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What makes Sweden famous worldwide for innovation?

Education is an important factor in making Sweden well known for its innovations, Camilla Mellander – Swedish Ambassador to Vietnam – told Tuoi Tre News in a recent interview during the “Innovative Sweden” program, now running in Ho Chi Minh City.

What makes Sweden famous worldwide for innovation?
What makes Sweden famous worldwide for innovation?

Despite its small population of around 9.5 million, Sweden had 2,288 patent applications in 2012 and 9,473 scientific and technical journal articles published in 2011, according to statistics released in the directory of the program.

“Innovative Sweden” is being organized by the Swedish Embassy to celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Sweden.

The European country also ranked third in the Global Innovation Index 2014 announced in September by the Switzerland-based World Intellectual Property Organization, followed by Switzerland and the UK.

So what is the secret behind this success?

Ambassador Mellander said that education plays a very important role in the field of innovation in her country, which has the 2nd-fastest growth rate in patent/capital worldwide.

The Swedes strongly appreciate the role of young people in innovation development.

Children in Sweden are educated in the spirit of innovation at a very early age through good examples of achievements the country has reached during the last 100 years, including those by world-renowned scientist Alfred Nobel.

“Children are encouraged to be confident to speak their mind, to be comfortable to think innovatively and outside the box,” the Swedish Ambassador told Tuoi Tre News on November 11.

Innovative thinking does not have to be groundbreaking, and innovators are not always those who have high-level degrees, she said, adding that they can be students with small, but breakthrough, innovative ideas.

Never consider an innovation more important than the others, Ava Ekasson, president of Uppsala University, which has Nobel laureates as alumni, said.

We will never know which idea or knowledge could create great innovations that are meaningful to social development in the future, she added.

A connection between universities and enterprises in Sweden has been established to create an environment where students can express their ideas and then work with enterprises to research and create innovative products.

The Swedish government has invested strongly in the field of research and development, which helps spur creativity, Ambassador Mellander said.

In 2012, the Nordic country spent 3.41 percent of its GDP on research and development, a proportion that is expected to grow to 4 percent.

Other factors that have contributed to making a famously innovative Sweden, according to Annika Rembe, director-general of the Swedish Institute, are gender equality, industry, trade, communications and infrastructure.

Green innovations

For many years, Sweden has paid strict attention to clean technology and environmentally-friendly innovations to achieve sustainable development.

In 2014, Sweden ranked 4th in the top ten countries with potential for start-up clean-tech companies, according to the Cleantech Innovation Index announced by the U.S.-based Cleantech Group.

One of the most well-known green products from Sweden is the Solvatten solar safe water system, which is especially useful in dry areas like northern Africa, by helping to cut down the cost for boiling water, as well as for protecting forests and preventing illnesses caused by dirty water.

At the seminar titled “Swedish Innovations Contribute to Clean-Tech Globally” held at Hoa Sen University in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1, David Wadstrom, a representative of Solvatten, said the 120,000 Solvatten machines the company produces each year can help save 1.2 million trees (equal to 4,200ha of forest) from being cut down for wood used to boil water every year.

Compared with the traditional method of boiling water, the product, which is as small as a suitcase, can also save around US$11.5 million and 81 hours for heating water.

Rembe, director-general of the Swedish Institute, said the country has produced many environmentally-friendly innovations since it has a strength in technology innovations, together with the Swedish people’s attention to the environment.

Fifty years ago, Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm was a polluted place with smelly water, but now people can go fishing or even swimming in the city thanks to the clean-tech innovations it has applied.

Household waste in Stocholm is now treated to produce biogas for buses as well as heating for the city, where waste is often classified at its source into three categories: paper, organic and the rest, according to what was seen by a Tuoi Tre News reporter during his business trip to the European country last month.

Producers are urged to think of how to deal with their products when they become waste, while there is a growing tendency to consume less to protect the environment in the Swedish capital.

Trams are currently running in the city on renewable fuel generated from household waste in order to minimize the impact on the environment.

Finding innovations to solve the issue of a lack of natural resources and purusing sustainable environmental development together form a basis for prosperity, Rembe said.

That is why children are taught to be responsible for the environment and to save water for a better future for later generations in preschool.

Twenty Swedish innovations are on display at the “Innovative Sweden” exhibition that is taking place in Ho Chi Minh City from November 10 to 30.

The exhibit, which is part of the namesake program, is being held by the Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam in cooperation with the Swedish Institute and the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Sweden-Vietnam diplomatic relations.

Vietnam and Sweden established diplomatic relations in 1969.

The program also features a number of seminars, education fairs, films and music fests, as well as cuisine events.

Dr. Ulf Larsson, deputy director of the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, delivered a presentation on the Nobel Prize as part of the program on November 14 in front of about 200 students from five universities in Ho Chi Minh City.

Larsson told Tuoi Tre News that for young Vietnamese to succeed in science, they should keep working and dare to follow their own thoughts.

“It is a mixture [of] working hard and thinking differently,” he added. The deputy director said that participating in the 2001 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony was a memorable experience for him.

“I had the pleasure of attending the ceremony of 2001 when it was the centenary of the Nobel Prize so all previous Nobel laureates were invited to attend. And that was sort of powerful to see all these people with their great achievements behind them and see them all gathering there at the ceremony. That was a memorable moment.”