“Since we started from a blank piece of paper we have made tremendous progress”, Chair of the Arctic Economic Council Tara Sweeney says. In just a few months' time she will be handing over the still-young organization to Finland.
That happens in April, when Finland takes over the two-year long Chairmanship of both the Arctic Council (AC) and the Arctic Economic Council (AEC).
Almost two years have passed since Tara Sweeney was elected Chair of the Executive Committee in the Arctic Economic Council (AEC ) during the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Aqaluit, Canada.
The history of the AEC is not much longer, as Canada – which held the position as Chair of the Arctic Council from 2013-2015, decided to establish the permanent organization in September, 2014. The purpose for establishing the AEC was to facilitate Arctic business-to-business and responsible economic development, both through sharing of best practices, standards and innovative solutions. The permanent and international secretariat located in Tromsø, Norway, oficially opened in September, 2015.
From brick and mortar
"When I say that we have made lightyears of progress, I am talking about the creation and the standing up of four working groups in major sectors that have a significant role in the economy of the Arctic. In addition to the working groups, we have put together the brick and mortar-foundation of this organization through the creation of the three-year strategic plan, and through the creation of rules and procedures that provide clarity on how to engage with the AEC," Sweeney says when High North News talks to her in Tromsø.
"Now we actually have a membership process for companies in the circumpolar Arctic and sub-Arctic if they they want to become members of the AEC," she adds.
"If you couple those two things with the lightning speed in which we established a permanent secretariat office in Tromsø, just under a year and a half from we met in Iqaluit, in September 2014… That needs to be put into perspective when you look at an established organization like the Arctic Council. It took them almost two decades to establish a permanent secretariat, so that is an accomplishment, and it would not have happened without the significant support from Norway," Sweeney says before she mentions everything from the the Norwegian Confederation of Industries, the overall Norwegian business community and the support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"Fully functioning organization"
In April, Tero Vauraste, who is one of three Finnish business representatives to the AEC and currently Vice Chair of the organization, will take over the role as Chair.
Vauraste is a well-known name in both Finland and other Arctic states also through his everyday-job as President and CEO in the Arctia Group, a state-owned company that is responsible for operating a Finnish icebreaker fleet.
"What are your hopes for the AEC when Finland takes over the chairmanship?"
"I am excited for Finland to take over because they have great ideas. When I took the role of Chair, I sat down with Tero and told him that he had my word that I will turn over a fully functioning organization; an organization that can support the work of Finland’s Chairmanship moving forward. It is nice to see the alignment between the AEC and the Chairmanship coming under Finland, the Chairmanship with the Arctic Council, and the collaboration that you see there," Sweeney says, adding that she appreciates the considerable support from the Finnish government.
At present there are four working groups in the AEC: Maritime Transportation; Responsible Resource Development, Arctic Stewardship and Infrastructure: Telecommunications/Broadband.
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"Want to be a convener"
With only a few months left as Chair of the AEC, Tara Sweeney still has a lot to complete while still holding the position:
"I am always looking for new and fun ways to develop the AEC and to grow the economy. Not only for big, multi-national companies that want to come up and do business in the Arctic. The heart of our northern communities are the small and medium enterprises, and they need support and growth as well."
"We want to serve as a resource, and to partner and collaborate. Not only in the financial world, because you cannot do it in solos. It takes partnership and collaboration and building alignment and trust in order for business relationships to flourish and translate into tangible value for the Arctic region. We want to be a convener for experts, for investors, for local and indigenous knowledge – and the government."
During the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, several business-representatives and politicians from the circumpolar Arctic pointed out one significant challenge for the region: Educated people leave the area, or go away to receive education, and do not return again.
"We have got to create opportunities in the north so that we can combat braindrain from our communities, retain the top talent, and continue to make the North the most favorable place to live. We all want healthy and safe communities, good schools, and a great place to raise a family, and that comes through economic opportunities, growth, sustainability and stability."