The RSA’s Fellowship network is a huge resource for social change. My recent visit to Finland confirmed just how universal the RSA’s values are, and their ability to spur a movement regardless of which country you’re in.
'How many people does it take to change a small country?'
This is the question asked by Mika Aaltonen, Finnish RSA Connector, former footballer, serial entrepreneur and visionary of what it means to be a RSA Fellow in Finland. Mika hosted Adanna Shallowe and I as we make our first visit to the Finnish Fellows in Helsinki.
For the past five years Mika has been carefully and purposely assembling a group of free-minded professionals under the banner of the RSA Fellowship. In the RSA he sees the enlightenment values of freedom, justice and progress sitting powerfully alongside political independence and a high level of integrity and intellect on matters of today, and tomorrow. For him, a small country like Finland will benefit immensely from a dynamic network that is inspired by these values and wants to make the country better.
Not that Finland is doing badly compared to other European countries, but it does have its share of tough decisions to make. The Finnish economy has been contracting for the fourth year in a row due to weak demand from European and Russian markets and problems affecting its key industries especially technology. Significant job layoffs by tech giants such as Nokia and Microsoft and reduced demand in ship building and paper industries has significantly increased unemployment. With an unsustainable level of public spending Finland it needs to think differently about how it designs its society and economy.
There are over 170 RSA Fellows in Finland, including an impressive gender split of 50/50 male to female (the RSA average is 70/30 male to female). I was invited to present a keynote to the Fellows at their annual Design Day, an event that launches the RSA Student Design Awards in Finland. Hosted in the functionalist (yet ever-so-pleasing-to-the-senses) building of Finland’s largest law firm, Castren & Snellman, around thirty people attended a morning of presentations and discussion - and what a discussion!
I centred my keynote on the RSA’s strategy of the Power to Create i.e. turning ideas into reality, and why this is ever important today if we are going to achieve our mission of a 21st Enlightenment- a world where every single person has the confidence, opportunity and motivation to lead a creative life. This resonated with the Fellows, and they immediately debated key issues in Finnish society through the lens of Power to Create: how to reduce public service spending in new and creative ways by connecting with the community, the challenges and barriers civil servants face when making courageous decisions, political paralysis, and ultimately, the type of role the RSA in Finland can play. At 9:45am the room was alive with debate and discussion, all conducted in a hugely respectful manner that concluded with the suggestion of the RSA creating a public platform for the topic.
The RSA Student Design Awards presentation followed in a similar fashion. Actually, the Fellows were suggesting ways to grow the SDAs and design for social good in Finland as soon as I had stopped talking. This year one of our sponsors heralds from this group: Fazer is the largest bakery in Finland and we are delighted that they are sponsoring a brief about reducing food waste.
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