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‘Every guest from Singapore tells me – I wish I had come to Estonia sooner!’

Estonia amongst the leaders of the busiest economic hub in the world

5 min read

  © Margus Johanson

Sonny Aswani, entrepreneur and Honorary Consul to Estonia in Singapore, claims that each and every time he brings visitors to Estonia, they are filled with regret. Regret about not having come here sooner.

Undoubtedly, the most successful and passionate advocate for Estonia in Singapore is an entrepreneur with Asian roots – Sonny Aswani, Managing Director in Estonia of the international Tolaram Group, who for ten years has also been active as Estonia’s Honorary Consul in Singapore.

He is a perfect example of how to create awareness about a small country like Estonia amongst the leaders of the busiest economic hub in the world. Sonny has skin in the game – he has been doing business here since the early 1990s and speaks out of his personal experience each time he utters praise for Estonia.

Organizing dozens of visits between Singapore and Estonia, bringing together politicians, entrepreneurs and cultural circles from both countries, has started to bear fruit. A recommendation Sonny made years ago was put into practice almost a year back when the Southeast Asian representation of Enterprise Estonia was opened. The businessman confirms that the first successful steps have been taken. ‘About a month ago, the Prime Minister of Singapore mentioned in a speech that Singapore has a lot to learn from Estonia. Estonia was on the cover pages of newspapers. I consider this to be a huge acknowledgement and something that will spur interest in more people to discover Estonia,’ says Sonny Aswani.

 

Years of experience has taught him that it is pivotal to first create the opportunity for Southeast Asian investors and governmental officials to just come and visit Estonia, to become aware that this country exists. ‘I have not had a single visit here without guests saying in the end: ”Sonny, I wish we would have come here sooner!” They are totally inspired.’ Aswani admits that Estonians don’t need someone to explain to them that they need to get their foot in in Singapore (‘if you make it there, the markets of neighbouring countries open almost automatically’), but businesses in Singapore do not have Estonia on their radar; instead they tend to look to the big markets in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia or Indonesia.

 

‘Let me give you an example. In Estonia, the chequebook has never been in use; from the early 1990s transactions have been electronic. It is not like in the USA where even today people write cheques. Then people think that in Singapore you can surely do everything online. But this is not the case! Chequebooks are still in use there too! Each time I return from Estonia, I feel how my effectiveness slows down,’ says Sonny Aswani with a sparkle in his eyes.  He also gives an example of queueing in one country and the lack of this in the other. ‘It is really easy to get your driving license changed in Estonia, there is hardly any bureaucracy. In Singapore you have to go and queue in person. Actually you have to queue for most things there.’

 

Sonny explains that so-called “chequebooks” (physical ones as well as symbols of stagnation) are not prevalent because of people being scared of changes, but it is the financial sector in Singapore which employs masses of banking people who are not willing to lose jobs. ‘For example, two young Estonians have founded the startup Smartly, which wants to disrupt the wealth fund managers sector. But Singapore is the paradise of wealth managers! Yet they do nothing special – the job of about 70,000 managers could be easily done by an app,’ says the entrepreneur. Sonny himself has invested in Smartly, hence his words are backed up by his own funds. He has invested in about ten startups, among them also the Estonian Investly and Monese. According to him about a dozen Estonian startups, especially those in FinTech, have global potential.

 

‘Our own company has a P2P loan platform, where Estonians have created the IT-solutions. TransferWise is about to open an office in Singapore. Jobbatical is already there.’ Sonny counts some of the Estonian success stories. He adds that there are a growing number of companies from Southeast Asia who are interested in what Estonia has to offer.

E-government, e-school, the apps which make daily activities much easier and the booming FinTech sector are the key words that Estonia’s Honorary Consul uses to praise Estonia and get other countries interested. He mentions that there are at least two hundred Estonian e-residents in Singapore already and some of them have also created companies in Estonia. He believes this number will start to grow rapidly as word spreads with positive experiences.

Sonny also believes there is great potential for Estonia to become an organic country. ‘Several organic products could be exported from Estonia to Singapore, be it cosmetics, superfoods or just food products like cottage cheese, kohuke snacks or other.’

There is no sign of Sonny Aswani growing tired of decades of work promoting Estonia. He is the first to claim: ‘I believe in Estonia!’

Source: Life in Estonia

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