In his speech at The Medici Summit Omar Hijazi, CEO of Dubai-based Tejari, pointed out that many emerging markets are underestimated by Europe and the USA. In the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America the power to consume as well as produce is growing rapidly and very soon this will have a huge impact on the “old” industrialized countries. The general awareness of this development is surprisingly low in this part of the world.
I was reminded of this when I read an interview (Swedish) in Dagens Nyheter with Ulf Berg, CEO of the Swedish Trade Council. Berg shares Hijazi’s insight and he is very critical of the way Swedish companies are missing export opportunities simply because they lack knowledge of the emerging markets. Or, as he puts it: The problem is not the view people around the world have of Sweden – the problem is the view people in Sweden of the rest of the world. Berg believes that Swedes are too isolated and mostly associate these countries with cheap labour and low-cost production. The global development over the last ten years hasn’t affected Swedish trade much which may be a fatal mistake since the economy depends heavily on export.
I see a very strong connection to cultural diversity in the workforce here and my argument is this: One of the greatest potential benefits of diversity in a country’s workforce is that it mirrors the population, the cultures and the languages of the world - and the world is the export market. This benefit is hardly ever acknowledged.
Let me explain it with an example: Swedish immigration policies are relatively generous - partly for humanitarian reasons but also for demographic reasons. But when immigration is discussed it is mostly in the context of problems that need to be solved. One such case is a town called Södertälje. With some 80,000 people it has become the destination of 5% of all the Iraqi refugees that come to Europe. This means that Södertälje accepts more Iraqi refugees than the USA and Canada together and today there are about 100,000 people of Iraqi origin in Sweden. Because of this situation Anders Lago, the top politician in Södertälje, was invited to speak at the Congress in Washington last week. In his speech Lago acknowledged that immigrants are needed and welcome in Sweden but that responsibility for Iraqi refugees must be more evenly distributed; immigration has become a burden in his town.
However, since we are missing export opportunities because we lack knowledge of the world around us we need to look at immigration in a new way and in a longer perspective. I understand that successful integration is hard to achieve in Södertälje, but the questions we must ask ourselves are the following: Is it good or bad for Sweden to have 100,000 Iraqis in the workforce who speak Arabic and other languages? Is it good or bad to be able to harness the experiences of 100,000 people who have knowledge of traditions, tastes and values in a part of the world where we need to do business in the future? The answers to these questions are quite obvious. I think the conditions for integration would be greatly improved if this perspective was included in the discussion.