When I was invited to write this feature article on Finland, I first asked myself: what is Finland best known for in this part of the world? I could think at least three things: education, nature, and Nokia. In many ways, they sum up much of what Finland is all about.
I will start with education. About 20 years ago, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) started Pisa (Program for International Student Assessment), that measures the literacy, math skills and other competencies of 15-year-olds across the world.
When the first results were published in 2001, the concept of “The Finnish education miracle” was born. To the world’s astonishment, this tiny country of just over 5 million people aced the charts, ranking first in reading literacy, third in mathematical literacy and fourth in science literacy.
The results of the seventh PISA round were published in December last year, and Finland continues to do very well. But this time, there was something different, and the Finnish Miracle took on a new meaning.
However, as tomorrow’s problems cannot be solved with yesterday’s thinking, we need to make sure that we continue to make the best of our top natural resource: the people
For the first time, Pisa introduced a new aspect to the rankings, and examined the overall well-being and life satisfaction of the students. Remarkably, Finland stood out as the only country that was able to combine high performance in literacy, math and science, with an overall high life satisfaction.
If you need more proof of our overall life satisfaction, here you have it: we’ve also been ranked the happiest country in the world two years in a row in The World Happiness Report, an annual UN publication launched in 2019.
So what’s the secret behind the Finnish miracle, the key to our happiness? I would argue that the secret lies in the very same three things Finland is known for: education, nature and Nokia. Let me start with nature. We’re very blessed in Finland in that we have a lot of untouched nature within everyone’s reach. This has caused us Finns to have what we call a special relationship with nature, something that many Finns cherish — and for good reason!
There is growing evidence that exposure to nature, even just a 15-minute walk in the wood, has an immediate, positive effect on our well-being. We see lower levels of stress hormones, improved concentration and quality of sleep. No wonder we get a growing number of international tourists every year traveling to Finland with the specific desire to reconnect with nature.
I warmly welcome you to join us in enjoying the peaceful sceneries of Lakeland Finland, home to tens of thousands of lakes, or to visit Lapland, the magical, snowy home of Santa Claus and the beautiful Northern Lights.
I talked about nature and education, but how does Nokia fit in this, you may ask.
Nokia’s story is an inspiring and unusual one: a company that started as a rubber boots’ manufacturer became a global hi tech giant. Much of the success behind Nokia can undoubtedly be explained by an exceptionally visionary thinking in the leadership. But, leadership cannot do anything alone without the hundreds and thousands of highly skilled engineers, who come up with the technical solutions.
Finland is often called a country of engineers, and of course, the Finnish engineers themselves say this with immense pride. However, there are also those who say it as a snarky comment, alluding that engineer-like thinking is an antonym to creativity, or somehow an obstacle in the way of artistic visions. I beg to differ (well, I would, as I am an engineer myself). Just look at Nokia: while they may have lost its position as the global leader in mobile phones, the company has again reinvented itself.
Innovation saves the day
In a word, what made (and saved) Nokia was innovation — or creativity. Hundreds of new, super-innovative and successful start-ups were created by former Nokians, or inspired by Nokia’s success. Today, Finland is the third most innovative country in the world according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index. And as innovation drives success, it comes as no surprise that according to the Global Innovation Index, Finland is the best country for business.
Of course, we also face challenges.
Climate change is an enormous one, and affects not just Finland but all of us. A particular problem for us is the fact that Finland’s population ages the second fastest in the world after Japan. Still, we like to think that we have got some of the basic building blocks for good life just about right.
What ties all of them together, is a shared commitment to equal opportunities. We believe that everyone should have the chance to pursue their dreams. The admirable Pisa rankings did not happen by accident — they are the result of political choices.
However, as tomorrow’s problems cannot be solved with yesterday’s thinking, we need to make sure that we continue to make the best of our top natural resource: the people.