A diplomat with unlimited enthusiasm

 12 Dec 2016 - 20:08

A diplomat with unlimited enthusiasm

By Irfan Bukhari / The Peninsula

Ambassador of Sweden to Qatar, Ewa Polano is one of the most vibrant diplomats who proves her dynamism with her keen interest in attending almost all important gatherings of the town.

With dozens of ambitious-plans to boost Qatar-Sweden relations, she asserts that innovation and entrepreneurship are her country’s “top brands”.  Facts testify her assertion too as according to Global Innovation Index, Sweden stands at number 3 in the world for innovation.

In an exclusive interview with The Peninsula, the ambassador at the one hand threw light on areas of current and future cooperation between two countries and on the other expressed her love for Qatar saying ‘Qatar is not only a cultural hub but also an intellectual hub of the region’.

Talking on the cooperation revolving around road safety, she started citing Qatari catch-line for development “Qatar deserves the best”, then went on to say that Sweden was at number one in road safety. “Our Vision Zero concept was adopted in 1997 to bring road accident related deaths to the zero level,” she said, adding that New York, Singapore and some other Asian countries had borrowed their Vision Zero plan and were implementing it.

“It was a high ambition but we have succeeded with efforts of the government and people. People can and will continue making mistakes but to tackle road deaths we have to change the environment in which road accidents occur. It is about legislation, implementation, education, technology, urban and roads planning,” she added.

She said that Sweden was sharing its knowledge with Qatar in this regard. “SweRoad’s CEO Jonas Hermansson visited Qatar recently. (SweRoad is a Swedish state-owned consultancy company within transport sector.)  Two experts with doctorate degrees in road psychology were here and have left recently to come again in January next year. They are experts in young male behaviour in traffic. The experts also had meetings with the ministers of health and transportation. It indicates Qatar’s interest in tackling the issue,” she observed.

The ambassador noted that now both countries would enter the next phase of cooperation and experts on road congestion would also visit Qatar for knowledge-sharing early next year.

The ambassador further said that private Swedish companies were also active in helping Qatar achieving its goals in road safety and a pilot project of vehicle-mounted speed cameras had been successful.

Sensys Gatso, a Swedish company, she said was behind the technology and ‘we hope Qatar will soon buy the technology to ensure speed enforcement to reduce traffic accidents deaths’.

“Speed enforcement is crucial. It reduces number of deaths and accidents,” she said, adding that she was trying to do a joint research on road safety in collaboration with Qatar National Research Fund, Qatar Road Safety Studies Centre at Qatar University and National Swedish Road Research Institute.

To another question on sustainable development, the ambassador said that a contract for 30 new buses from Scania, a Swedish company, was signed three weeks ago with Qatargas, through the Alfardan Group.

On green building concepts, Polano said that she has invited to Sweden CEO Ibrahim M Jaidah, Arab Engineering Bureau. “He is an expert in environmental construction. Also AEB’s Urban Planning Director visited Sweden last May. Swedish technology from Heliospectra is being employed in Qatar to grow plants and flowers even in complex climate,” she said.

She said that a Swedish company Envac had supplied waste management system to Lusail City, Msheireb Properties, Pearl Qatar, Hamad Air Port etc. “We want to combine waste management with energy saving and education. Qatar Foundation has invited the Mayors of Stockholm and Vaxjo, who are coming in March next year to share their knowledge and expertise with Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI).”

Paradigm shift and startups: She said that Qatar was focusing on the paradigm shift from petrochemical economy to a diversified economy and knowledge-based society. “Qatar wants to promote entrepreneurship. We are sending young professionals and students from Qatar in collaboration with Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) to Sweden for capacity building on startups.”

“Last week it was also decided, during the WISH conference, that three new Swedish startups in healthcare technology will be placed in QSTP in a Qatar-Sweden collaboration. The new QSTP MD Maher Hakim will also help us select 10 Qatari students on their way to be professional entrepreneurs and they will be placed in 10 different health startups in Sweden for a three month internship” she said, adding that Stockholm was number 2 to Silicon Valley in startups.

The ambassador said that with the help of Qatar Business Incubation Centre (QBIC) and Qatar Development Bank (QDB), a Swedish company Albina Snacks AB has recently opened its new factory in Qatar, aiming to export to the rest of the MENA region, diversifying Qatar’s exports in the process.

With a palpable sense of pleasure and satisfaction, she said that Sweden was home to most refugees (per capita) in Europe - “We are number one at receiving refugees in EU, lately especially from war-torn Syria and Iraq”. She added that “Syrians have tremendous entrepreneurial skills and add great value to their new home.”

With a national pride in her tone, she said that Ikea (a Swedish company) in collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University-Qatar was building comfortable wooden houses for refugees in Greece.

In the field of bilateral educational cooperation, she said that recently the Swedish Institute, Sweden’s cultural promotion organization, has launched a programme under which Qatari young professionals can receive scholarships to study for master’s degrees at Swedish top universities in engineering, adding that all of Sweden’s master degree programs are taught in English.

“This programme is being funded by our government and top Swedish companies like SAAB, Volvo, ABB, Ericsson and others.” She said Sweden would support Qatar’s strong interest in preparing engineers. She further told The Peninsula that Qatar’s Education Minister will visit Sweden early next year to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on education whose text had already been finalized between the two sides.

Terming Qatari people “very nice”, she said that Qatar was not only a cultural hub but also an intellectual hub of the region. “I like the taste and beauty with which they are building Qatar. They have everything; parks, museums, beaches, restaurants and super-nice Katara and Souq Waqif.”

She was a little disappointed with slow growth rate in bilateral trade.

“As much as 4 to 5 percent annual increase is nothing. I want to see a 50-percent increase per annum. The major export of Sweden to Qatar is vehicle and engineering product and iron ore but I am seeing scope in ICT, healthcare, waste management, telecom, and also Halal food as 10 percent of Swedish population is Muslim and we can export Halal food to Qatar.  We are also working with Kahramaa to provide more generators and smart grids to the organization.”

Top brands, high hopes: “Innovation and entrepreneurship are our top brands,” she said, further saying that her dream was to establish a Swedish-Qatari Innovation Centre and make arrangements for tailor-made innovation entrepreneurial training to young Qatari professionals at Lund University.

Polano said that another broader MoU encompassing political, cultural, economical and educational areas was under consideration at Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Research component will be at the top of this cooperation.” The MoU’s draft was prepared by Swedish foreign ministry.

House of Sweden in Doha: This project was launched by Interior Decoration department of VCU-Q where two Swedish professors are also serving. “I started delivering lectures at VCU-Q on how our architecture reflects our society, our traditions, our culture, our values and our attitudes. Students have made many prototypes that will be showcased next year at the eve of National Day celebration of Sweden. I am glad that the young generation of Qatari students is focusing on my country.”

Talking on corporate social responsibility, she lauded efforts of school children from the Doha Prep School, who had won a CSR award for presenting a study on CSR in a CSR Conference on Dec 7, organized by Dar Al Sharq Group.  “The Swedish Embassy will also hold capacity building seminars on the subject,” she added.