The 35-year-old Swedish Business Association in Singapore officially transformed into a Chamber of Commerce, SwedCham, in July 2017. The chamber has a new General Manager, Cecilia Oskarsson, and a new President, Jan Stjernström.
With two pairs of fresh eyes in charge, the Swedish Business Association Singapore has officially converted into a Chamber of Commerce. The idea is to create a direct link to the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris (ICC) by becoming a subset of the umbrella organization. This will give the organization and its members extended access to the information flow on trade agreements and trade issues.
Through the Singapore Business Federation (SFB), SwedCham will become a member of the ICC, which in cooperation with the World Trade Organization (WTO) determine rules and regulations around international trade. The main purpose of the ICC is to promote economic freedom, free trade, free competition, and harmonization simplification of rules and routines, governing international trade. All of which are important to Swedish and Nordic companies, Jan Stjernström says.
New and improved
A key difference between the new chamber and the prior association is the subgroups. Not only are there more now, they are also reinforced. The point is to have relevant forums that include all types of companies that Sweden has in the region: from the small startups, the middle-sized, to the big and well-established multinational companies.
Depending on a company’s size, the members have different needs and so the idea is that they can talk and relate to other members in peer companies, who experience similar issues. The chamber’s function is to facilitate these discussions among themselves but also to cooperate with them.
“Something that we are trying to do differently is not only to work for the members but with the members,” Cecilia Oskarsson says. Via the subgroups we invite the members to be an active part of the chamber and get involved in deciding what kind of activities we have. We want them to engage in the chamber.”
Another crucial change is an updated website that will feature more links to other chambers’ and organizations’ sites. The events that are relevant to the individual members will likewise be easier to isolate.
The new administration wants to emphasize the importance of collaboration with the other chambers such as the other Nordic Chambers in Singapore and the Nordic Chamber in Manila, the EuroChamber of Singapore and other Swedish chambers in the region.
“Our job is really to facilitate contact between the companies. We want to be inclusive and open up to the other Nordic chambers and do things jointly, because the Nordic countries have a lot in common, so I think we could gain a lot by working together,” the new President says.
A different structure, executor and directional guidance
Now that the organization is a proper chamber, a different set of rules and articulated goals are incorporated, including the establishment of a General Manager. Cecilia Oskarsson’s role is very hands-on. Her job is to arrange events and make contact with the individual members and companies. She is the face of the organization and it is very important to her that the new members think of her as someone within reach: “It’s always nice to meet them in a casual way over a cup of coffee and just small talk a little bit”.
Therefore, the chamber benefits from being located in the same building as Business Sweden and the Embassy, whom they intend to collaborate even more with in the future.
As the head of the board, the new President’s job is primarily directional and communicative. The new board consists of 14 members, on which all subgroups are represented. Two are non-voting members: the Swedish Ambassador and a representative of Business Sweden.
“We do roll up our sleeves. All on the board take responsibility and they are engaged and eager to make things better, which makes it is easier to contribute yourself,” the General Manager says.
Singapore is the place to be
The reason why the chamber is coming into existence right now is indeed the new President and General Manager. Nevertheless, the timing is particularly keen due to the chamber’s greater focus on international cooperation because as of right now, only two per cent of the Swedish export goes to Singapore and the ASEAN region. However, according to Stjernström, this is going to change: “There is a huge potential here for further Swedish business because this part of the world is growing so much. We think Swedish companies will have greater interest in pursuing the growth of opportunities here”.
Countries like the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia are tomorrow’s big markets.
Singapore is a natural place to use as a regional hub for a Swedish – or European – company, Oskarsson and Stjernström agree. It is an easy place to get started; you have the infrastructure, the law and order, and it is easy flying in and out. It is “the Switzerland of the East,” as Stjernström calls it – “Asia for beginners”.