Up on the Mountain


(Business Lounge Journal – Foreign Insight)

BL: Business Lounge Journal

YB: Yvonne Baumann

BL: What do you think about Indonesia and what are your favourite things about Indonesia and/or Indonesian?

YB: Indonesia is a very beautiful, fascinating and diverse country full of hidden secrets.  Everyday, I discover something new which makes me wonder even more. My husband and I are sad that we are leaving soon. It was a privilege to live and work in Indonesia.

There is this impressive ethnic and linguistic diversity and huge cultural richness that comes in form of so many different traditions. You can see those in local dresses, fabrics, dances – all very elaborate. The dances of the Minangkabau impressed me a lot, also Batak architecture and Sumba’s traditions. I fondly remember all my trips, for instance to the rainforest in Aceh in Gunung Leuser National Park, our encounters with orangutans in Kalimantan, the beautiful beaches and the rice terraces in Bali, the Baliem Valley cultural festival in Papua, and so much more.

Perhaps the greatest asset of Indonesia is its people. We have been so incredibly well received, not only during my travels, but also throughout my work.

BL: What needs to be changed on Indonesia?

YB: If you ask me what could be changed I can only think of the ‘macet’ and the air pollution in Jakarta – but the government of Indonesia is already taking important steps in order to improve the situation.

BL: What can you tell us about Switzerland’s recent interest in Indonesia’s vocational educational sector, as we acknowledge the generous sum of investment that Switzerland has grant us on this particular sector. And also, what does this mean for Switzerland; what do you hope to see from Indonesia in the future through this investment?

YB: Switzerland is ready to support the reform of Indonesia’s educational system – particularly its vocational education. The Indonesian Ministry of Industry introduced a program called “link and match” – companies and schools work together for quality vocational education. Switzerland has a lot of experience in so-called “dual” vocational education. We have agreed to support the Indonesian government in setting up  new polytechnic schools in several cities as well as a tourism school in Lombok. We will share expertise, teachers training, and curriculum development.

But this is not something completely new. It is a “re-engagement”. We’ve been a cooperation partner of Indonesia since the 1970s. We assisted with the establishment of the NHI in Bandung, also known as the famous tourism school STP Bandung today. You can still see that its equipment is Swiss and very well-maintained until today. The establishment of the Polytechnic Mechanic Swiss, what is today the POLMAN Bandung, was established with the support of Swiss know-how. There are eight more polytechnic schools that were built later based on the two blueprints in the 80’s. There’s also a teachers training center in Malang that was supported by Switzerland. Since 2009 we have a new cooperation program with Indonesia and today we aim to re-connect with the Swiss “legacy” of supporting vocational education and training in Indonesia.

BL: What are the challenges of staying neutral in today’s world; with the rise of populism being the headlines everywhere?

YB: Swiss neutrality is a principle of Switzerland’s foreign policy. This principle means, Switzerland does not engage in armed conflicts between states.  The Congress of Vienna recognized Switzerland’s status of neutrality in 1815, more than 200 years ago. The Swiss  neutrality is complemented  by active solidarity. Neutrality does not mean non-involvement in general, but to firmly stand for fundamental values – like respecting human rights, promoting democracy and promoting the peaceful coexistence of peoples. Humanitarian engagement and offering our good offices, like hosting and facilitating peace negotiations and international conferences to reduce conflict, are also complementing the Swiss neutrality.

BL: What can we learn from Innovation?

YB: Becoming one of the most innovative and competitive countries worldwide did not happen overnight. During the 19th century, Switzerland was one of Europe’s poorest nations. Many Swiss citizens have emigrated to North and South America. There are still a lot of Swiss descendants there. It was a difficult life back then. The Swiss were no strangers to famine after a bad season, until the second half of the 19th century, when things began to change. Industrialization began, and because we don’t have any natural resources except for water, we had to focus on human resources from the very beginning. The key was and still is education. And being open to new ideas. We had to focus on producing high added value since almost all raw materials need to be imported. Due to our limited domestic market our companies have to export to markets all over the world. So, in order to stay competitive, our companies – big and small – constantly have to innovate.

For high quality production and services you need a very well trained workforce. Our so-called dual vocational education system provides vocational schooling combined hand-in-hand with internships at private companies.  So trainees will go to school let’s say two days a week and then work in a company or a government institution for three days a week with a small salary. Like this, studying theory, acquiring general knowledge and learning practical skills are directly combined.

Since the private companies also define much of the curricula of the vocational schools, the skills of our young people, by the time they graduate, are tailored exactly to the needs of the labor market. Innovation and a highly-skilled labor force thus form foundations of the prosperity of today’s Switzerland.

