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Diversity drives future innovation

Finland’s capital region Helsinki-Uusimaa was ranked second in the EU Social Progress Index 2020. (Photo: Tuula Palaste)

Tuula Palaste

Finland is a country of innovation and technology, and it needs to attract and retain international talent to continue its success. It doesn’t take a village but the whole country to create a favourable environment for companies to thrive in today’s globally connected world, says Christine Chang, project director at Helsinki-Uusimaa Region.

Finland is a land of innovation. But its rise from one of Europe’s poorest countries post-WWII to one of the world’s most innovative nations wasn’t achieved overnight. Instead, Finland’s success is a culmination of multiple long and short-term public policy and investment measures. Since the 1980s, the country has seen research and innovation as an important driver for its future economic growth and invested vast amounts of money in people, knowhow and R&D. 

Despite its small size, Finland triumphs in many global comparisons. For example, it has been named the happiest country in the world by the World Happiness Report 2021, the best business environment in the World Global Innovation Index 2019 and the third most innovative country in the Bloomberg Innovation Index 2019.

Finland’s capital region, Helsinki-Uusimaa, was ranked second in the EU Social Progress Index 2020. Image: Tuula Palaste

After living in Finland for 15 years, I now call it home. This time has taught me how the Finnish culture and the mindset of ‘sisu’ have played an important role in lifting the country from poverty to prosperity. The harsh weather conditions and scarce resources have shaped the spirit of Finns. To me, the term sisu is not only about being courageous and resilient but also about being open to challenges and using creativity to achieve more with less. This is how Finland has endured many unprecedented challenges, such as the Winter War, the early 1990s depression, the global financial crisis in 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finland’s economic success is built on knowledge and innovation which advocates free trade and openness to global investment. The internationalisation of business is key to Finland’s long-term growth. It requires involving diverse expertise and cultural backgrounds at every step of product, service or business-model development. That is why nearly all countries, Finland among them, are in a war for talent. 

“Luck doesn’t make innovation or progress. Concerted efforts and continuous practices do.”

Currently, only 7.8 per cent of Finnish citizens are foreign-born. Consequently attracting and retaining international talent is a top priority for the Finnish government and for the Helsinki-Uusimaa Region. National initiatives such as TalentBoost and the local initiative The Shortcut have been set up to increase international employment. At a municipal level, cities like Helsinki have started to use anonymous recruitment which aims to increase diversity at the workplace. 

The City of Helsinki wants to produce increasingly diverse workplaces. Image: Business Finland

WhenI moved to Finland from Taiwan in 2006, I was only a fresh graduate with a degree in international affairs and a thesis on Finland’s integration with the EU. Against all odds, I was offered a job for a short development project on Finnish-Asian cooperation. It became a job that opened the door for me to have a career in public administration in EU affairs. Now I am on a mission of making Helsinki-Uusimaa the most innovative, entrepreneurial and sustainable region in the world.

“The internationalisation of business is key to Finland’s long-term growth.”

After hearing about the struggles many international talents experience when trying to land a job in Finland, I consider myself lucky that my employer was willing to take a chance on me. They didn’t only believe in my potential but also empowered me to learn Finnish and develop my language skills along the way.  That’s what international talents in Finland need – to be given a chance to contribute and grow with their employer. 

Luck doesn’t make innovation or progress. Concerted efforts and continuous practices do. We used to say, “it takes a village to raise a child”. When it comes to the future of Finland, it takes a whole country to create a favourable environment for companies to innovate and grow in today’s globally connected world. This requires not only actions to strengthen the market economy conditions in Finland but also the courage and the Finnish sisu from the public, private and third sectors to make diversity a priority.