When Dr Marcus Wallenberg Jr assembled a group of key members of Swedish business in 1960, it harnessed what they saw as Sweden’s need for business force that could drive and lead on international concerns. Sweden was outside the EEC and the starting point for the group was that a small and export dependent country like Sweden needed to be influential in international affairs.
NIR was founded in 1960 under the name “Industrins Råd för Utrikesfrågor, IRU” (Swedish Industry’s Council for Foreign Affairs) and their approach is also the reason why NIR has changed dramatically over the years. The countries NIR was working with, as well as what was done to drive international issues in 1960 differs significantly from the countries NIR are operates in today and what we do there.
From 1960 and until the early 1980’s NIR’s main purpose was to organise delegation visits, for instance to countries including China, Chile and Brazil. Even then NIR had become a cutting edge player with substantial knowledge and insight into new markets, and served as the representative of many Swedish businesses.
During the 1980’s NIR was active in South Africa, then under the apartheid government. It was quite clear to the Swedish companies operating in South Africa at that time that this was a country in transition. Exactly what this transition meant and how to handle it, however, was difficult for them to see.
NIR was convinced that a local, in country, activity was necessary in order to support sustainable and positive development. Many of the companies had been in South Africa for a number of years and deemed that they could contribute to the country in both the short and long term. NIR was supporting the Swedish companies and had contacts with the national government. At the same time in Sweden, a total boycott of South Africa was advocated. NIR was able to influence the debate by introducing the concept of engagement as a tool for change. It was clear that change was on its way, not the least from the many discussions NIR had with ANC (African National Congress) in exile during this period. The relationships created at that time continue to flourish nourished today.
NIR’s activities are always long term and after the democratic elections in South Africa in the middle of the 1990’s we worked with the local unions to start a vocational training programme for black workers. The interests of Swedish business coincided with those of South Africa and its people.
When we engage in a country our first step is always to discuss with local partners how NIR can contribute to a positive development in their particular country. We work with issues as diverse as building peace, working against HIV/Aids and development of the private sector.
We continue to have core activities among the top Swedish businesses that have both the need and the opportunity to take a long term view of their activities. Today, NIR works together with partners on joint activities promoting social and economic development in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Asia and to some extent in Eastern Europe.. We always work to advance the people in each country by development of a sustainable business environment.
The world continues to change and so does NIR and the companies we represent. The markets that were new yesterday, like Chile, Brazil and China, are today established markets with growing middle classes and developing democracies. Information technology has fundamentally changed our way of living, working and gathering knowledge and a whole new type of companies has emerged. Swedish companies have had leading roles in transport, mining and forestry for a long time but we can now also boast of companies like Spotify and others that lead the development of new technologies worldwide.
Several of the burning issues over the years are still relevant to companies wanting to act globally. Business ethics and corporate social responsibility are continuous issues that we are working with. We are also convinced that it is right to care for the communities we are working in and to share experiences and insights, even on difficult issues and in exposed countries. Just by talking to each other we can learn from each other and understand each other’s starting points – and best practices.
NIR continues to defend the values we have been working to uphold since our inception. We are convinced that business can play a determining role in the development of countries and that business, in order to be able to take on that role, needs the right conditions.
This was the starting point when Wallenberg started IRU in 1960 and continues to be our starting point today.