Interview with Indian ambassador to Sweden Monika Kapil Mohta
Rupali Mehra | November 30, 2018
Soon after the India Sweden Business Day (November 12) in Stockholm, Indian ambassador to Sweden Monika Kapil Mohta spoke to Rupali Mehra on business ties between the two sides, the ‘Make in India’ pitch and the future of the bilateral relationship. Here is the interview.
Diplomatic ties between India and Sweden were established in 1949 and the two countries enjoy excellent cooperation in regional and international fora. How do you see the relationship going forward and strengthening?
When prime minister Stefan Löfven had travelled with a large business delegation to India, and the Indian and Swedish prime ministers met for ‘Make in India’ in Mumbai, a joint vision statement was brought out. That was the vision given to us by our two leaders as to what are the priority areas in which India and Sweden must come together and move forward. Those areas primarily relate to healthcare, defence, smart cities, smart transport solutions, sustainable energy, sustainable urban development, waste to energy and renewable energy and digitalisation, ICT related collaboration. Based on that we are tasked to implement the joint vision and take the relationship forward in some of the priority sectors.
Could you highlight any of the collaborations we are seeing on the ground, especially in relation to smart cities, based on the joint vision?
As part of the joint vision statement that the two prime ministers brought out, the India Sweden Business Leaders Roundtable (ISBLRT) took place in Delhi in November 2016, and thereafter it has met again in Stockholm in 2017 and hopefully it shall again be meeting in the first half of 2019 in New Delhi. I mention this because as part of the ISBLRT there is a joint working group that is focused on smart cities. Business leaders from both countries have sat together and taken forward the dialogue to try and identify core areas where we can learn from Sweden, and we can gain from Swedish technology and innovative practices. Some examples are converting plastic into oil, sewage system management, waste water management, solid waste management, waste to energy, trying to utilise waste as wealth and trying to see how we can use the waste that is generated within cities for heating and cooling. So these are some of the practices that we can take from Sweden to India and see how we can learn from them. There are some pilot projects and urban technology platforms that have been set up by Swedish companies in India which are benefitting Indian companies. We are also in the process of completing feasibility reports for converting a part of Pune city into a smart city, based on Swedish innovative practices. As you are aware, Sweden has a cluster of its production units in Pune and in Bangalore. So both in Pune and in Bangalore we hope that we will be able to bring about special models that can have impact on the ground and improve our urban systems.
Do you think the ‘Make in India’ pitch has found resonance in Sweden?
The Swedes are very proud of the fact that they were one of the first countries to come into India and start making in India. In fact, they are one of top five countries globally to manufacture in India. This is not just about the investments that Swedish companies bring into India. It is also the employment opportunities that arise for our people. Cumulatively, Sweden employs more than a million Indians in various production facilities. Now Ikea has come into India and they will not only be making in India, but also sourcing from India. They have in fact said that 50 percent of their workforce is going to be women and they are skilling that workforce. So the Swedes are very good with not just manufacturing units, but bringing R&D units, in skilling employees and bringing in a lot of CSR benefits.
Sweden is also one of the foremost countries globally that are responsible when it comes to looking after the people who work for them and also focus on responsible production, where they ensure that they look at every aspect of the circular economy. They look at the entire ecosystem that is involved in manufacturing, distribution and sourcing. So they look at a holistic approach. That is exactly the model we need in India because we are not just looking at a foreign company setting up shop in India. We are also looking at India’s growth. And when we talk about India’s growth we are looking at what kind of well-being it brings to our people. The Swedish model works as a perfect model for India, where we feel that not only the direct, but also the indirect employees, who are working with Swedish companies in India tend to benefit. Moreover, the products are always environmentally sound and their sustainability levels are high. Such technology is always welcome for Indian conditions.
The India Sweden Business Day was recently concluded in Stockholm. Indians and Swedish diplomats, entrepreneurs and researchers shared their views on this platform. How important so you think are such platforms to facilitate deeper engagement?
It is precisely these kinds of platforms that generate ideas and bring people together. They also bridge any kind of information gap that their might be, especially for the MSMEs. It is very important for the smaller entrepreneur to understand what India is all about, what are the current developments, reforms and initiatives launched by India. It also helps in being informed on the precise investment opportunities that are available to Swedish companies to come into India. So I think these kinds of platforms are an ideal opportunity for both sides to come together and understand each other better. We spoke about smart cities. We need to look at every aspect of what a smart city is about and to see how we can bring the Indian experience of cities into Sweden and Sweden’s innovative technologies and sustainability solutions into India. We need to see how we can marry the two – our markets, our manpower and our skills, with Swedish innovative practices – for mutual benefit.
Through several of these kinds of platforms, and in collaboration with the Indian embassy and certain other sister bodies, we try and do several events a year where we focus on various sectors that are of interest to us as outlined in the joint vision statement and the joint action plan that was identified by our leaders. We try and see how we can bring business and industry from both countries together on these common platforms to exchange views, to have B2B conversations, and to translate some of these projects on the ground. I feel it has started succeeding now because of the kind of interest levels we see generated among Swedish business and industry in participating in India.
Moving onto educational exchanges, how do you think Indian and Swedish universities can collaborate to grow and create wealth of research?
I think what is remarkable about Sweden is that they have a triple helix model of the academia, the government and the corporate world coming together to encourage the youth. They engage with youth in schools and colleges, and try and team up with young talent in converting an idea into a product. That is an area where India would be immensely interested, because given the size of our population it is not possible for the government of India to provide employment opportunities to all our skilled youth, unless we encourage people into startups, into self-employment and into innovative businesses. That is where India and Sweden can really come together. That should be the focus of our education skills; how do we bring technologies to our people, how do we familiarise our youth, our school and college students with Swedish technologies.
That is why it is important that we have exchange programmes and we have research programmes. We do have several MoUs that have been signed directly among Swedish and Indian educational institutions. You see, governments can only be facilitators and catalysts. At the end of the day we want our IITs, our IIMs and our education institutions to link up with Swedish institutions and research centres to see how they can work together, and try and bring some of these very fine technologies to Indian youth, and how we can benefit in terms of giving our young people the opportunity to use these technologies and create livelihoods for themselves.
Mehra is a communications strategist and founder of Content People, a Swedish impact communications company. She can be reached at email@example.com
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