What makes Sweden so innovative?

 Some of the world’s most successful innovators are from Sweden. Women and men who change people’s lives, by overcoming challenges and breaking new ground. Before we meet some of them and have a look at their innovations, let’s discuss the question: Why Sweden − a country of less than 10 million inhabitants?

Success factors
A number of international indexes have been developed in a bid to measure the ability of countries to create environments that encourage innovation. According to them, Sweden is one of the most creative places on the map. Also, when the innovation and technology magazine Red Herring listed the most innovative and promising companies in the world in 2012, eight out of 100 were Swedish. No small feat for a small nation.

So what’s the secret of Sweden’s success? A number of factors have helped make the country’s capacity for innovation so strong:

#1 Education
Sweden introduced elementary schooling for all as early as 1842, and the first university was founded back in 1477 in Uppsala, 15 years before Columbus set sail for America. Along with state-subsidised college training for Swedes and citizens of other EU countries (non-EU citizens pay fees), this has helped ensure high educational standards in the country, among women as well as men. Besides being distinctly antiauthoritarian, Swedish schools encourage creativity. Also, the arts have long been used to motivate and inspire children and young people and to provide a breeding ground for innovation.

#2 Industry
Successful companies in the forestry, steel, automotive and engineering industries have driven the country’s economic development. Another major contributor is the pharmaceutical industry. In 2012, the volume of Sweden’s exports per capita was greater than that of China and the United States combined.

#3 Trade
With less than 0.14 per cent of the global population, Sweden is highly dependent on the outside world. Historically, it is a free-trade nation in which politics and laws have encouraged openness to international influence. Exports and imports are vital to Sweden’s welfare, and international skills are welcome.

#4 Economy and politics
Sweden has long had robust government finances in comparison with many other European states and is one of the world’s largest investors in research and development (R&D) relative to GDP. There is unanimous agreement among political parties that such investment is vital. In the fall of 2012, the government presented an innovation strategy that emphasised the importance of innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurship for ensuring sustainable prosperity in the years to come.

#5 Democracy
Swedes are strong believers in co-operation, gender equality and diversity. This may have to do with the fact that the country is one of the oldest and most peaceful democracies in the world. Here, a constitutional monarchy blends with a stable parliamentary system, freedom of expression is laid down in the Constitution, and the principle of public access to official documents is designed to ensure that both politicians and officials work openly vis-à-vis the citizens they represent; the general public and the media are entitled to request access to government documents and papers, to examine correspondence and so forth.

#6 Communications
Since Sweden is a geographically large country with a scattered population, infrastructure and communications have always been crucial to development. Early action to promote digitalisation has meant that Sweden is now one of the most connected countries in the world with one of the highest rates of computer, internet and mobile penetration. As a result, the country is frequently used as a test market for new services and technology.

Facebook has chosen to place its enormous new data centre in Luleå in the north of Sweden. The three buildings of 28,000 square metres (300,000 square feet) each will enjoy the advantages of natural cooling and renewable hydropower.

Development through dialogue
Sweden benefits from having many basic components already in place, such as economic stability, safety and security, freedom of expression and openness. In environments seething with curiosity, creativity and experimentation, people get the chance to grow, develop their ideas, probe and test. And to meet others who may be pursuing different approaches.

Genuine dialogue thus becomes a key prerequisite for an innovative social climate. Swedes take this seriously, as can be seen from the way they organise everything from big companies to clusters of small businesses and other creative environments around their universities and colleges. It also distinguishes the norms and cultures evident in public services and political organisations. Hierarchies are few, meetings are many and openness is the priority.

Sweden is a land of innovation to be reckoned with, and an important arena for international co-operation. Co-creation makes it easier to meet the global challenges we share.

*Alfred Nobel founded the forerunner to AkzoNobel, among others. L M Ericsson and Gustaf Dalén founded Ericsson and AGA, respectively.


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