Work

Mahi Mahi BBQ in Double Bay, Sydney
Having the chance to visit Australia, I made sure to meet up with a couple of friends there: Paul (first met him in Bukit Lawang’s jungle, watched wild Orang-utans together, and made our way out to paved grounds), Charlotta (a colleague from uni, been studying and partying together in Linköping) and Emelie (met her once at Pablo’s place, and listened to her fascinating year driving, literally, around Australia).

My cousin André (who’s been living in Australia the last year) happened to be more than a thousand kilometres north of my destinations, thus we will catch up back in Sweden instead. And last but not least, my friend and colleague Olov (see last post for picture), who is also part of the graduate progamme that brought us ten time zones from Sweden.

Really nice to meet up with all of you guys!

Picture of Emelie and Byron preparing for a lovely BBQ dinner in their garden, in Double Bay, Sydney.

Remote friends

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Olov driving in Adelaide - Erik WInther 2014
I got really challenged in March; a continent to grasp in just a week. Adding to that, four domestic flights and the fact that I worked overtime all five weekdays.

Yet, I do my best! And as usually when there are lots to do on the agenda, I reduce the number of hours in bed and strive to experience as much as possible. Love it.

Picture showing my trainee-colleague Olov, temporarily based in Australia, as he took us to a after work swim on Adelaide’s white beach.

10 days and 4 cities

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Chilling at the pool in KL - Erik Winther 2014
My trainee-colleague Johanna has already left KL, and Angelica leaves Bangkok in a few days.

It is not without mixed feelings I realize that the first quarter of 2014 is coming to an end, implicating that my stay here in Thailand is facing the same fate.

So with only a few weeks left, I look back and enjoy my fantastic memories, while at the same time try to maximize the remaining days by ‘acquiring professional help’ from Stockholm. In practice my good friend Johan is visiting; a high-performer who rarely omit a party or social gathering. I think we will have lots of fun on Bangkok’s dance floors!

Picture of Johanna, Angelica relaxing in front of Petronas Towers (background), shot from the pool area on 22nd floor at Johanna’s residence in KL during our visit there in February.

Q1 2014 is coming to an end

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Saab APAC Trainees - Erik Winther 2014
Realized that I haven’t posted this picture earlier. I shot this photo in my Bangkok apartment in January, when Frida’s and my adventurous vacation in Thailand and Laos was coming to an end.

So we made our way back to Bangkok, where three of my trainee colleagues had just flown in from Sweden. From left: Johanna (based in Kuala Lumpur during her months abroad), I, Angelica (Bangkok), Cathrine (Jakarta) and my travel companion Frida (Linköping).

Colleagues in Asia

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Sydney Opera House - Erik Winther 2014
Compared to most of my friends, I have been travelling Asia a lot. But unlike me, several have been in the odd country named Australia; either as exchange students or enjoying Australia’s favourable one-year work-and-vacate-visa.

Not that I haven’t been inclined to go there, but it has always seemed like a place one need more than a month to visit in order to have a fair chance of getting a grip of what it is all about. And I haven’t had such timeslot available yet.

But then work gave me the opportunity to go there for a week, starting yesterday, and guess what: I didn’t hesitate!

Probably not worth mentioning, picture shows Sydney Opera House.

New Continent

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Sumatran fisherman smiling - Erik Winther 2011
Thailand greets you with a great smile when you arrive, when you leave, when you help and when you misbehave. Thai people smile when they get tip and when they trick you, and when you bust them for it.

In Sweden, the last example would be considered very offensive and some people would loose their temper because of such obvious disrespect. But in Thailand, just as most countries in this region, such smile is the best way for both parties to jointly agree on what happened, that it was wrong, and a way for the busted person to show regret.

However hard and uncomfortable it feels, do yourself and the other party the favour to remind yourself of this next time you find yourself in such situation – regardless if the smile is yours or not!

The happy fisherman in the picture lives in Indonesia, on the south coast of the vivid island in the middle of lake Toba in Sumatra. I met him there during Kyung Hee University’s winter vacation 2011/2012.

Smile through life

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Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, standing tall in the night - Erik Winther 2012
My colleague Angelica and I visited Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, KL, last weekend (and our friend Johanna of course!). Despite the fact that Malaysia’s labour force is just a third of Thailand’s, their economy (GDP) is almost as big. The difference is obvious when strolling downtown; Thailand’s sidewalk-life with hawker stalls and salesmen all over is completely gone.

Just as Norway and unlike Thailand, nature gave Malaysia oil. Black, shiny liquid gold. It rarely get as obvious as on the border between oil-rich Brunei and rural Sabah; even though Sabah belongs to Malaysia. But what characterizes non-renewable finite resources, such as oil, is that today’s consumption rates are in practice borrowing wealth from coming generations as the resources’ reproduction rates are much slower.

