Preserving the excellent connection between Finland and Singapore through the young generation.

Commentary, Finnish People, Finnish Politics, Finnish Society

Moikka!~ Today, we have the huge privilege of publishing an excellent piece by Tuukka Väisänen. It is an optimistic piece about how the outstanding connection between Finland and Singapore can be preserved through the young generation. Enjoy!~


[From Tuukka, 2016] As my essay was written already in 2014–almost two years ago–I think it would be good to provide a few updated thoughts to the book chapter. Things have naturally partly changed since 2014. For instance, indicators now suggest that Finland would finally be beating the everlasting recession and getting back to a slow but steady growth path already during this year, and Nokia is once again a major industry leader through its Alcatel-Lucent acquisition. Related to the Finnish start-up world I was discussing, Supercell become the first European technology start-up with a valuation above 10 billion dollars just a few weeks ago.

In Singapore, the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, passed away during the SG50 celebratory year in 2015, which has had a grand mental impact on the country. Finland is entering its own anniversary year in 2017 for Finland as an independent nation will be turning 100 years old. I’m curious to see whether the festivities will be as grandiose as they were in Singapore last year, even though I sadly didn’t have the opportunity to witness them with my own eyes last August.


“Preserving the Excellent Connection between Finland and Singapore through the Young Generation.”

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Excellent ties between Finland and Singapore date back to the beginning of Singapore’s path as a sovereign nation. Since then, the ties have been gradually blossoming and started blooming in 1990s. Both countries, of course, are small by population and there are many other countries which are more significant partners to them. Nevertheless, even with the small populations and their geographical locations almost 10,000 km apart, ties can be described as excellent.

In this essay I will reflect on how these excellent ties can be preserved as the generations change, and which topics might be the new shared areas of interest between Singapore and Finland.

Economic ties between Finland and Singapore can be characterised as reasonably tight and economic activity is vivid, but more importantly rich in opportunities. There are many areas of cooperation underway and even more in the planning stage. Besides more traditional prominent fields which include, for example, healthcare and education, one possible area of cooperation and shared interest is the start-up enterprise sector which is slowly challenging the more traditional industries, at least in terms of publicity and hype, but also due to structural change taking place in many advanced economies. Especially, start-ups in the technology sector are becoming more prevalent all around the world due to ever-growing importance of all types of electronic gadgets and increased accessibility to devices and internet even in poorer countries.

There are a number of clusters, so-called hubs, in the world of which Silicon Valley is definitely the most influential by a great margin. On the European scale, Helsinki’s recent success as a global city has unquestionably shaken the mindsets of Finns and created new hope amid the extending economic recession.

The entrepreneurial start-up boom in Finland is very recent. To a great extent, it has been concretely created by young students, and this is due to a range of reasons, among them the end of the Nokia era in Finland. Nokia used to account for a great deal of the Finnish GDP, and consequently the whole nation was too dependent on the company, at least emotionally. Nokia used to be the dream company for many university graduates, and practically none was interested in an entrepreneurial career which was regarded as some kind of a failure those days. Many thought it was only for people who were not able to secure a “real job”.

Furthermore, in the mid-2000s, an idea of a multidisciplinary university became alive in Finland. It was realised in 2010 when Aalto University, a merger of top Finnish universities, Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics, and University of Art and Design Helsinki, started operations. The coincidental timing of these two, and some other factors, led to rapid development that had never been seen in Finland.

Concretely, things started to evolve when an individual student from the former Helsinki School of Economics experienced a “eureka moment” while visiting the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) during an economics club’s excursion to Boston. He was seriously impressed by the atmosphere at MIT when it comes to entrepreneurial spirit. In contrast to Finland, entrepreneurs at MIT were treated like rock stars and heroes, and many top students wanted to become entrepreneurs instead of choosing a more typical investment banking or consulting career, for example. Once this gentleman returned to Finland, he set up an entrepreneurship society named Aalto Entrepreneurship Society for the students of the forthcoming Aalto University.

At the beginning, everything was really small-scale and events were small with people talking to each other about entrepreneurship and just pitching ideas to a bunch of interested listeners. The university supported the initiatives by providing the space, for instance. The reception was positive since the idea supported the core mission of the university: bringing technology, business and design together.

Now, a few years later, the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society has sparked many by-products, seeding accelerator programmes, internship programmes including a programme sending young bright students to work in Silicon Valley, and last but not least, a start-up conference, Slush, bringing more than 10,000 visitors and more than a thousand new companies and big venture capital investors to rainy and dark Helsinki in November every year.

