H.E. Helena Sångeland: Swedish Ambassador to Malaysia

Her Excellency Helena Sångeland arrived in Malaysia in August 2005 to take up her new post. But a state visit to Sweden by the Malaysian King and Queen coincided with her appointment and ironically she spent much of the first few months of her posting in Sweden rather than Malaysia.
         She came to Malaysia after spending a little more than three years in Hanoi, Vietnam, as counsellor at the Swedish embassy there. Although Malaysia is her first posting as an ambassador, she is a very experienced career diplomat having joined the Swedish Foreign Service in 1988. 
         Spending her first year in the Foreign Ministry’s “diplomat school” and at the Foreign Ministry itself in Stockholm, she was then posted to Rome, Helsinki and to Hanoi.
         Knowing Sweden to be a very egalitarian society, I asked her about the number of women ambassadors now appointed in the Swedish Foreign Service. Ms. Sångeland estimates the number is only about 30% of all ambassadors currently representing Sweden around the world, and while compared to other not-so-egalitarian countries, this may be quite high but nevertheless appears to leave room for improvement.
         Sångeland holds a degree in Business Administration and Economics from Göteborg School of Economics and Business Administration, and has also studied political science and German before joining the Foreign Service. Impressively, she has complete command of six languages: Swedish, Finnish, English, German, French and Italian. Now her plan is to learn Bahasa Malaysia, and I have no doubt at all that she will succeed! 
         Asked if she really wanted to go to Malaysia, she laughs and says: “Well, I applied and here I am.”
Obviously very happy to be in Malaysia, Sångeland tells me that Malaysia (as well as Singapore) seems to be very popular within the Swedish Foreign Service, due probably to the great climate, stable political conditions and very good relations between Sweden and these countries. Swedish companies have been present in Malaysia for a long time, and both exports and imports between the two countries are on the rise. The largest Swedish companies there are SKF, Ericsson, Volvo and Tetrapak, but there are also several middle-sized and small companies here too. Ms. Sångeland says that she hopes to see an increased presence of small and middle-sized companies in Malaysia, and from the 1st of January 2006, the Swedish Trade Council office will be able to offer small companies business support. Companies who feel that they are too small to have their own office in Kuala Lumpur (KL), but who want to give business a shot here anyway can ask for assistance from the agency which will provide qualified information and assistance to penetrate the market. 
         Some 90 Swedish connected companies are present in Malaysia at the moment and it is believed that as many as 450 Swedish citizens live in Malaysia at the moment. The figure is not precise due to the fact that not everybody registers their arrival with the embassy. She tells me that the Swedish community here in Malaysia is very closely knit, and that most people seem to know each other, or at least know of each other. 
         The new ambassador also promises to continue the upgrade of the consular services offered by  the Embassy. An economist herself, H.E. Helena Sångeland is very keen on promoting economic and business relations between the two countries and to that end, the Swedish Trade Council office was officially opened on the 29th of September, the first office opened by the Swedish Trade Council in the Southeast Asian region. It is located in the same building as Swedish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur but on the 19th floor. (The Swedish embassy is located on the 6th floor). 
         The Swedish Trade Council office works in close relationship with the embassy, and obviously having the Trade Council office there means that the emphasis is even more biased toward strengthening on business relations. The Ambassador highlights sectors such as biotech, telecom, IT, and environment technology as areas where Sweden and Malaysia can benefit from closer cooperation. 
         The embassy is also occupied with promoting Sweden in various ways and to attract investments from Malaysia which is also an emerging investor, and to promote Sweden as a tourist destination.
 Malaysian Airlines newest direct flight to Stockholm will be conducive to that effort work and in a little more than 12 months, a Swedish design exhibition called “Improving Life” will be held in Malaysia. At the beginning of 2007 Malaysia will be visited by a  Swedish replica of an 18th Century East India Company ship, the “Götheborg”. 
         On the 12th of September 1745, the original ship ran aground and sunk with her entire cargo within a mile from her home port and after almost two years at sea. Thanks to boats nearby at the time, all of the crew survived. Most of the cargo was thankfully salvaged, as it was valued at the equivalent to the total Swedish GDP at that time!
         The replica will follow the East-India route to Canton, and visit Malaysia on its return to Sweden. The embassy will also organize various events during the visit. 
         Mrs. Sångeland did not know so much about Malaysia in particular when she first arrived here, but having been posted in Hanoi (where it could be freezing during winter, she tells me) she knew a lot about South-East Asia in general, and of course about the trade organization ASEAN. She is very much looking forward to getting to know Malaysia better, and is convinced her family will like it here as well. 
         Her two boys, aged 11 and 14, have already started school in KL, and love it there. Her architect husband hopes to pursue his line of work in Malaysia and the family will probably stay here for at least three years or maybe four.
         When I asked her if she believes Malaysia will reach its goal of achieving developed nation status in 2020 (Wawasan 2020 or Vision 2020) she says yes, in spite of some obvious shortcomings. But the Malaysian infrastructure is in very good shape, the Government is focusing on education and the macroeconomic status is stable with sound growth figures, she says, providing solid grounds for optimism.

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