Thus a great deal of consideration should be made when regulating the usage of natural resources. In that sense is Malaysia far behind Norway, as they spend 30% of the oil’s value as soon as is pumped up to the surface. Norway, indeed having far higher living standard and a GDP per capita ten times as high as Malaysia, are spending barely 2% of the value and put the remaining value in two sovereign wealth funds (known as the Oil Fund); which happen to be the world’s most valuable funds.

Picture from a previous KL-visit in December 2011.

Petroleum

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Koh Samet Ao Phrao - Erik Winther
Adjacent to the last post, I want to bring up something that bothers me a lot these days. Because who or what is it that gave me all opportunities I experience in life? Why?

I am both grateful and humble to all of it, but keep reflecting as I walk past several prostitutes on my way to work every day. Passing people who are just as good as me in all aspects, but who were less lucky in life’s lottery of opportunities. Where are the drawbacks and the unacceptable fine print?

And what more is, who am I to decide whether I rightfully can and should continue this awesome journey through life in the fast track? Would the world become a better place if I said ‘no, thank you’ instead? How can I make others share the joy?

Picture of the Gulf of Thailand shot from Koh Samet’s beach Ao Phrao last weekend.

…then again

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Chang beer in Hua Hin - Erik Winther 2014
Things can change swiftly, but returning from the most amazing dinner, I have to be honest to myself and conclude that things are far more than good.

Picture of me enjoying a Chang beer in Hua Hin.

La Vita è Bella

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Scooter in Hua Hin - Erik Winther 2014
With the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) that makes the ASEAN countries consider themselves as one single market by 2015 and Thailand being the prevailing car manufacturer; with Thailand’s ‘first time [car] buyer’-promotion for its people; with the recent termination of Australia’s automotive industry; with low labour costs; and lastly with the fact that Thailand still demand 100% import tax on all vehicles manufactured abroad; there is no doubt why all car manufacturers set up production lines in Thailand, each of them with huge capacity. By 2017, the research company HIS expects ASEAN’s annual demand exceed 3.3 million cars.

Yet despite the collision safety arguments and the possibility to turn on the air conditioning when queuing, status is the only reason for the Thai (and ASEAN) people to replace their numerous, reliable two-wheelers. I mean, few things makes one feel as free as jumping on top of one’s bike and leaving the car queues behind on the way to the beach.

Picture of the 125cc-scooter I rented during a weekend trip to Hua Hin; the capital of retired Swedish seniors.

The Automotive Industry

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Erik surfing at Flow House in Bangkok
To exchange Linköping’s cold and dark climate for Bangkok’s warm sunlight and energizing tempo is really a good deal. Sure it wouldn’t be for everyone, but this time a year and at this time in life; it really fits me well.

Picture of me surfing on the artificial wave at Flow House here in Bangkok. Photo credits to Henrik Wetterling.

High life

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Bangkok Blood - Erik Winther 2014
51 weeks have passed since I graduated from university and started working. It has truly been amazing weeks, and I am really humble and thankful for all the persons I’ve gotten to know and everything the year has taught me.

As you know, the typical student economy is rather slim. I had several friends who were counting their 20 SEK-bills in the end of the month. Thus I went from discussing microeconomics in modest private economy-measures, to corporate economy in macro-class. In just 51 weeks. Hence there are certainly times when it all feels unrealistic; such as last week when a colleague of mine explained that “I always round off order intake and business case-values into whole multiples of 1’000’000’000 SEK, there’s no point in being more specific”.

Picture of Bangkok’s pulsating traffic, shot a few weeks ago from Sirocco; the world’s highest open-air bar.

Quick shifts

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Kuang Si Waterfall - Erik Winther 2014
I used to swim. A lot. 20 hours a week. But just as the Swedish Speedway legend Tony Richardsson did, I too quit for real when I quit with competitive swimming. Thus, I haven’t swum at all the last three years.

But nowadays, with a roof top infinity pool within an elevator-ride, things have changed. To start the day with a refreshing 30-minute crawl session is quite something.

Picture shot by Frida of me swinging into the water in one of the basins below the mighty Kuang Si waterfall outside Luang Prabang, Laos.

Swimming

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native-tribe-woman-in-thailand
I am currently thinking a lot. Trying to find the global optimum (i.e. the best solution, for those of you who does not speak math) to a question with no/one/two/multiple (I don’t know which) correct answers.

To live a grandeur and exciting life in interesting places with people like oneself; or to live a much more down to earth “Svensson-life” with lots of “must-do’s” in a colder, darker and more boring place but with the advantage of having old friends and relatives closer? What is worth the most to me? That is the question.

