflects on his experiences in Sweden and the changes he strives to achieve in Sri Lanka.
Hi Eric! A year has passed and you will soon graduate from the Leadership for Sustainability program at Malmö University. Looking back, what was the reason you applied to Sweden and SI’s scholarship for global professionals?
I have a passion for sustainability, social entrepreneurship and community development. I was part of a variety of value chain and destination mapping projects in Sri Lanka, China, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. The search for innovative solutions for my region led me to Sweden and the SI scholarship. I saw that with the help of it I could improve my organizational skills and establish myself as a ’change agent’ in businesses that focus on social sustainability and storytelling for the climate. I hope that my intentions will lead to better results and thereby give others the best conditions to improve their lives.
Was your idea of Sweden as you imagined?
As an advocate for sustainability, it was heartening to see Sweden’s commitment to sustainability and environmental protection, that private individuals and companies actively embrace sustainable methods and take responsibility for minimizing their environmental impact. I was lucky enough to gain practical experience of the circular economy by working for a Swedish startup that fights food waste. By coming into contact with a variety of like-minded people, I have really been exposed to different cultures and ideas. I now have a network that spans borders.
What is your most important lesson? Something you take with you in your work to support sustainable development and improve Sri Lanka?
The most empowering thing that happened to me recently was the knowledge I gained through my Master’s program. Malmö University helped me gain knowledge about sustainable project management and design at the intersection between social innovations and entrepreneurship. I got a grip on my own ability to face complex issues and come up with design solutions for them.
In order to challenge the status quo, it is of the utmost importance to involve several different stakeholders and facilitate knowledge sharing, resource gathering and collective problem solving. The startup community at Scania gave me the opportunity to make connections with co-founders and industry experts from different parts of the world who all strive to change their communities.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
I believe that there is great potential for social entrepreneurship and innovation in startups and that they will play a decisive role in addressing societal challenges and creating a more sustainable and fair world. To that end, I want to use my personal story of change in the world to achieve small disruptions that can in turn contribute to large-scale change. My goal is to create measurable social and environmental change by creating a common platform and network that will connect social entrepreneurs, investors and mentors, enabling learning and collaboration on a global scale.
3 quick questions to Tailor Store’s CEO Magnus Loodberg about tailor-made garments developed and sewn in Sri Lanka. Magnus founded Tailor Store when he was 23 years old after an IT internship in Sri Lanka. He had no background in clothing but understood the potential of offering made-to-measure garments online. The biggest markets today are the US, Switzerland, Germany, France, UK, Australia and the Nordics.
Why Sri Lanka? During my internship, I had made friends on the island that I trusted. They introduced me to more people. I was always treated very well. Everyone was engaged and wanted to learn. 20 years later, we have 500 employees in Sri Lanka and two factories in a subsidiary.
How do you work on the management of the business? We have an all-Lankan management team. Loyalty and the desire to contribute to a better country permeate the management culture. We have weekly meetings and travel regularly to Sri Lanka. The production process has evolved a lot since the beginning but always based on the basic idea of offering a perfect individual fit at a reasonable price. Today, the production process is highly automated. Every member of the production team has a tablet at their working station with information about the individual garment to be sewn.
What advice would you give to anyone planning a manufacturing operation in Sri Lanka? Sri Lankans are friendly and accommodating. Therefore, initially find a reliable person who speaks the language. This person can act as your sounding board. At the same time, establishment takes time. Therefore, be patient but make demands and work with deadlines. We did everything from scratch. First, we bought land and then we built the two factories. It proved to work very well mainly due to that we found the right person from the start.