From Freeze to a Free Fall: Social Enterprise in Finland Today

Antti Karjalainen, CEO of Tiederahoitus Ltd and former Programme Director at The Finnish Institute writes on social enterprise in Finland.

A well-known Sociologist is reported to have said that sometimes socially progressive thinking arrives to Finland 15 years later than elsewhere in Europe but when it does the change takes place in two weeks. A description that might be applied to what has happened around Social Enterprise in Finland.

A few years ago the term ’social enterprise’ did not exist in Finland. Finland has, for a long time, had a good number of co-operatives, organisations with charitable aims and a business model for funding and enterprises that have a social mission. These organisations have been open and proud of their social mission and many of them had a long history of operation. But a term that would group all these together just simply did not exist. 
When the Finnish Institute in London started to pay attention to this sector and started to use the term ‘yhteiskunnallinen yritys’ things started to happen. We Finns are very practical and a group of civil servants and innovation funders saw SE as a way to benefit from currently a pretty poorly controlled tendency of outsourcing public services. This was the angle that the Institute was offering and it was the crucial lesson learned from the UK. Social Enterprise can deliver public services and they can do it better than any of the known parties so far.
The institute managed to get the media to cover a few examples of SE in the UK. It directed many of the visiting politicians to the UK to visit Social Enterprises and gave presentations on the subject. Finnish think-tanks got excited about the topic. With a grasp of the concept comes understanding of the subject and at the moment Finland is waking up to the fact that, this sector needs not be invented, we already have it.
We now have a recommendation from the Ministry of Employment and Economy to develop social enterprise as a business model (waiting for an approval from the government currently being formed) we have had critical voices towards SE from entrepreneur representatives, trade unions, few journalists who see it as a capitalist conspiracy. In a word: we are catching up with UK all right!  
We have also formed a coalition of Social Enterprise and it now encompasses few of the biggest ones and it’s growing very rapidly. Few enterprises are finding their own voices as social enterprises. Researchers and universities have found the topic and a network for research has been formed.
My guess is that we are going to have some bold and forward looking initiatives around Social Enterprise in Finland. More and more key decision makers are starting to see it as a way to support distinctly local way of delivering public services but also more broadly as good way of doing business. Today, June 11th, the head of Finnish Innovation Fund and the CEO of our largest international company KONE wrote that companies need to focus more on shared value and not just stare the bottom line of their revenue spreadsheet. The change is here!

Antti Karjalainen
CEO of Tiederahoitus Ltd and former Programme Director at The Finnish Institute in London

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