Picture shot in northern Thailand on December 31, 2013.

The known versus the unknown

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Korean Hiker
The mountain hike mentioned in last post was organized as a group tour; hence four Korean teacher-students on winter vacation accompanied us. They reminded me of my dear friends Sun, Yonghak, Min, Jin, Chan and all the others; and all the good times we shared.

Frida and I then got the opportunity to have an interesting discussion and comparison the definition of success & joy, school systems, and international politics with them. I was happily impressed by their objective reflections, yet reminded of the effort it takes to counteract strong traditions; whether they are for better or worse.

Korean teachers

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Fascinating Smartphone
We spent the trip’s third night on a mountain top two hours northwest of Chiang Mai, in a Lahu hill tribe village. As the locals were used to the stunning views that surround their everyday lives, the children were far more interested in the games on Frida’s smartphone. Until the battery ran out.

Watching ten year olds who have to sleep on the floor, and whose parents earn less than a dollar a day, play ‘Candy Crush’ is really empathizing what I saw and studied last year in Africa: undeveloped rural areas are leapfrogging compared to the western society when it comes to digital adoption. I wish them good luck and cheer them forward!

Fascinating smartphone

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Convertible in USA
Dear reader,
It has been a while since I wrote to you lastly, thus let me give you a short summary.

I returned to Sweden from Ghana in December 2012, finalized my thesis (see DareAfrica.com if you are interested), graduated and started to work. With exception for a bunch of great weekends and vacations in Finland, Estonia, Netherlands and UK, and of course the amazing roadtrip along the US west coast, I stayed working in Sweden until December 2013.

After lovely days around Christmas with family, relatives and friends in Lund, I left Europe for Asia once more. Twenty days of backpacking in Thailand and Laos with my colleague and friend Frida followed, fantastic days that this blog will return to several times. Meeting up three other colleagues, I made myself ready for a couple of months’ work based here in Bangkok; this bustling and smiling city!

Picture of me in our rented convertible from Highway 1 in July 2013.

Asia 2014Q1

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Lots of experiences, exemplified by a food delivery motorbiker in Korea - Erik Winther 2012
Being a trainee in Sweden (not directly translatable to English) means that the company have accepted that one is nothing but an expense for the firm. At least for the first period (in my case 14 months) when one gets to inspect the company inside and out, create an extensive network of contacts while meet lots of people from all around the organization (including top management), and bond with the other trainees during factory visits and leadership training sessions. The last months of my trainee program will be conducted abroad, at some of the many foreign offices.

I frequently get back to one question; should I really get paid for having this much excitement and fun throughout the weekdays? Well so it seems, thus: I’m really grateful!

Should I really get paid for doing this?

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Korean Army guarding a military museum in Changwon - Erik Winther 2012
It is now a full month since I quit calling myself a student and started working. Therefore I thought it would be appropriate to share with you what I’ve been doing so far as I’ve barely written any blog posts at all since then. But the matter in fact, I may not do that; most of what I see, hear and do at work is classified in one or another way.

Hence, any explanatory blog posts will not be written. What I can tell, however, is that I’m filling my days meeting lots of cool people, getting excited about the business processes and that I have spent half the days until now at hotels to enable those meetings and to see the company´s facilities. Apart from that: *silence*.

Secrecy

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Ljungbyhed Airport
A few minutes ago, I uploaded the fulltext version of the master thesis report that wraps up Wille’s and my work during the last six months. Feels good to finally get to share it to you!

Access the project-webpage dareafrica.com and read our report ”Seizing the ICT Opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa – Implications from Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana”. Please share the report to your network if you appreciate it, direct links are supplied for Facebook or Twitter.

Thesis report publicized!

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Landfill worker in Accra - Erik Winther 2012
I signed an agreement a few days ago, making me Scandinavia’s Volunteer Coordinator for the NGO Solid Rock Association. I have mentioned them here in the blog earlier, and the part of their social contribution that I am most happy about is the ICT education. The organization teaches Accra’s poorest children how to use a computer; which most of them have neither seen nor used before.

George Osei-Waree and Fred Abban, both successful Ghanaian entrepreneurs with careers in west, have returned to Accra and are now starting a non-profit organization that help Ghanaian ICT students becoming experts in their field.

Both organizations are in constant need of devices such as computers and mobile phones, so before you throw away your replaced equipment; contact me and I’ll do my best to get it down to people I know do a good job for Africans. Africans, such as the guy I photographed in his “home” on the landfill.

