In June 2011, I went on a study visit in Växjö, a city in the South of Sweden. I was in the service of the regional development authority, within the Regional Council of Southern Småland. This Council works and cooperates towards strengthening regional policies related to culture, the environment, and international relations. The Southern Småland (formerly knwon as Kronoberg county) region forms part of the Euroregion Baltic, a trans-border association of territorial bodies, alongside other regions in Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Denmark and Russia.
Växjö received the Sustainable Energy Europe Award in 2007. It was declared Europe’s greenest city because it met the strict environmental parameters in terms of both energy production levels and waste management. It is considered a reference point for sustainable development.
My job in the International Relations area of the culture department is to oversee the participation of local cultural organizations in European cooperation projects. This is the reason why they suggested I went on a study trip: to experience how local cultural policies work and observe the development of cultural projects.
During my stay in Växjö I had the opportunity to learn about promising proposals that encourage an enterprising spirit, cultural initiative and cooperation:
-Some cultural operators in the Southern Småland region expressed an interested in European cooperation as a tool to consolidate international networks and to exchange best practices. Dans i Sydost,Teater Wreak, Italieska Palaset, AV-Media Kroneberg and Media Artes are some examples.
-Furthermore, the area has an enterprise greenhouse for the region: lnkubatorn. This organisation is non-profit and aims to support companies that are set up and have business ideas with growth potential. The most important factors when considering which companies are to form part of the incubator are the business idea, the potential for growth and the entrepreneurial qualities displayed.
I like the way the Swedes work. It’s efficient, horizontal, collaborative and less hierarchical, unusual to the Mediterranean observer: for example, you may see the cleaning lady having breakfast with the line manager. This creates a relaxed, collaborative and transparent atmosphere. Employees work as a team and over lunch or during breaks they exchange ideas, everyone offers their point of view and, by working in small teams, they solve problems and produce high quality results.
Swedish participation in European cooperation projects is not dependent so much upon a necessity to obtain new and alternative funding (the national grant allowances are sufficient), but is focused more on learning about new ideas from other countries and on opening up new markets. In general, both national and local level grants are highly competitive and of excellent quality, according to the criteria of how they are awarded and the subsequent performance.
Civil servants have a high perception of their role and, above all, the importance of their responsibility to the general public as suppliers of services that are difficult to provide from the private sector.