As 2014 draws to a close, I could not be more proud of the performance and accomplishments of U.S. Embassy Stockholm. I have to give credit to my Embassy colleagues for a truly extraordinary year. Relations between the United States and Sweden have never been stronger, nor have they delivered more for our respective peoples. The U.S.-Sweden relationship is increasingly strategic: We are close partners in addressing key global challenges such as mitigating climate change, safeguarding the Arctic, promoting free trade, advancing security in Northern Europe and beyond, and supporting democracy and human rights. The joint statement issued during President Obama’s historic trip to Sweden in September 2013 states: “Sweden and the United States are very special friends.” That statement could not be more true as we begin a new year.
During 2014, US Embassy Stockholm worked hard to advance a modern form of diplomacy, using the platform of the U.S. Embassy and the power to convene to advance core U.S. goals in creative and new ways, often in ways that have never been done in Sweden. Here are ten examples of how the U.S. Embassy engaged our mission in 2014 in unique and constructive ways that I am especially proud of:
1) Advancing PowerAfrica in Sweden With New Public and Private Sector Partners. In October, U.S. Embassy Stockholm welcomed Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to Stockholm for his second visit in less than a year. His visit underscored the strong and continuing partnership between Sweden and the U.S. and commemorated the unique agreement the U.S. and Sweden have on international development cooperation. One of the defining areas of that cooperation was the focus of a meeting that took place on October 22 here in Stockholm. The U.S. and Sweden brought together donors, institutional investors, and multilateral organizations to discuss how to mobilize private capital at scale for investment in African infrastructure, particularly in the energy sector. Mobilization of private capital and these investments are necessary to maintain strong growth and in particular, to make growth inclusive and alleviate poverty. The meeting built on the groundwork laid during the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit that President Obama convened in Washington in August, during which the Government of Sweden formally announced a commitment to catalyse up to one billion U.S. dollars over the next ten years in support of the President’s Power Africa initiative. Sweden’s bilateral financial pledge for Power Africa represented the first such partnership between the United States and another donor government on this crucial initiative. Together with the earlier U.S. pledge of seven billion over the first five-year phase, the funds will be aimed at doubling access to electricity in energy-poor sub-Saharan Africa where approximately two-thirds of the population now live without access.
U.S. Administator Raj Shah speaking at a reception to honor the one year anniversary of the USAID/Sida partnership
2) Attorney General Eric Holder Declares in a Major Speech in the Swedish Parliament that LGBT equality is one of the “defining civil rights challenges of our time.” In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Sweden to advance cooperation to combat terrorism; to crack down on transnational organized crime; to fight against human trafficking, and to advance the fight against corruption. But his visit also provided an opportunity for the Attorney General to make a major speech in the Swedish Parliament about a core value shared by the US and Sweden: the fight to advance human dignity and LGBT equality around the world. The Attorney General’s eloquent address in Sweden’s Parliament about the need to be increasingly conscious of our interdependent responsibilities, was a remarkable amplification of a core theme of US Embassy Stockholm: U.S. Embassy Stockholm is “anti-anti-gay.” Read the Attorney General’s speech here.
Attorney General Eric Holder speaking at the Riksdag
3) Bicycling Across Sweden to Advance Trade. In July, I biked literally across Sweden, from the water’s edge of Sweden’s west coast to the water’s edge of Sweden’s east coast, to promote trade. As the first Ambassador ever to bike across Sweden, nearly 550 miles, I had the unique opportunity to meet the people in Sweden’s heartland, and to do more than twenty-five different engagements, including speeches to local chambers of commerce, meetings with farmers’ groups, meetings with students and faculty at a leading university, with former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, and meetings with immigrant groups. The trip gave me an opportunity to listen and learn about the hopes and dreams people associate with expanding their business through increased trade. With stops in Alingsås, Falköping, Kumla, Carlsberg, at the University of Skövde, in the immigrant rich community of Södertälje, and many other locales, I was able to get a pulse of the Swedish heartland and a shared sense of optimism about trade and the future that I would have never gotten had I just stayed in the nation’s capital of Stockholm.
