Unlikely partners join hands as part of Sweden- S'pore initiative

SINGAPORE - Two unlikely partners are gearing up to organise a virtual storytelling competition for migrant workers in Singapore.

Local textile boutique Aaria Creations is linking up with British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca for a good cause.

Aaria Creations owner Prema Mahalingam told The Straits Times: "The idea is not just to gather stories, it's to bring the workers together, to help them blend with our community, since they are missing their own families during this pandemic. This will be an opportunity for them to tell their stories and for us to listen."

The collaboration will see AstraZeneca sponsoring shop credits at Aaria Creations - which also sells Tamil books popular with migrant workers - for the participants and winners of the competition.

The two companies are among those participating in the Sweden-Singapore initiative, which is organised by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce Singapore (SwedCham), and will be launched on Wednesday.

It aims to foster collaboration between Swedish multinational corporations (MNCs) and Singapore small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The initiative is kicking off with 12 partnerships, with more expected to be announced at a later date. Among the Swedish MNCs participating are fashion chain H&M and home appliance firm Electrolux.

Ms Lisa Ferraton, general manager of SwedCham, said the chamber identified the need for such a collaborative initiative when it observed how both large and small companies were struggling when the pandemic hit.

"Both SMEs and MNCs play a crucial role for Singapore's economy. This initiative shows that when we collaborate, we become stronger," she said.

This initiative comes in the midst of Singapore's worst recession.

Tighter foreign employment policies have been introduced, with non-resident employment continuing to contract in the third quarter of this year, despite growth in local employment.

Mr Chng Kai Fong, managing director of the Economic Development Board, which is supporting the initiative, said foreign business chambers play an important role in connecting Singapore to the international business community, and that the initiative will allow Swedish MNCs and local SMEs to exchange knowledge and collaborate.

"This is a good example of how companies can forge partnerships in Singapore and seize growth opportunities together," he said.

Mr Neo Cheng Leong, a chicken rice seller at Shunfu Market, is partnering with Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson as part of the Sweden Singapore Initiative. PHOTO: SWEDISH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SINGAPORE

Veteran chicken rice seller Neo Cheng Leong is another SME owner benefiting from the initiative, linking up with Swedish telecoms equipment supplier Ericsson.

Besides promoting Mr Neo's stall through advertisements and encouraging its more than 220 staff to try his chicken rice, Ericsson is also helping Mr Neo and his fellow hawkers at Shunfu market establish their digital presence.

Ms Sonia Aplin, head of marketing, communications, sustainability and corporate responsibility at Ericsson in South-east Asia, Oceania and India, said the company has put out a global call for volunteers within the firm to help these hawkers build their online presence.

Six volunteers, including four from Singapore, have come forward, she added.

"We're really looking forward to exploring with Mr Neo and the other stall owners how we can support them to build this online presence," Ms Aplin said.

The Sweden-Singapore initiative is a long-term effort to strengthen bonds between Singapore's SMEs and Swedish companies operating here, said Ms Ferraton.

The initiative is driven by pro bono efforts by the chamber, as well as partners such as creative agency Forsman & Bodenfors Singapore. Participating SMEs were selected by government agencies Enterprise Singapore and the National Environment Agency.