The charming Johanna Brismar Skoog recently took the time to meet NOW! Jakarta for an interview, during which she spoke about Sweden-Indonesia relations, her first 2 1/2 years in Jakarta, and what can be done in order to follow in Sweden’s footsteps when it comes to gender equality.
Jakarta was your first post as Ambassador. Could you tell us more about your experience over the past two and a half years?
Although I had many management positions before, this was my first time heading an independent mission abroad. It has been very interesting; I have a lot more freedom than I thought I would have. I can form the agenda myself, I can decide how to spend my budget and create new initiatives. My limitation is staffing, we are quite a small embassy with five diplomatic staff, so we constantly need to prioritize. On the other hand, we are very far away from Sweden, so contact with the capital is scarce. I think a lot of us share the same view that if you are this far away, good and bad, you are on your own. But we have a very good collaboration between the Swedish embassies in the region and with my diplomatic colleagues here, so there are good networks to draw on.
However, I am enjoying it a lot. Being in my third year now, and fourth year living in Jakarta, I have a deeper knowledge of what can be done and how it can be done. I have better contacts and can do more innovative things together with the Swedish companies here, so I have a more stable ground.
What do you think characterizes the relationship between Sweden and Indonesia?
It’s a very good relationship. We don’t have any problematic bilateral issues and we share many priorities. This is a trade-focused embassy, so I spend a lot of my time working with the Swedish and Indonesian business community to promote innovative and sustainable solutions. One example is in the infrastructure sector, which Indonesia is focusing on and where we have deep experience and expertise. Transport solutions is an important part of that. I am also very happy that we now have a dedicated energy counsellor at the embassy, who can concentrate on renewable energy and energy efficiency. This year, we have been working particularly with IT and digital infrastructure. Creative industries is another area we are good at, and Indonesia has high ambitions in that field. Increased exchange would be mutually beneficial. There are a lot of different good matches between our two countries.
For the Indonesian government, economic growth is a priority, so we have a lot in common there as well, how to achieve this together. We are actually just finishing off a study we are doing together with Business Sweden, where we have interviewed the Swedish companies already in Indonesia. Over 90 % of them are interested in expanding or further investing. They see enormous potential here. I guess it means that they believe in the market as such but also that they feel confident in what the government is doing in terms of easing the economic restrictions and creating an improved business climate.
In what other areas do Sweden and Indonesian cooperate?
We are working a lot with universities, to promote joint academic research, innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration. There are a lot of opportunities to explore. Working with RISTEK, we had over 60 researchers coming over from Sweden in March to UGM in Yogya, where they met up with Indonesian counterparts from all over the country and matched up in joint research projects.
We are also active in informing Indonesians about the options of studying in Sweden. We have many world-class ranked universities, often a lot cheaper than Australia or the US. I think there are currently around 200 Indonesian students studying in Sweden at masters’ and doctorate level, and it’s increasing each year. Our universities are interested in Indonesia because they see a huge long-term collaboration potential.
What do you do in terms of cultural exchange?
Not as much as I would like. But I am proud that we for the first time are working together with the Jakarta Fashion Week this year and have invited two up-and-coming designers from Sweden. They will also participate in a talk show on sustainable fashion and why sustainability has become such an important part of the Swedish design concept. I hope we can expand on this in the future. We have been fortunate enough to have Swedish jazz musician Magnus Lindgren perform at the Java Jazz Festival for the past two years. He has also been collaborating with Indonesian singer Dira Sugandi. That’s the kind of projects I want to be able to facilitate. A meeting that leads to friendship and professional cooperation across borders.
One of the cornerstones of Swedish society is gender equality. How did you get to this point and what can other countries do to follow suit?
The Swedish government is committed to building a society in which women and men can live their lives to their full potential. Gender equality is a matter of human rights, democracy and justice. It is also an engine driving social development and creating genuine change in society and in people’s lives. Women and men should have the same opportunities for economic independence and influence. In Sweden, some of the most important reforms concerning gender equality took place in the labour market and in the social policy in the 1970s. These reforms increased women’s prospects to have the same opportunities as men to enter the labour market and to remain and develop there. Parts of the unpaid household and care work, often performed by women, became the responsibility of the public welfare system. In addition, men were encouraged to participate in the family life to a greater extent. These reforms also contributed to the development of a modern welfare state. However, while we’ve come quite far, not even in Sweden has full gender equality been achieved and continued investments and reforms are needed.
It’s always hard to translate it to a different environment but I think being more aware of gender issues is the first step, looking at what we can actually do to facilitate for women. Equal pay, opportunities and having good role models, women who show that is possible to have both a family and a career, also plays an important role. Men are also important for change, and I see more men taking an active part in their children’s development, like picking them up at daycare or doing homework together, helping out at home..
From a pure business perspective, diversity in the workplace contributes to a higher productivity. When I talk to the Swedish companies here, they often tell me that they employ many highly skilled Indonesian women, and that sometimes it is even easier to find a suitable female candidate for a position than a male, so I think it’s looking quite good for the next generation, also here Indonesia.
How much longer will you be in Indonesia?
I don’t know yet. We are always initially appointed for three years, which I will have done next summer, but that can be extended. Since my husband lives in New York and my youngest son has graduated and will be moving out, I guess I will be quite lonely. So from that point of view, I would like to find a good job in New York. But if I don’t, I would love to stay because I feel like I’m not finished at all with Indonesia yet. There are so many things I would still like to do here, both professionally and also personally.
Could you share some of these things with us?
At the beginning, when I first came here, I wanted to get my diving certificate, and I did! It was a big milestone for me because I thought I was too claustrophobic to ever do it, but I managed and would like to explore that much further. There are also so many places I haven’t travelled to yet, so much more to see. And being in my third year now, I know a lot more what I would like to do professionally, some new things I want to try, certain initiatives and collaborations. That is the other side – that’s why the potential job in New York would have to be really good, because going back to being a housewife is really not an option for me anymore!