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