Bulgaria’s digital goodwill ambassador, Finland’s happy holiday and a Brazilian change of heart.
Finland is offering a free holiday to foreigners who want to learn the key to happiness. Keen to capitalise on the good publicity generated from being named the happiest nation in the world by the UN, Finland’s Foreign Office has launched a scheme dubbed Rent-a-Finn, where eight ordinary citizens will host foreign participants in an effort to teach them how to live the good life.
For the lucky winners, happiness-inducing activities will include berry-picking in the forest, sailing the Baltic waters of the archipelago, sleeping out under the stars and, of course, enjoying the odd sauna session. The chosen eight visitors – selected from thousands of applicants – will find themselves seeking contentment, Finnish-style, from June.
Bulgaria appointed a goodwill ambassador for digital affairs in 2018, becoming just the third country to create such a post. The job went to entrepreneur Plamen Russev, the founder of global digital platform Webit, which has been running technology festivals and conferences worldwide since 2008. He told us about the outsized influence of digital companies, working with competing nations and why Brexit is bad for Europe.
Monocle: Is it important for the country to have a goodwill ambassador for digital affairs?
Plamen Russev: It shows that Bulgaria is forward-thinking. I’m confident that more countries will consider creating a similar role in the future because we see companies becoming bigger than countries and having far more impact than many nations have. Twelve years ago Europe was responsible for over 30 per cent of global gdp; now it’s less than 21 per cent. Europe needs to be innovative and digital and tech is the key.
M: What is Bulgaria’s tech scene like?
PR: Forbes ranks Sofia among the top 10 cities in which to launch a start-up. This booming ecosystem of entrepreneurs and start-ups has been funded with less than €70m in capital – about the size of a single investment in one company in the West. Diversity gives another competitive advantage: every third person working in IT in Bulgaria is a woman; the average in Europe is every fifth or sixth. This makes us a trendsetter and there is zero difference between successful female and male developers in Bulgaria when it comes to salaries.
M: Do you see benefits from Brexit for Bulgaria’s tech scene?
PR: We expect to see a positive impact for Bulgaria but that’s short-term thinking – my personal belief is that Brexit is wrong for the UK and wrong for Europe. However, London has been too much of a magnet for all opportunities; if Brexit happens that magnet won’t be as strong. We’re already seeing moves outside of the UK, with large corporations leaving. I’m sure we’re all going to benefit and such regional empowerment could bring even more value for everyone.
M: How important is it for tech businesses in the region to co-operate across borders?
PR: In the past, countries in the western Balkans and central Europe perceived each other as competitors, fighting over anything they could fight over. Now there are bigger and more impactful competitors, such as China and the US. The more countries work together, the more the whole region becomes attractive. Nations around here are too small to offer a good reason for people to fly in from outside the region and for new talent to arrive, unless the whole region starts looking better.
When Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro confirmed that he was accepting China’s invitation to visit Beijing later this year, he sent many an eyebrows arching skyward. After all, this was the same politician who, while on the campaign trail, made no bones about his feelings for China, fierily denouncing Beijing’s growing investment – and influence – in Brazil.
A particular concern back then was China’s investment in the mining and supply of niobium, a mineral that Brazil has in abundance and which can be used to produce stronger, lighter steel. But it seems that as president the brash politician has changed his tune. Why? The answer may lie in the dramatic drop in investment from China, which has plummeted from €11.3bn in 2017 to €2.8bn in 2018, which prompted several Brazilian industries to lobby Bolsonaro to play nice.