It is vital to support Sweden's immigrant workforce and startup sector, write the founders of a new international venture backed by eight of the country's top business bosses.
For nearly three-quarters of a century, immigration has steadily outpaced emigration in Sweden. Today, the number of foreign-born individuals amounts to nearly 1.7 million, more than 15 percent of the population.
However, despite representing a smaller percentage of the overall population, data from the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) reveal that 20 percent of new companies in Sweden are started by immigrants today, and 53 percent of immigrant-owned companies say they want to grow their company, compared to only 38 percent among companies owned by native Swedes.
We believe it is crucial to support and encourage this driving force.
Thus, this month, the pilot program 'int'Link' was launched. Based on a US model, the program was initiated by the International Entrepreneur Association in Sweden (IFS) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Sweden (AmCham Sweden), following a forum convened by the US Embassy in Stockholm.
Charter member companies participating in int'Link's pilot phase include some of Sweden's biggest businesses: IBM Svenska AB, Ica Sverige AB, Hammarskiöld & Co, Pfizer AB, SEB and UPS Sweden AB.
Also, according to the OECD, the unemployment rate among foreign-born workers in relation to native-born Swedes is one of the highest in Europe. Unemployment in 2014 measured up to 16.4 percent among foreign-born workers compared to 6.2 percent among Swedish-born workers – a difference of 10.2 percentage points. Once the data from 2015 has been fully analyzed, this gap is not likely to have decreased. This is not just a challenge for politicians to solve, the business community has much to contribute.
int'Link is a collaborative effort that addresses integration through a program with the potential to promote economic growth, encourage job creation and break down barriers that currently hinder the flow of immigrant-owned businesses into the Swedish economy.
Immigrants to Sweden, like those in other countries, often have a limited understanding of mainstream business processes. Immigrant-owned businesses also lack key resources needed to navigate complex bureaucratic regulations and procedures, and thus, are also disproportionately vulnerable to administrative burdens and costs which directly impact their ability to maintain profitability and grow.
Today, 95,000 immigrant-owned businesses are employing 300,000 people in Sweden. It is the goal of int'Link to assist in the development of this vital and rapidly growing sector of the Swedish economy. We believe this can be accomplished at little cost and will reap tremendous benefits moving forward. Therefore, we have committed resources and talent to identify businesses which have been established by first-generation immigrants to Sweden, and hold promise for future expansion and continued opportunity for job creation.
During the pilot phase of the program, it will offer qualified training and tools to build faster and more secure relationships between the immigrant-owned businesses and charter member companies committed to the initiative. We will also evaluate the progress made, opportunities created, and challenges that remain.
We view this as a program that has the potential to yield invaluable benefits to the Swedish economy and society as a whole. At the same time, this is a unique opportunity for our organizations to share best business practices, and together, establish a firm foundation for Sweden to maintain its position as a leader that brings innovation forward to the world.
We strongly encourage policy makers who can help Sweden realize the economic growth that int'Link can provide, to cooperate with one another in support of this effort. In the future, we will urge other business leaders and decision makers to join this initiative to help companies throughout Sweden reach their full potential.
In 2015 alone, nearly 163,000 people immigrated to Sweden seeking asylum. How we face and embrace these newcomers will continue to define our country as a place where the ability to adapt and innovate is valued and rewarded.
This opinion piece was written by the int'Link founding organizations and endorsed by the following representatives of int'Link charter member companies:
Johan Rittner, CEO (Country General Manager), IBM Sweden
Malin Parkler, CEO, Pfizer Sweden
José Maria Odriozola, CEO (Nordic Country Manager), UPS Sweden AB
Anders Svensson, CEO, Ica Sverige AB
Marcus Franzén, Head of Group Procurement, SEB
Peder Hammarskiöld, Senior Partner, Hammarskiöld & Co
Rafael Bermejo, Chairman, IFS
Gary Baker, Vice Chair, AmCham Sweden