Shalini Sharma, India. Impact entrepreneur
Over four decades ago, Shalini’s uncle moved to Finland to study, igniting a spark of curiosity within her family. Little did she know that one day she would move here, and indeed, that exact thing happened some 25 years ago.
“Each year spent here deepened my connection with this captivating country,” she says.
Shalini started her journey in Finland as a high school student. It was not easy to move and leave her friends behind in India, but looking back she is glad that she did. Student life helped her integrate into society, and she feels that this affords one the opportunity to connect at a deeper level. As the years unfolded, Shalini went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management and then a master’s in international business management.
Fast forward to now, and Shalini is happily living here with her family and making her mark as an entrepreneur and mentor for international professionals.
My initial expectations of Finland were… that since a known family member was already in Finland, I had an idea of what’s Finland like and what to expect. I saw it as an opportunity to explore the world in a different way than what it would have been had I stayed back. I had heard about Finland being safe and fair society, which I witnessed myself.
Shalini met her husband in Finland, and they now have two children together.Shalini Sharma
Surprisingly, living in Finland was not fundamentally different to what I was used to in my hometown (back in the hills of Northern India). I grew up in beautiful mountains where you see snow in winters, beautiful nature, forest, simplicity and many wooden houses. Of course, the cultures were different, and it was a learning curve to keep our own traditions intact while adapting to new ways of life, thinking and growing. I am lucky to have explored both the worlds with some great experiences, and I am what I am today because of it. I am a great ambassador for both my home country and my adopted home country, Finland, where both nations enjoy warm and friendly relations and have a deep desire to continue the collaboration.
Little did I anticipate that Finland, with its beautiful nature and open culture, would not only become my home but also the backdrop for a heart-warming love story. It all started when I crossed paths with an Indian expatriate, who became my best friend and, now, my beloved husband. He arrived in Finland 20 years ago for a brief six-month IBM and NOKIA project, however fate had other plans, and those six months turned into a lifetime. Today we have a family with two wonderful children living in a beautiful house in Espoo.
What I find surprising about working in Finland is… how flat the organisations here are (generally speaking) and how accessible senior executives of any company are. In general, there is less hierarchy, and anyone can contribute to a discussion and/or raise a concern which might be contrary to popular belief or “group think”, and that’s totally OK! Another thing which surprised me initially is work-life balance at work, which is phenomenal and probably amongst the best in the world. Creativity, innovation, value of nature are not just visible at an individual level but also ingrained in many companies' culture here. What shocked me initially was how everything came to a halt in summer (and felt as if the entire country went on a vacation). Now living here for so long I do realise the importance of summertime, and it tends to be short, so everyone takes a break and uses that time to unwind and relax.
Shalini draws on her extensive professional experience to nowadays make an impact as an entrepreneur.Shalini Sharma
One area where Finland and companies could do better is… around diversity and inclusion. It’s a great country and workplace for many valid reasons but nothing is perfect in life. There are numerous studies and reports which point to positive business and economic impact due to diversity. It’s no surprise that diversity and inclusion have become an important part for many companies, boards and corporate strategies. I personally feel leveraging international talent better than currently can create a competitive edge for Finland. It can enhance Finland's competitiveness, drive innovation and contribute to economic growth.
My favourite things about Finland are…
1) Work-life balance: I admire that Finnish people take time to pause from their work life, from time to time, e.g. in mökki (cottage) with family. Life is not only about work but also living it.
2) Safe environment: You feel safe anywhere you go, with amongst lowest levels of crime globally.
3) Welfare and equality: Finland’s robust social welfare nurtures equality and well-being.
4) The seasons: You witness all seasons, and my favourite is spring, when everything is coming to life again.
5) Fazerin Sininen: This is my favourite chocolate in the world.
And, of course, saunas and beautiful lakes.
Why I decided to be an entrepreneur is… that after dedicating more than 12 years to corporate life, having worked with big corporations like Nokia, fast growing fin-tech firms, startups and scale-ups, I found myself at a crossroads, with a choice to continue what I have been doing or do something different and make an impact in the world differently. I chose the latter and decided to give it a shot.
Finland’s Indian community is culturally active and vibrant.India Day Finland / Facebook
As an international talent thriving in Finland, I witnessed other talented individuals feeling overlooked and frustrated. This moved me to become an entrepreneur, to bridge gaps, empower international talent and give back to society. Here I am creating my own impact-driven entrepreneur story. Please join me in this journey and let’s collaborate and make an even bigger impact together!
What has helped me during my career journey in Finland is… I must say Finland is a very open and helpful society. Numerous people have helped me throughout my journey in Finland. The networks I have built at a professional and personal level – school alumni, colleagues – they all have played a significant role in my career and professional journey and continue to do so. Most of the help and advice is just a phone call away. You just need to be open and proactive to approach the right people, and often they are more than willing to help or guide you.
The piece of advice I would give to someone contemplating coming to work in Finland is… while Finland may not be the first name that springs to mind when considering a destination for work and life, it's a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. The moment you set foot here, you'll experience the seamless efficiency that defines Finnish living. In a world where daily tasks can often become cumbersome, Finland offers a frictionless experience. In Finland you can experience a high quality of life, equality, safety and respect for human beings and much more… Over time, you get so accustomed to it that you don’t want to leave.
Shalini feels that leveraging international talent can create a competitive edge for Finland.Shalini Sharma
I must say this though. Just like anything in life, there is no one size fits all, and similarly Finland is not for everyone. It does have its pros and cons and you should carefully evaluate what’s important for you at this point in life, i.e. do your own due diligence as well.
How I spend my free time is… with my family, husband and two lovely kids. For me the most important thing is my family, I love spending time with them. We love camping, travelling together, exploring new things, socialising, long drives, nature walks and yoga. We are also lucky to have a great set of friends with whom we love to socialise and do many of these activities together, which makes it super fun.
The Indian community in Finland is… quite active culturally and vibrant. We have various events throughout the year across Finland celebrating our diverse culture. Every year a big event, India Day, is celebrated and is open for anyone to attend in Kaisaniemi Park, Helsinki. This year it was about experiencing the richness of Indian culture and fostering connections and celebrating the enduring friendship between two remarkable nations: India and Finland! This year we saw the biggest turnout ever for any Indian event in Finland with about 30 000 visitors.
I’m a member of Indian Women in Finland association and IBPF (Indian Business Professional Forum). Whenever I get time, I contribute positively to their causes, which I strongly believe in. Both the organisations are doing fantastic work in connecting the India diaspora with Finland and vice versa. It spans across various topics such as diplomatic and executive engagements, integration, empowerment, new opportunities, mentorship programmes etc.
What I enjoy most about living in Espoo is… Espoo has been home for me and my family now for more than two decades. I love this city! It has the right work-life balance. On one hand many top company headquarters are in Espoo, then you have universities and an innovation centre – then at the same time you have nature, parks, sea, lakes and space for yourself. This city has grown positively throughout these years with a strong international community, excellent infrastructure and good services by Espoo City for its residents. I am a happy Espoolainen!