Meeting with former Prime Minister Göran Persson during our “T-TRIP”
4) Producing Arctic films with Swedish Superstar Felix Herngren and the World Wildlife Fund. Since beginning as Ambassador three years ago, I have been looking for opportunities to symbolize and underline closeness between the U.S. and Sweden on climate change and the the future of the Arctic. The Arctic is simultaneously a strategic and a human problem. I did not want to limit myself to speeches and press releases as I engage on the threat of climate change and the impact that will have on the people, the ecosystems and the economies of the Arctic. I wanted to do something that connects with new audiences, with people you don’t run in to at an Embassy diplomatic reception. The famous Swedish comedian Felix Herngren combined with me and the World Wildlife Fund to produce four films on the Arctic. We took a unique approach to trying to understand the melting glaciers, the massive impact on biodiversity in the Arctic, and the way social welfare and local economies in the Arctic are being impacted. Check out the films here.
Filming in Niila Inga’s backyard outside of Kiruna
5) Taking the US Embassy’s annual Independence Day celebration to the Island of Gotland for Almedalen. Every year, the U.S. Embassy faces the dilemma of a timing conflict between our annual July 4 party, which is the largest event the U.S. Embassy hosts every year, and Sweden’s annual political extravaganza of Almedalen, which occurs at the same time and attracts thousands of Swedes and others to the island of Gotland for a week of political debate and social interaction. This year the U.S. Embassy decided to meet our Swedish friends on “their turf” and for the first time ever the U.S. Embassy in Sweden held its July 4 party outside Stockholm and on the island of Gotland during the Almedalen week. On July 4, at the Governor’s Mansion in Visby, on the island of Gotland, we held the most terrific July 4 party and sang the Star Spangled Banner under a blue Gotland sky. It was such a great memory of convening Swedes and friends from all over to celebrate American independence and values, this time in a place outside Sweden’s capital. Check out a video of our Almedalen event in Gotland here.
Celebrating July 4th at Almedalen
6) Advancing TTIP with Finland, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Sweden. In December, US Embassy Stockholm was proud to join the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) to host a remarkable workshop on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), the proposed U.S.-EU free trade and investment agreement that would link the American and European economies closer than ever before. We welcomed participants from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The event captured the potential of collaboration between these countries of Northern Europe when it comes to advancing T-TIP. The goal of the workshop was to bring together opinion makers from our region and beyond to identify positive and dispel inaccurate narratives about T-TIP, and to develop plans to engage in each country. An absolute high point of the conference was the participation of the two lead negotiators for T-TIP, Ignacio Garcia Bercero from the EU and Dan Mullaney from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative– who listened, learned and offered their vision of a way forward in the T-TIP negotiations.
With T-TIP negotiators Dan Mullaney and Ignacio Garcia Bercero and Swedish participants from the conference
7) Using Art as a Bridge – Jeff Koons and Young Swedish Artists from Immigrant Neighborhoods. In October, U.S. Embassy Stockholm welcomed to Sweden the iconic American artist Jeff Koons. At the U.S. residence, we invited a large cross section of Swedish society to meet Jeff Koons. But perhaps most importantly, we also invited young artists from immigrant-rich neighborhoods in Stockholm to present their work to Jeff Koons, and to share their hopes and aspirations with all of us. The organization “Voices of the Suburbs” and the Botkyrka Art Center joined with the U.S. Embassy to present a vernisage of the young artists’ works. Jeff Koons and the crowd of more than 200 people who attended just loved it! It was an awesome opportunity to “walk the walk” when it comes to inclusion and integration.
