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OPINION

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‘Sweden should help foreign entrepreneurs’

It is important for immigrants to get on to the Swedish jobs ladder. But too much focus is being placed on traditional employment instead of encouraging entrepreneurship, argues Mariah ben Salem Dynehäll.

'Sweden should help foreign entrepreneurs'
Should Sweden help foreign-born entrepreneurs more? Photo: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

Integration is actively being debated in media. Most agree that more needs to be done to welcome people who come to Sweden from other countries into Swedish society.

Jobs are said to be one of the most important keys to integration, but at the same time study upon study show how difficult it is for foreign-born people to break into the Swedish jobs market.

These discussions focus almost exclusively on employment. However, there are more alternatives for getting a foot on to the labour market.

Starting your own business is one way to achieve meaningful occupation and ensure your livelihood. The link between entrepreneurship and integration is not often talked about. Besides creating employment, it creates opportunities for even more jobs because people from other countries have ideas that are of value to Sweden.

Swedish is best learned in the real world

I need hardly explain what an impact this has on self esteem. Language is often highlighted as a key to integration for those who are new to Sweden – but those of us who have read languages in school and at university can testify to the fact that these skills are best trained in the real world rather than by memorizing vocabulary in the classroom. 

Swedish For Immigrants classes are good, but the level of learning increases significantly if language tuition is combined with language training in the real world.

By making it easier for new entrepreneurs in Sweden to get support in a business development process in which they interact with clients and suppliers they don't train their language skills alone. They also build new relationships and network with people already living and working in the country. 

At the same time new business ideas are developed which create value for others, while generating livelihood for the entrepreneur and growth for Sweden.

Foreign-born entrepreneurs are more ambitious

The entrepreneurial drive is higher among people from a foreign background than among native Swedes, according to a survey in 2012 by the Swedish Agency for Economic in Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket).

Foreign-born also have higher ambition than those born in Sweden to start a business with employees, a resource that can be better utilized. There is already support in place for new arrivals trying to find a job in Sweden, but no targeted support for foreign-born entrepreneurs who want to start their own business.

Additionally, the regulatory framework for labour market policies often becomes an obstacle to entrepreneurship.

If you are registered as seeking employment and then start a business, regardless of background, you lose your so-called activity grant (benefits available to job seekers enrolled in a government labour policy programme) because you are by definition no longer unemployed.

Labour market policies need to be developed and coordinated with new economic policies for Swedish entrepreneurs in general – and the country's new arrivals in particular.

Mariah ben Salem Dynehäll is the chief executive of Drivhuset, a Gothenburg organization that helps fresh entrepreneurs put their ideas into action. This is a translated version of a debate article which first appeared in Göteborgs-Posten.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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