Give your old mobile and laptop to Africa

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Interest in Amsterdam - photo and retouch Erik Winther 2013
We have received lots of interest for our work from all types of actors since the academic presentation. It feels good, as we’ve been frustrated so many times – both by the many business opportunities that are just waiting for westerners, and because of the unnecessary inefficiencies in development aid. I’ll tell you about the spin-offs when we get closer to practical details.

Beside the leverage on our message, I think the best kudos came from Swedfund themselves, as they have requested us to continue on the same track on part-time as consultants. Feels like an indirect “well done”.

Interest

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Toothbrushing outside the tent - Erik Winther 2012
When I scout around in the world, I try to smile and say hello, be open and encouraging, but also critical and objective. Whether I succeed is for you to decide, but I always find it interesting to hear or read what others think and say about things – and I’ve been raised in Sweden with Swedish values and priorities; which of course affects my perception of things.

So in what way does this affect my evaluations? Anders Fogelström has lots of experience of living abroad and gives lectures in intercultural management, and wrote about the Swedes from an outside perspective in Bearing Consulting’s blog. Quite informative and fun, yet including some significant generalizations that demand you to be a bit critical. As always.

Swedes, from an outside perspective

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Reaching for more, shot at UN memorial in Busan, South Korea - Erik Winther 2011
With the formal presentation approved, few things remain before I get my MSc-diploma. We are giving the report a final touch, and we will do the peer-review on Raoul and Fredrik’s thesis when they are ready. But far more interesting is that we get to present the project several times more, in varying forums and for several types of actors.

This completes the circle we were aiming for when the two of us stared to discuss this project two years ago; to do a fun and interesting project in Africa that would contribute and add actual insights and value to at least some part of the society. Hence, I am proud to say that we’ve got to do just that, and that our findings from the seven weeks long research trip across Sub-Saharan Africa will be spread and publicised in multiple forums.

Wrap-up

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Erik's eye, picture shot by Magnus - Erik Winther 2012
As most of you already know, I signed a contract with Saab Aeronautics some thirty days ago. The final interview, their recruitment process comprised six steps, took place in the majestic building that used to be the embassy of Czechoslovakia, following e.g. online-testing and an interview by the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO).

Thus, my business cards from February 11 and 13-14 months onwards call me “Trainee: Business Development and Sales”. That is one of the coolest positions I could think of, as it regards business strategy from a hands-on perspective by focusing on the future products. And those are to be the output of a company with extreme front-edge technology and offices in >100 countries; in which I get to sit and come up with ideas of how to bundle and sell it all. Sweet!

Job!

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Beside the academic aspects, the outcome our project creates is at best a decent report with reasonable findings, which we ourselves own the immaterial rights to. So really, why is someone else paying for all expenses during our weeks in Africa?

Just as most other westerners, Swedes are -sorry to say- still considering Africa as a homogenous piece of land, from which the everyday headlines contains the words war/death/poverty/HIV/unemployment/rebels/pirates, but rarely opportunities/economic growth/skills/stability. Hence, most companies are of the same opinion.

But this is not the case. It is actually far from the truth; a result of the negative signals that meet media’s short-term incentives easiest. So the objective of our project is to get an idea of the business climate and opportunities (if any), findings that are to be shared amongst Swedes and Swedish companies in order to raise awareness. Hence, we’re hired as messengers.

Infographics by Kai Krause, which needs to be shown frequently.

Our project

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Rwanda claims to have the easiest and fastest procedure for starting a business; an online one-stop-shop solution that requires no paperwork at all, and can be completed on a mobile phone in order to serve also computerless entrepreneurs. And it takes justsix hours.

Hence, I sent my application instead of reading fiction before I shut my eyes. To make the test more interesting (ok, it was primarily a childish outburst), I named the company to ‘Räksmörgås Trading’ since räksmörgås is one of the few words that contain all three Swedish special letters.

I really hope they complete and confirm in time, because we have an appointment with the COO of the issuing authority tomorrow at 11am and I would not want to complain…

Räksmörgås Trading

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So, yesterday became 23h of work, but really fun and inspiring hours!

Today has been kind of the same; going through the inbox and physiotherapy in the morning, lunch with my mentor and interviewing Axis’ global sales director; before getting interviewed twice myself. Got back home and started to arrange for renting out my flat during the trip, found a person and we signed the contract after a meeting here. She had been commuting from Stockholm on a daily basis the whole semester and was just about to throw in the towel regarding LiU; ‘check’ on today’s good deed.

A good day, just as the ones we spent in Tokyo and Shibuya. Anyways, now it’s probably time check the inbox again…

An intense Wednesday

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Rigid, thought-thru processes and support systems, versus the agility and flexibility of flat organisations that offer lots of trust and freedom.

Too bad Karush-Kuhn-Tucker’s optimisation conditions do not apply.

Firm size

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