The event, the CEO of which is a 25-year-old student, has become the target of interest of many influential persons around the world recently. Thus, things have changed in the past 10 years. Recently, these “entrepreneurial societies” have been established in connection with many major Finnish universities.

Singapore is fast becoming a sort of start-up hub as well and its efforts have not gone unnoticed in Europe. The business friendly environment, low taxation, educated people and efforts to boost innovation make it an ideal location for start-ups, especially to those aiming for fast growth in Asian markets. The universities in Singapore, such as NUS and NTU, are world-class and their quality surpasses the Finnish universities on average. NUS has even established overseas colleges in the US, China and Sweden with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship.

What then prevents Singapore from becoming another Silicon Valley, when the premises to run a new company are outstanding, and there are plenty of high net worth investors in the region?

It may be the same case as it was in Finland a decade ago. People want and expect a secure career, and failure is frowned upon. Especially, when tuition fees of tertiary education are high, choosing a financially secure path is lucrative. Mindsets in Finland have changed; they can change in Singapore too. What if the cooperation that already exists on the level of student exchange at the universities, would also be implemented on this level?

These “entrepreneur societies”, though independent, are often closely linked to their respective universities. It does not take many additional steps, and there are plenty of best practices to learn from each other. On the bigger picture, Finland can learn how to create an environment where business could thrive, whereas Singapore could in turn study how to use its current resources to make innovation flourish.

Compared to previous generations who had far less opportunities to travel and go on exchange programmes, today’s generations and future ones can preserve the strong people-to-people connections between our countries also through our travels and studies. Speaking from the Finnish point of view, I actually consider traveling as one of the focal connection points of younger Finns to Singapore. Both for leisure and studies, Singapore is really popular among Finnish university students as an exchange destination; it is exotic, warm and far away, but at the same time really safe with high standards of living. Later on, these people will enter business life and always have Singapore in their heart.

It also works the opposite way, as young Singaporeans are encouraged to go on exchange and the Nordic countries, including Finland, have been popular destinations for many young Singaporeans. This development is truly beneficial for both sides.

The daily direct flight connection between Helsinki and Singapore has increased Singapore’s visibility in Finland. Southeast Asia is a popular region especially among the independent, born-global generation of under-35s, and many come to the region for a mixture of city and beach holiday. Bangkok used to be the entry point for many, but as the security situation in Thailand has had its ups and downs, Finns have started to flock to Singapore. Instead of just being a necessary transit point on the way to Australia, it has become a holiday destination of its own, and for good reasons.

Also at the same time, more Singaporean tourists can be seen on the snowy streets of Helsinki. Finland may not have the appeal of some great European nations with their grand capitals full of history, but is still an exotic destination which has not yet been spoiled by mass tourism. What sets Finland apart from its most European counterparts is the distinct culture and untouched nature with true wilderness. For many Asians however, Finland is only seen from the airport transit area window when transferring to a connection heading for other European cities.

The beautiful nature would be one of the selling points for them to stay for a bit longer. Iceland, for example, has marketed very well the possibility of having free stopovers on the way between Europe and North America with their flag carrier, and many people end up visiting Iceland this way.

Singapore is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015. Finland as an independent nation is turning 100 years old in 2017. These are really big celebrations, marking a significant milestone in both countries. What unites us is that we are young societies which have previously been controlled by someone else, and our identities are still developing. We both have however come far from where we started, and left our footprints on this world. Our roles might be different in the future world order, and thus, it will be interesting to see what the future brings us.

Hopefully, it includes ever-strengthening cooperation between Finland and Singapore.


The Hieno! would like to express its gratitude to Tuukka and World Scientific Books for its permission to republish this article here. 

Tuukka Väisänen is a former student of Aalto University, who was doing internship at the Embassy of Finland in Singapore in the fall of 2014. Currently he is working as a strategy consultant and enjoys travelling during his free time. During his time at the Embassy of Finland in Singapore, Tuukka wrote this essay about Finnish-Singaporean relations, which was published in the book “50 Years of Singapore–Europe Relations: Celebrating Singapore’s Connections with Europe”.

Citations: Väisänen, Tuukka. “Preserving the Excellent Connection between Finland and Singapore through the Young Generation.” 50 Years of Singapore-Europe Relations: Celebrating Singapore’s Connections with Europe. 2015. 61-64.

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