Cross-cultural insights support – policy to practice


To increase the understanding of what it is like to work with human resources in different cultures SWP arranged four digital meetings for people working with HR in Sweden and Vietnam. SWP also put together mentor pairs for mutual exchange between the meetings. People from, among others, Tetra Pak, Electrolux, Saab, Ericsson, Atlas Copco, Hitachi Energy, ABB and several local companies in Vietnam participated in the network.

” The meetings have given me more insight into how the culture we live in affects working life and how we look at things like gender equality, work environment and mental health. What employees in Sweden think is important for their wellbeing does not have to be the same in Vietnam, for example”, says Hannah Ekendahl, HR Business Partner at Hitachi Energy in Sweden.


From global policy to practice

Global policies are not received and understood the same way all over the world. Hannah Ekendahl believes that this insight is important to have for everyone working with HR at global companies.

“Otherwise, there is a risk that you get narrowminded and think that global policies are received and understood the same way all over the world”.

“An extremely simple and effective way to create a greater understanding of what inclusion means in practice”

During the meetings, external lecturers talked about intercultural communication, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and workplace cooperation. Great focus was on group discussions to exchange experiences and learn from each other. Since the working cultures in Sweden and Vietnam differ a lot, not at least when it comes to hierarchy, there were a lot of interesting discussions. 

“Meeting and discussing a specific topic, with people who have a completely different background, is an extremely simple and effective way to create a greater understanding of what inclusion means in practice,” says Hannah Ekendahl.

Mentor pairs for mutual exchange

To provide an opportunity for further discussions between the meetings, SWP offered the participants to be part of a mentor pair for mutual exchange between the countries. Hannah Ekendahl, was paired with Ngan Doan Thi, Learning & Development Partner at Hitachi Energy in Vietnam. They belong to the same group but would probably not have gotten in touch if it were not for the network.

“It’s great fun to get the chance to get to know an HR colleague from a completely different culture. Among other things, we have discussed how we can work to further improve diversity and what similarities and differences there are between our countries and what we can learn from each other”, says Hannah Ekendahl.

Starting point for HR-network in Vietnam

After the series of seminars HR practitioners located in Vietnam initiated their own network for exchange and learning around topics like diversity and inclusion, employee engagement and workplace cooperation.

More recent highlights


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lack of enabling environment for social dialogue at the workplace level, despite the provision of legislative acts that protect and promote workplace cooperation is a reoccuring issue  in Kenya. To implement good policy there must be a fertil ground.

Therefore SWP developed the UP!  project. Together with Swedish companies as an entry point, and with unions i South africa and Kenya. 

In Kenya SWP created the SWP UP! Programme targeting skills development of the union Shop Stewards from 18 companies in the Automotive sector in Kenya during 2021. As a result, the Stewards were able to use their skills to build trust and cooperation with management in new ways to avoid conflicts. 

A second cohort of training, in close cooperation with union AUKMW, takes place in 2022.

The training allows shop stewards to step out of their daily routines and understand their role and the purpose of their union, understand the labour market context, the laws that regulate relationships and the business itself. But on a human level, many shop stewards also highlighted that they feel respected as human beings, and that they have developed the skills to engage with supervisors and management and experience respect in professional relations. The experiences had deeply impressed them and helped to project the vision of dialogue and mutual respect and their own potential as a means to change workplaces.

The intervention of the SWP programme had a direct effect at the workplaces, where shop stewards listed several cases where they had managed to intervene and secure results in dialogue with management, avert crises or find solutions based on opportunities and the communication skills obtained during the SWP training. For the Amalgamated Metal Workers Unions in Kenya, the shop stewards pointed to how the training had enabled them to design their own strategies at the workplace in relation to supervisors and staff, and to achieve many concrete results.

Based on this shop steward upskilling, I feel confident that as a union we now have change ambassadors that will grow the industry, protect, and promote decent work principles for both the employer and the employees represented. And that disputes will be dealt with at the workplace level by though consultative dialogue.

Rose Omamo

General Secretary
Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers