NHO’s Kristin Sko­gen Lund shares her views on what Nor­way can learn from Asia

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents -

There is eco­nomic de­cline based on lower oil prices and lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness. There is also a de­mo­graphic con­cern, as Nor­way is an age­ing so­ci­ety and that will put a bur­den on its wel­fare sys­tem.

“We knew about this and were pre­pared for it, un­like the mi­gra­tion sit­u­a­tion we now face,” she said. “But one facet that is not talked about is there are 71,000 peo­ple in Nor­way un­der 30 that are out­side work or train­ing. Many of them are out­side the sys­tem be­cause they are not suf­fi­ciently skilled to con­trib­ute in a high-pro­duc­tiv­ity econ­omy. This is one of our so­ci­ety’s fail­ures and we don’t like to ad­dress it.”

Trans­for­ma­tion to a low-car­bon so­ci­ety will also be dif­fi­cult but re­quires swift ac­tion to meet the 2030 goal­post. “Fi­nally there is tech­no­log­i­cal change, the in­dus­trial dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion we have heard so much about at this con­fer­ence,” said Mrs Sko­gen Lund. “It will change how we work and what type of jobs we do. There are risks, but I be­lieve for Nor­way there are huge op­por­tu­ni­ties with this shift. I re­ally hope we can see the op­por­tu­ni­ties and act in time, be­cause when it’s ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one it’s go­ing to be too late to take those po­si­tions. The Swedish prime min­is­ter put it very suc­cinctly re­cently, ‘It’s not the new tech­nol­ogy we should fear, it’s the old.’”

“Like most economies, we are in great need of trans­for­ma­tion. Nor­way has had such growth and pros­per­ity the past few decades we haven’t re­ally felt the same shocks as many of those around us. I rec­om­mend we play to our strengths and ac­quire new ones.

“Our fun­da­men­tal strengths are our flat or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­tures; gen­der equal­ity, be­cause we use more of our work­force; em­pow­er­ing peo­ple, giv­ing them the chance to mas­ter cer­tain skills; high pro­duc­tiv­ity; and good work-life bal­ance with am­ple ac­cess to na­ture. One as­pect that is crit­i­cal to our so­ci­ety and our econ­omy is trust, and this must not be bro­ken down even in a dig­i­tal econ­omy. In fact, in such an econ­omy this trust is go­ing to prove even more es­sen­tial and we must nur­ture it.

“We are at the tech­no­log­i­cal fore­front in some key busi­ness ar­eas and are swift fol­low­ers in oth­ers. We have solid pub­lic fi­nances and vast nat­u­ral re­sources.

“But I be­lieve we’re not very good at sell­ing our cul­ture of em­pow­er­ing em­ploy­ees to other cul­tures when we try to at­tract tal­ent.”

She said there are im­por­tant lessons to be learned from Asia as Nor­way tries to ac­quire new strengths. Sin­ga­pore has con­sec­u­tively been named the eas­i­est place to do busi­ness in the world, while in Nor­we­gian pub­lic opin­ion the in­ter­ests of busi­ness are not al­ways at the fore­front of dis­cus­sions, said Mrs Sko­gen Lund.

“Asians are also very good at cul­ti­vat­ing an in­no­va­tion spirit and zest for knowl­edge,” she said. “They ex­cel at at­tract­ing tal­ent and cap­i­tal, as well as think­ing and ex­e­cut­ing strate­gi­cally over the long term. For ex­am­ple, I had din­ner with our prime min­is­ter and sev­eral Sin­ga­porean lead­ers last night, and they had read our coun­try’s Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion re­port. The dif­fer­ence is their coun­try has a sim­i­lar com­mis­sion and takes ac­tion based on its find­ings. In Nor­way we will talk about the re­port’s sug­ges­tions, then we will talk about it some more.”

“That Nor­way has increased in­ter­ac­tion with Asia and the mar­kets here is very for­tu­nate. Just by do­ing busi­ness here you can dive into the com­pe­tence and in­no­va­tion that can be sourced from these mar­kets.

“As we in­ter­act you could say that glob­al­i­sa­tion is one big process of ef­fi­ciency, a project of scale. Busi­nesses can learn so much just by deal­ing with Asian busi­nesses.

