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Social innovation in Finland

Social innovation in Finland

Social innovation in Finland

Finland is called “the land of the thousand lakes”, as Finland lakes and rivers make up 10% of the country. The large areas of forest cover almost two thirds of the land mass. Only 6% of Finland is arable and the country has a population of 5.5 million, around a million of whom live in the area in and around the capital city, Helsinki. The country is also renowned for mobile phones (thanks to Nokia), design and Moomins.

Taken as a whole, newsweek ranks Finland #1 in the world in education, citizenship and the quality of society. According to UNICEF, Finland ranks fourth in the world in child well-being (behind the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark). The Finnish country is also among the 5 least corrupt countries in the world.

Free education, low discrepancies in income, low poverty levels and high participation of women in the labour force are also the successes and the strengths of the Finnish society.

In parallel, the country faces problems that have to be solved in the future: unemployment, demographic aging and skills gap. To a certain extent, unemployment, particularly high youth unemployment, is structural and coexists with the lack of skilled labour. Finally, other challenges are those of the health sector and the viability of rural communities or that are experiencing difficulties.

1. Education system and child well-being
2. Innovation and sustainability
3. Health system and healthtech
4. Social entrepreneurship in Finland

Social innovation in Finland
Social innovation in Finland

From the time the first PISA exam was administered, Finland has consistently ranked at the top of the PISA international assessment test results. They maintained their position as #1 in every major category until 2009. Pisa exams are arguably the most challenging tests in the world. The United Nations also ranks Finland #1 in the world in education

Many reasons explain this result, here are some explications.

Equity in education

In Finland education is free 
at all levels from pre-primary to higher education. For example, textbooks, daily meal and transportation for students living further away from school are free for the parents. Moreover, every pupil and student has the right to educational support, guidance and counselling. Special needs education is generally provided in conjunction with mainstream education. If a pupil cannot be taught in a regular teaching group, he or she must be admitted to special needs education. The main purpose of special support is to provide pupils with broadly based and systematic help so that they can complete compulsory education and be eligible for upper secondary education.

Finnish women are as well educated as their male counterparts, and, in some cases, the number of women studying at the university level, for example, was slightly ahead of the number of men. In addition to an expanding welfare system, which since World War II had come to provide them with substantial assistance in the area of childbearing and child-rearing, women had made notable legislative gains that brought them closer to full equality with men.

Care is taken to ensure educational opportunities for Roma and other minorities as well as for people who use sign language. Education providers also organize preparatory education for immigrants to enable them to enter basic or upper secondary education.

Education system based on 
trust and responsibility

Teaching education system is based on trust. The ministry trusts the municipality, the municipality trusts the teachers, and the teachers trust the students. Educational autonomy is high at all levels. Local administration and educational institutions play a key role. The municipalities have the autonomy to delegate the decision-making power to the schools. Typically the principals recruit the staff of their schools.

Education providers are responsible for practical teaching arrangements as well as the effectiveness and quality of its education. There are, for example, no regulations governing class size and the education providers and schools are free to determine how to group pupils and students.

Finnish students assume a high degree of personal responsibility in the classroom. As a result, teachers are available for more individual time with the students who need it most.

Quality assurance is based on steering instead of controlling

In Finland school inspections were abolished in the early 1990s and Education relies very little on testing.

The system relies on the proficiency of teachers and other personnel. There is strong focus on both self-evaluation of schools and education providers and national evaluations of learning outcomes. National evaluations of learning outcomes are done regularly, so that there is a test every year either in mother tongue and literature or mathematics.

Less testing allows students to develop their own learning style. The evaluations are not regular as they are sample-based. The main type of pupil assessment is the continuous assessment during the course of studies and final assessment. Continuous assessment is to guide and help pupils in their learning process. Each student receives a report at least once every school year.

Early childhood and basic
 education as part of
life-long learning

Early childhood education and care comprises care, education and teaching to support children’s balanced growth, development and learning. Every child has a subjective right to attend early childhood education. It can take place at kindergartens or smaller family day-care groups in private homes. The fees are moderate and are based on parental income.

All 6-year-olds have the right to participate in pre-primary education. It is free and voluntary for children but municipalities are obliged to provide pre-primary education. The average child begins school at age 7. Most children develop social skills in pre-school, while language is typically learned at home.

