SAGA Trainees Enjoy Northern Sweden

Just prior to their reluctant return to the US in December, the three trainees from the Swedish American Green Alliance (SAGA) program sat down to reflect upon their three month adventure.


”We don’t want to go back!”, said Erica Restlich.

”We love Sweden”, added Rachel Agnew.

The SAGA program is a partnership launched in 2010 between the US Embassy in Sweden and the Swedish government. The embassy describes it as ”a sustainability exchange for Swedish and American researchers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, journalists, legislators, activists, industry leaders, academics, NGOs, and more”. It aims to make and cultivate connections and partnerships in sustainability.

Rachel Agnew, Erica Restich and Marie Vasallo were the first young professionals to participate in the SAGA Trainee Program, which was organized by the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, the Embassy of Sweden in Washington DC and the US Embassy in Stockholm. The trainees were hosted by three organizations in the Municipality of Sundsvall.

Rachel, originally from Cincinatti Ohio, worked with forestry company SCA. Her task was to research biofuel policy in the US and in the EU in an effort to help the company expand its bio-energy market into these regions.

Marie, from Long Beach, California worked at software design company SSG on a database system that helps industrial production companies coordinate their inventory supply information systems to reduce operational down time.

Erica, from Pittsburgh, PA, worked at the Åkroken Science Park at Mid Sweden University on a networking project helping Swedish green tech (or clean tech) companies make contacts in the US market.

The trainees gained valuable professional and personal experience. They were invited to the homes of their work mentors for indoor and outdoor merry-making, such as hiking and ice-skating. Two of the trainees managed to fit in time for volleyball and basketball after work. All of them felt appreciated and supported.

Each of the trainees developed important professional expertise as well. Marie attended a conference in the US on behalf of SSG, where she made important contacts with nuclear energy industry leaders. Rachel was impressed with the openness and forward thinking of her co-workers at SCA, observing that ”the (bio-energy) policies of the European Union are aggressive and there is a clear commitment to clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions.”

And what did the mentors and organizers think about the first batch of SAGA Trainees?

”It was very good not only for our company but for the municipality to broaden our focus and get more experience for the region through the embassy. This region is very strong on clean tech and (Erica) could fulfil tasks that we were not able to do, which was to connect with valuable contacts in the US. We have not ended that cooperation, we will continue to do useful work on both sides.”, explains Bengt Alden of Åkroken Science Park.

Oliver Dogo, who works at Sundsvall Business Development Agency, played a key role in bringing the various actors together. He is very satisfied with the program, and says it looks likely that it will not only continue this year but that additional municipalities in the region might join.

by Susan Holmberg