“As coun­tries grap­ple with the UN Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals go­ing for­ward, busi­ness must be at the fore­front of that chal­lenge. With global warm­ing, busi­ness played a large part in caus­ing that prob­lem, but many busi­nesses are now lead­ing the charge to adapt to a lowcar­bon so­ci­ety. In Nor­way since 1990, car­bon emis­sions from process in­dus­try have been cut by 40%. For the world, we are fi­nally start­ing to see global growth and CO2 emis­sions de­cou­ple.

“I serve on the New Cli­mate Econ­omy com­mis­sion, which aims to prove that mak­ing low-car­bon so­ci­eties and eco­nomic growth go hand-in-hand is the only way to sur­vive. There is too much of a per­cep­tion that busi­ness looks at so­ci­ety as some­thing that is hin­der­ing its pro­duc­tion ef­fi­ciency when it hands wel­fare back to so­ci­ety. So­ci­ety tends to look at busi­ness as greedy and self­mo­ti­vated, in­ter­ested only in prof­its at the expense of so­ci­ety. We need to move away from that myth if we want to de­velop sus­tain­able economies.

“DNV-GL re­cently launched its sus­tain­able devel­op­ment re­port and asked 5,500 global lead­ers how to reach their goals. These lead­ers were from ev­ery sec­tor of so­ci­ety, but there was one clear an­swer: busi­ness needs to be the ma­jor prob­lem solver.

“I still re­mem­ber the Nor­wayAsia Busi­ness Sum­mit from last year in India. The key­note speaker was No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Kailash Sat­yarthi, who ad­vo­cates for chil­dren’s rights and against child labour. He said busi­ness tends to solve more of so­ci­ety’s prob­lems than we tend to think, and that was so in­spi­ra­tional to me.

“Busi­ness gets a lot of bad press, whether it is the Panama Pa­pers or cor­rup­tion, but I would like to quote Parag Khanna from the ASEAN econ­omy panel at this con­fer­ence. He said, ‘ the great­est force in fight­ing cor­rup­tion in this re­gion is the in­volve­ment of for­eign busi­ness,’ and that is a pow­er­ful mes­sage that needs to be sent back home.”

For Nor­we­gians do­ing busi­ness in Asia, Mrs Sko­gen Lund hopes there will be room for Nor­we­gian com­pe­tence in ex­e­cu­tion here when cer­tain sec­tors de­velop, such as clean tech­nol­ogy. Nor­we­gians mak­ing the move to Asia have to guard against be­ing a bit naïve, she ad­vised.

“It is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to find the right part­ner here and find your po­si­tion in that part­ner­ship,” said Mrs Sko­gen Lund.

“Back in Nor­way, tack­ling the dis­placed youth is­sue is not so eas­ily han­dled. Job train­ing is a start and we are speak­ing with the unions about a wage sub­sidy scheme so they can get a foothold in the econ­omy. We need to spend our funds get­ting peo­ple in­volved in the econ­omy.

“Our prime min­is­ter was asked a few months back what was her big­gest worry for the coun­try, and she replied the math­e­mat­i­cal skills of Nor­we­gian stu­dents, be­cause they pro­vide the foun­da­tion for so much of what we need to do for sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing. I think she’s right. We need to have a different mind­set to­wards com­pe­tence; we need to re­spect com­pe­tence.

“The gov­ern­ment can do its part by mak­ing it at­trac­tive to be a teacher, im­prov­ing their pay and re­quir­ing high stan­dards. You have to start at the be­gin­ning of the value chain. But we have re­spon­si­bil­ity as par­ents too. We need to teach our kids the value of con­stant learn­ing and cu­rios­ity. This spirit has got­ten Nor­way to where we are to­day but it doesn’t keep com­ing by it­self.”

For busi­ness to trans­mit a pos­i­tive mes­sage about the good it ac­com­plishes, she sug­gested a three-prong strategy. “First, we have to work to clean up our act in busi­ness so there are fewer neg­a­tive sto­ries,” said Mrs Sko­gen Lund. “But we also have to do a bet­ter job of telling our story. We’re not very good at mar­ket­ing our role in so­ci­ety. And we have to cre­ate al­liances to get oth­ers in­volved in the same in­ter­ests as our busi­nesses. It is hard for me to get my mes­sage across as an ad­vo­cate of busi­ness when that mes­sage is in­ter­preted on a back­drop of greed.”

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