Local authorities assign a school place to each pupil close to their homes, but parents are free to choose the comprehensive school of their preference, with some restrictions. Instruction is usually given by the same class teacher in most subjects in the first six year-classes and by subject specialists in the last three years. This makes learning patterns easier to understand. School is relaxed and casual. Students address teachers by their first name. Finally, School year is the same everywhere 
but timetables are local.

Highly educated 
teaching personnel

Teaching is an attractive career choice in Finland. Thus the teacher education institutions can select the applicants most suitable for the teaching profession. For example the intake into class teacher education is only 10 per cent of all applicants. In subject teacher education the intake varies from 10 to 50 per cent depending on the subject. In vocational teacher education the intake is 30 per cent of the applicants.

Moreover, the most common pre-service requirement is a Master’s degree. The high level of training is seen as necessary as teachers in Finland are very autonomous professionally. At most levels of education the teachers are required to participate in in-service training every year as part of their agreement on salaries. Finnish teachers consider in-service training as a privilege and therefore participate actively.

Social innovation in Finland

On the basis of the results of the World Economic Forum (2010-2011), Finland is one of the leading countries as regards to innovation. The nation was ranked first in terms of higher education, as well as for its high availability of scientists and engineers. Finland has more researchers per capita than any other country. The country invests more than 3.4 percent of its GDP in research and development, which makes it one of the most research-intensive countries in the world.

In 2005, Finland was also leading the ESI (Environmental sustainability index) ranking evaluating the ability of countries to protect their environment.

According to Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, Finnish companies and scientists are precursors in many technology and innovation areas. Those include forest, chemical and metallurgical industries; new technologies and environmental technologies, biotechnologies or knowledge-intensive services such as healthtech.

Tekes is the most important publicly funded expert organisation for financing research, development and innovation in Finland. They boost wide-ranging innovation activities in research communities, industry and service sectors.

Sitra is another major player in Finland. Sitra is a public fund aimed at building a « successful Finland for tomorrow ». They are forward thinking and anticipate social change and its effect on people. Their activities promote new operating models and stimulate business that aims at sustainable well-being.

During 2012, they have adopted a project-based organisational model that focuses on three themes: empowering society; resource-wise and carbon-neutral society and practices for sustainable well-being and employment. Sitra funds projects in bio-economy, circular economy, intelligent management of natural resources such as forests, or well being and care.

Among the nation’s key subjects, bio-economy occupies an important place. The bioeconomy encompasses all kinds of production based on renewable natural materials, including the further development and use of innovations and technologies related to such materials. It also promotes systemic change from using non-renewable resources to renewables. The Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster, FIBIC, is one of six Strategic Centers for science, technology and innovation in Finland (SHOK). The aim of FIBIC is to turn science and technology into sustainable bio-based solutions. FIBIC combines research and companies for innovative solutions. Their on-going research programs are related to the development of intelligent and resource-efficient processes, future biorefineries and bioenergy solutions.

Concerning ressources, the wood is one of the most versatile biological raw materials that is available today in large, renewable reserves around the world. Wood products have countless important industrial applications, such as in design, furniture and construction. In 2008, The Intelligent and Resource-Efficient Production Technologies (EffTech) program was launched by FIBIC. The goals of the program are to improve the competitiveness of the cluster by developing radically new energy and resource-efficient production technologies and by finding ways to reduce the capital intensiveness of the cluster. EffTech is divided across three work packages (WPs) based on focal areas of the program: Raw material availability, Modeling and measurements, and Processes and processing. The program portfolio for the first two years included ten research projects with a total budget of EUR 11 million, as well as three consortium projects with a total budget of EUR 8 million.

Finally, concerning well-being, it is interesting to check the work of the Nordic thinktank Demos.

Demos Helsinki researches the impact of new types of communities on wellbeing. Peer-to-peer networks, families, organisations, and social enterprises are amongst the actors that bring about new ways of acting and new forms of society.

Social innovation in Finland

Innovation in Finland has seen particular prominence in the healthtech sector. The sector enjoyed its best trade year ever in 2014. During this year, exports of health technology grew 8.3 % to a new record of €1.8 billion. With exports continuing to grow faster than imports, Finland’s trade surplus in health technology products widened 11 % to a record €829 million.

Health technology is Finland’s now largest hi-tech sector, representing nearly half of all hi-tech exports. Companies operating in Finland have developed sustainable global business models and the healthtech exports have increased at an average annual rate of 9 % for two decades.