Another principle to promote innovation is to maintain open markets. All leading companies in Switzerland constantly participate in an international exchange of ideas, combining the best talents and know-how. Due to its high quality of life and stable political and legal conditions, Switzerland is able to attract foreign companies and highly qualified personnel. This results in a substantial “brain gain” in recent years.

BL: Just recently, Switzerland’s economic minister Johann-Schneider Ammann said that Switzerland should strive to become the “Crypto-nation”. Can you elaborate further what this means for Switzerland?

YB: In the last two to three years, the region of Zug in Switzerland has become the so-called “crypto-valley”. Since then, hundreds of start-ups in the field of crypto currencies, fintech and blockchain have been established in or have moved to the region. Switzerland welcomes this development. Federal and regional governments support start-ups in Switzerland by way of, for example, excellent universities, a liberal labor market and attractive living conditions. At the same time, Switzerland will secure a framework to avoid the abuse of new technologies for illegal actions.

BLJ: What is the age-average of new startups in Switzerland?

YB: Amongst the adult population aged between 35 and 44 years, the Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) rate in Switzerland stands at 10.1% in 2014, which is comparable to the average of the innovation-based national economies (10.2%). Compared to other innovation-based countries, the TEA rate of the 18-24 age group in Switzerland of 3.4% (2014) is significantly below the average (7.4%). One factor may be that this age group in Switzerland is often still in training or education, and therefore is not necessarily a negative sign. The TEA rate for individuals older than 55 years (the ‘senior entrepreneurs’) of 6.8% in Switzerland is above the average of the innovation-based countries (5.0%). These facts and figures are based on the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2014.

Traditionally we are also a country of small and medium sized enterprises—like Indonesia. Many of these small and medium enterprises are very innovative at the cutting edge.  When foreigners think of Switzerland, normally colorful images of blue lakes and snow peaked mountains come to mind. But if you look closely, on top of the beautiful landscapes and the already well known products like chocolate, cheese or watches, you can find the best conditions for a rapidly growing startup ecosystem.

One crucial factor is access to the right talent. Switzerland has a very good education system at secondary and university level. Switzerland also attracts qualified workers from abroad and offers the right conditions to retain the talent it grows. Equally important is the close cooperation between our research institutes and universities with the private sector. Universities, research institutions and private companies constantly feed into each other in terms of research and development, leading to technological change.

BL: So, you’re saying that companies and universities are inclusive in nature.

YB: I think this is one of the key factors. And our top universities each year spin off many start-ups. Often students become entrepreneurs based on the research and development they did during their studies.

BL: Please tell us more about the framework conditions that you’ve mentioned before!

YB: One important factor is financing, always a challenge for start-up companies. Switzerland has a well-functioning venture capital market for start-ups, also thanks to strong foreign investment. In 2015, Switzerland ranked second within Europe regarding the GDP percentage share of which venture capital investments account for.

BL: Is this framework come out from the government of Switzerland?

YB: The so-called “framework conditions” are a mix of several factors. Switzerland constantly adapts the conditions to the dynamics of the economy and technological development. For instance, our public and tax administration as well as social insurance issues are comparatively easy to handle. Also, there are excellent schools and research institutes. That is the public part. But in Switzerland, there are also leading multinational companies which scout promising startups and provide funds or sometimes acquire homegrown startups. That is the private part. Other factors are an attractive environment, safety and many opportunities to attract young talents many of whom enjoy living in Switzerland. Political stability is part of the framework conditions too as well as the regulatory environment, which is considered to be favorable.

We have excellent universities, many of them ranked among the first 100 in the international rankings. One of them, the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) is among the first 10.

BL: And these universities, are they private-owned or state-owned?

YB: They are public institutions under the administrative control of the federal government and the governments of the Cantons (the Swiss provinces).

BL: Would you say that these universities are one of the main reasons for Switzerland’s homegrown entrepreneurs today?

YB: One of the reasons, yes, but not the only one. There are also other factors and other very good schools at tertiary level which contribute to induce entrepreneurship. Many students start researching and developing ideas, which maybe sometimes turned into business ideas.

Swiss companies, particularly also small or medium sized company, would ask universities to research and develop certain ideas, let’s say a handbag with solar-driven lighting. The company and the university would then work together to develop such a product which can be brought to the market. Simply put, this is how innovation works.

Michael Judah Sumbayak adalah pengajar di Vibiz LearningCenter (VbLC) untuk entrepreneurship dan branding. Seorang penggemar jas dan kopi hitam. Follow instagramnya di @michaeljudahsumbek