August 12, 2019

My career: From start to Finnish

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Evon Söderlund, Malaysia
Founder and CEO of a meeting and event management company

Evon came to Finland from Malaysia at the age of 19, hoping to find a better life. Now, some 15 years later, she is a battle-hardened entrepreneur and a co-founder of a company that is operating in multiple countries on two continents. Helsingin Sanomat, the largest subscription newspaper in Finland and the Nordic countries, named Evon as one of the 10 economic heroes during Finland’s centennial celebration, as a prime example of immigrant entrepreneurs and success makers.

1. My number one advice for aspiring entrepreneurs coming to Finland is… to take advantage of all the help available! One thing that is very unique in being an entrepreneur in Finland is that there is such a big ecosystem to support entrepreneurs. Therefore, as long as you are humble enough to ask when you do not know and seek help, there are a lot of organisations, groups, clubs and different places you can get advice and support from and have people to bounce ideas off of. The ecosystem for startups is very well-established.

2. My favourite Finnish word that best describes my career is… yrittää, which means to try. As an entrepreneur, I have to stand behind this particular word. I think a lot of people dislike this word, especially entrepreneurs. If you talk to entrepreneurs they hate to be called “yrittäjä”, because they think that the translation, after the ’90s has cast a very dark shadow on this word – like hey c’mon when you are done trying, come and join us, the doers (or the success makers). However, I think that the people who succeed as entrepreneurs are the ones that try the hardest. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in trying and I really think the reason why Finland is such an innovative and driven country, is because people are trying different things, even though they do not know what the outcome will be. Trying is a driving force of innovation.

3. What has changed about Finland since I have lived here is… the level of diversity. When I came to Finland 15 years ago, in the early 2000s, I was a teenager and I think at that time even Helsinki seemed like it did not have that many foreigners coming from Asia. I remember vividly walking on the street and having people stare at me and feeling much more alienated at that time. Then at some point, all of this diversity just started happening, and it has been such joy to witness this transformation and to see Finland become more diverse. Because, I think, one of the biggest things Finland has suffered from in the past is lack of diversity. I feel that diversity is one of the most important, if not the most important factors for business and innovation – because it allows people to bring in different attitudes and backgrounds to solving a problem.

4. The best way to enjoy the weekend after a working week is… to switch yourself off from work. This a thing that Finns are very good at. It is very hard for a foreigner such as myself to switch off after a working week, especially for an Asian who is used to working nine to ten hours a day, six days a week. I learnt that the reason we work hard is for our loved ones, to provide them with bread and butter. At the end of the day, the reason for working hard is that we can spend time with our loved ones and provide them with a good life.

5. What I find surprising about working in Finland is… the importance of fairness. Coming from a country that is known for hierarchy and seeing that everyone here demands fair treatment was very surprising. The whole flat organisational style is very different, and it is of the utmost importance to Finns that they are treated fairly. Everyone expects fair treatment in Finland, no matter their religion, sexual orientation etc., and if it does not happen, it is a very big deal. Two individuals should not be treated unequally – everyone should treat each other with respect.

We are getting to know what people born abroad think about working life in Finland.

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