FITHA, The Federation of Finnish Technology Industries, gather a few hundred health tech entreprises such as Planmeca or Genamo. Planmeca Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of health care technology, and Finland’s largest company group in the field. They design and manufacture pioneering medical and dental imaging solutions, software, mammography systems, and dental care equipment. Genano Ltd is a globally acting Finnish producer of professional air purification units. The patented Genano technology is based on advanced electrostatic precipitation, which has several advantages in professional air decontamination for laboratories and hospitals.

Tekes has also launched a new program for digital health called Bits of Health. The objective of the program is to make Finland a renowned expertise and business hub for digital health, which creates and nourishes internationally successful enterprises.

Another big actor is SOSTE. Soste Finnish Social and Health Association is a national umbrella organization that brings together more than 200 health and social welfare organizations, as well as dozens of other cooperative member parties. The purpose is to function as an expert and advocate for social and health politics, as a not-for-profit organisation building the conditions for social well-being and health, to promote social well-being and health and to enhance the ability of registered social and health non-governmental organisations to operate in the best interests of the people.

Finally, in 2007, an open national innovation environment called Innovillage began and it is currently maintained by the National Institute for Welfare and Health, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and the Finnish Society for Social and Health. Innovillage started as a response to the challenges around the ageing population, the threatened availability of skillful professionals, and a recession within the public sector; New models and solutions were needed to meet these challenges. The tools for co-development within Innovillage consist of both web-based tools and face-to-face tools, where actors meet in person. The tools are as follows: Networks Tool for the different networks to collaborate; a Project Database to design and report on development projects; a Development Environment to carry out development activities in real time; Innoworkshops to co-develop face-to-face; Events, to offer a meeting point for the developers (peers), a place where ideas, practices and models can be discussed, marketed and scaled-up; and finally the Innotutor training for developers to practice the innovation culture and learn how to use the Innovillage tools. In December of 2014, there were almost 800 development projects in the Project Database, about 1600 models and their local applications altogether in the Development Environment, and over 130 different networks in the Networks tool. Some hundreds different Innoworkshops and events had been organized already during the project. In the future some parts of the Innovillage web-service will be also in English and Swedish.

Social innovation in Finland

Finland has of universalistic welfare model where the State provides extensive public services such as free education, healthcare, housing etc. and a high level of social security to all citizens. In a context, the third sector in general, and social enterprises in particular, have played a relatively minor role in the provision of social and welfare services although more traditional forms of social enterprise (in the Finnish context) such as sheltered workshops and work centres have existed since the 1950s.

Two institutionalized forms of social enterprises exist in Finland:

WISE, Work Integration Social Enterprises. The purpose of WISE (Work Integration Social Enterprises’ Registry) is to create jobs in particular for the disabled and long-term unemployed. In Finland, there is an Act on Social Enterprise (1351/2003 which entered into force in 2004), but it limits ”social enterprises” only to the field of work integration.

The Social Enterprise Mark holders. The Mark is administered and granted by the Association for the Finnish Work. The Social Enterprise Mark was created in December 2011 to distinguish social enterprises from other types of organisations and, in more general terms, to raise awareness on the social enterprise business model. This scheme is voluntary; 43 social enterprises had been certified under the scheme at the end of 2013.

Moreover, the following networks and mutual support mechanisms were identified in Finland:

The Social Enterprise Coalition /Union of Social Enterprise. The Social Enterprise Coalition is an initiative of social enterprises and other interest groups to form an organization to give a voice to the sector. The Social Entrepreneurs’ Association of Finland, which is a non-profit organization whose main goal is to support social entrepreneurship growth in Finland. The organization was founded in May 2009 with the objective to establish Social Entrepreneurship and to build up a network of Social Entrepreneurs. The Finnish Social Enterprise Research Network, FinSERN. FinSERN-research network has collated burgeoning research on social enterprises and comprises of a researcher network on social entrepreneurship. The Academy for Finnish Social Entrepreneurship. Syy Academy supports a network of social entrepreneurs and also provides training in social entrepreneurship. The training also includes start-up support in helping to develop a business idea onto a functioning business model.

Additionally, social enterprises can be found among third sector organizations owned by businesses. Specifically, some foundations and associations have established separate trading arms to provide services for a fee. Many of these organizations provide services in the social care, welfare and health sectors.

Social innovation  in Finland


Boris Marcel - Europe Tomorrow

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