With Jeff Koons and several Stockholm artists
8) Sharing our Story Back Home. In 2014, Natalia and I seized a number of opportunities to share with fellow Americans what we are seeing and hearing in Sweden, and the growing potential of the U.S.-Sweden relationship which we are deeply committed to. In January, Natalia and I began the year by jointly presenting at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics (an Institute founded by the American political strategist David Axelrod) a series of slides that capture different ways we and the US Embassy are engaging on the U.S.-Sweden partnership. That same day I signed a MOU with the Institute of Politics (IOP) on behalf of the US Embassy creating a summer internship program. US Embassy Stockholm welcomed our first two IOP interns this past summer, and they performed magnificently. In the course of the year, Natalia and I each separately gave speeches at the University of Virginia about different aspects of the work we are doing in Sweden. I also spoke in March at the Atlantic Council in Washington about Sweden and the security context in Northern Europe, and I spoke at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington in October on Sweden’s successful chairmanship of the Arctic Council that ended in 2013. Natalia spoke in May at the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce New York (SACC NY) conference on entrepreneurship and women and business leadership in May. These and other opportunities allowed us to interpret for our fellow Americans the opportunities and also challenges that the U.S. and Sweden can engage on as partners.
Speaking with Natalia at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics
9) Advancing Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality: In 2014, Natalia and I worked to fully and creatively maximize the potential of the U.S.-Sweden partnership in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. Natalia has engaged on this issue all across Sweden, speaking at universities in the heartland but also at Stockholm School for Economics, and for three years running she has held a high profile International Women’s Day lunch at the US residence to honor inspiring women (I greeted each of these inspiring women at the front door with rose to reflect my respect!). Natalia has also spoken on this topic at the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, at SACC NY, and has done a lot of Swedish media on the topic. A high point this year was the US Embassy’s engagement at the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), which brought women from around the globe for a remarkable conference in November that considered how entrepreneurship and business is one of the best catalysts for advancing gender equality. The conference, which Natalia supported as a moderator, conveyed to all participants the U.S. government’s commitment to empowering businesswomen on an international scale. Ambassador Ruth Davis, a veritable institution in U.S. diplomacy, was able to share remarkable lessons learned from her more than forty years in the U.S. Foreign Service. During the reception hosted at the U.S. residence for more than 150 women leaders, the U.S. Embassy strategically organized a number of “pop up” presentations by women entrepreneurs from around the world, who were able to share their unique stories of business success. In 2015, we will honor our first female CEO as part of the US Embassy’s Businessperson Statesperson lunch series, which features leading U.S. business executives who offer perspectives on public policy during the lunch.
With Ambassador Ruth Davis
10) Raoul Wallenberg and the Congressional Gold Medal: Symbolizing Closeness between the U.S. and Sweden in the fight for human dignity. Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who during the Holocaust risked his life, and ultimately gave his life, for a higher moral calling. His story, and his rescue of hundreds of thousands of Jews scheduled for destruction in Nazi-occupied Hungary, epitomizes “the importance of not being indifferent.” Since I began as Ambassador three years ago, I and the U.S. Embassy have embraced fully the narrative of Wallenberg and the theme of the importance of not being indifferent. In July, the U.S. Congress conveyed the Congressional Gold Medal, the American Congress’ highest recognition, to Raoul Wallenberg. The medal was accepted by Raoul Wallenberg’s still living half-sister, Ninna Lagergren. I was able to join my Swedish counterpart in Washington, Ambassador Bjorn Lyrvall, in a joint interview on MSNBC’s “Ronan Farrow Show”, to discuss the legacy of Wallenberg, and what it means for the challenges of today and tomorrow. See link to MSNBC joint interview here
Ronan Farrow interviewing Sweden’s Ambassador to the U.S. Björn Lyrvall and me about the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg
What a remarkable year 2014 year has been. As Ambassador, I am deeply committed to the relationship between our two countries. I can say our destiny is joined together. The breadth and depth of the relationship has produced a number of major accomplishments, and the relationship itself is transforming in a positive way. Natalia and I are honored to join our U.S. Embassy colleagues and the government and people of Sweden in continuing to work to advance our common good as we go in to 2015.
Gott Nytt År!!