Karl Schulnig

Interview with Malin Borg

After spending five years in Switzerland, Malin Borg has returned to Rio de Janeiro as the CEO of Swissnex in Brazil. Read her interview to learn more about her experience and perspectives for the future.

After five years in Switzerland, Malin Borg is back in Brazil to head Swissnex. Malin has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of St Andrews, UK and a master's degree from The Graduate Institute, in Geneva. We talked to the new CEO about her history in the Swissnex network, her expectations, and potential partnerships between Brazil and Switzerland.

You pioneered Swissnex in Brazil in 2014, structuring the start of the office’s activities in Brazil. After five years in Switzerland, how do you feel about this return to Rio de Janeiro, as the head of the organization?

It is a very special moment for me. I left Brazil right after the Olympics and after a very hectic period with projects connected to the mega sporting events. Now I return to a different Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in the middle of the biggest pandemic of the last 100 years, but also to a Swissnex that has matured a lot and now offers more differentiated services to our partners in the academic field and to Swiss startups.


For the past five years you have been based in Bern as head of the Swissnex global network, which is an initiative of the Swiss Confederation’s State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation. What experiences do you bring from your time working at the headquarters?

I bring the experience of having closely followed all projects of the five Swissnex offices and the 20 scientific advisors worldwide. There is an immense diversity and creativity in the global initiatives of our network and there are several projects that could work in Brazil as well. For example, Swissnex in India set up the India Industry Internships, which offers opportunities for Swiss engineering students from Swiss Federal Institutes and Universities of Applied Sciences to work in India for a 3-month industrial internship in the fields of mechatronics, artificial intelligence and robotics, medtech and cleantech. On the other hand, I also saw what doesn’t work so well, which can save us time and effort. I believe that we need to give more strategic focus to our work, which means that sometimes we might need to reject certain requests.

Furthermore, in my last position, an important task was the coordination with the other Swiss government actors working abroad, such as the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland Global Enterprise, Switzerland Tourism and Pro Helvetia. We made good progress in this collaboration while respecting the different missions of each of the actors. Swissnex operates under a very unique partnership-driven business model that is different from other representations and I am very excited to see this development in practice. Brazil is a great example for this “Team Switzerland” as all these actors are present, which shows the importance and value that Switzerland attaches to the country.


What are your expectations and priorities for the work in Brazil in the coming years?

From what I have observed during the past years in Switzerland, there is an openness for collaboration with Brazil. However, the areas of excellence in the country are still little known and there are great obstacles to start projects. In this sense, I see the role of Swissnex as identifying opportunities and bringing this intelligence to our partners in Switzerland as fundamental. This “think tank” function will become increasingly important in the future of the Swissnex network, and we want to catalyze the knowledge of researchers, entrepreneurs,
artists, and scientists about Brazil.

There is, for example, a strong Swiss interest in biodiversity-related areas in Brazil, and Swissnex is able to connect researchers with the most relevant research centers in both countries. Another example is in the area of innovation. Through the internationalization programs offered for Innosuisse, the Swiss Confederation’s innovation agency, Swissnex can help Swiss startups enter the Brazilian market. Especially in the areas of health technology and IT there is a very strong potential. Not only is the Brazilian market exponentially larger than the Swiss market, but Brazilian consumers, unlike the Swiss, are curious “early adopters” of new technologies, which is a key differentiator for high-tech technologies emerging from Switzerland.


What are the main Swissnex projects in Brazil?

This year I am very proud of the Swissnex team in Brazil that prepared the launch of the Pantanal Science Camp in collaboration with SESC. This initiative will provide an easily accessible platform for Swiss researchers and students who wish to conduct research in the largest Private Natural Heritage Reserve in the country.

Another cool project is Water for Amazon, where Swissnex is partnering with Fiocruz (the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation) to develop a sustainable water access solution for indigenous populations in remote areas through technology developed by a Swiss startup.

In addition, there is other work going on behind the scenes: Switzerland is currently not yet associated to the world’s largest research program, Horizon Europe. To complement the association efforts, we are evaluating whether Swissnex can play a more strategic role in supporting the Swiss scientific community in international collaboration while keeping Switzerland at the top of the rankings for scientific excellence.


Swissnex also has offices in the United States, India, China and Japan, as well as science counselors based in Swiss embassies in other countries. How does this network operate globally?

Swissnex started 20 years ago as a local, bottom-up initiative in Boston, USA. Since then, the network has expanded and the local identity of each Swissnex has always been and remains very important for its operations and service offerings. However, in recent years and also in the context of the pandemic, digitalization movements have accelerated and we have seen tremendous growth in interest in global initiatives that span the entire network. For example, we are structuring a mandate with a major Swiss insurance company that wishes to perform market intelligence and trend scouting across all Swissnex locations. For this reason and to facilitate collaborations like this, we are aligning our internal organization. For example, Swissnex in Brazil will be responsible for IT and operational matters, serving the entire network. There is also increasing collaboration related to specific projects, such as the events organized with the Science Office in South Korea on topics related to the future of our