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finland 100

[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo, the initiator of Design Finland 100.

Finnish Culture, Finnish People, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
Kirsti Lindberg-Repo

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we have the huge privilege of featuring Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo. She is a visiting professor at the Singapore Management University and also the initiator of Design Finland 100 (DF100).

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo has been actively contributing to branding research for the past 15 years and has extensive experience in co-operation with academia and practitioners. She has also published two books on branding: “Titans of Service” and “Titans of Branding”. Today, she will be sharing with us more about Finland as a design nation and also the project DF100.

Enjoy the interview!

WW: Hello Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo, can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Hello Wan Wei.

Let’s start with a story:

I had a wonderful opportunity to work as a visiting professor in Singapore Management University in 2013. From my students I learned how unrecognisable a nation Finland is. There are no clear associations with the country brand of Finland.

The only things my students seemed to know of were:

1. Nightwish, a Finnish band;
2. The Finnish baby box; and
3. The best educational system in the world.

This was my calling. Having worked with brands and brand lecturing for the last 15 years in Swedish School of Economics and Aalto University in Helsinki, I felt that something should be done.

In summer 2015, my team and I came up with an idea to market Finland as a design nation in Southeast Asia.

Currently I am in charge of the Design Finland 100 in the Digital Age -project. Design Finland 100 is a two-year-long innovation project, organised for the very first time.

In March we will conduct Nordic Business and Design Case Competition, where students are given unique, real-life business problems to solve. We will ask them: “how to make strategic growth for Finnish companies in Asia?”

The connection between design and trade will be approached from various perspectives, such as fashion, health technology, digital services as well as service design. We are waiting to see innovative ideas, outside of the box -thinking and great team work, creativity, problem diagnosis, applying correct theories and good communications.

Two of the winning teams will be awarded an all inclusive (flight+accommodation) trip to Helsinki to Design Drives Business Seminar on August 30th, 2017.

WW: Wow, that is totally cool!

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Yes! You see, design from Finland is a great brand story.

We try to take the greatest design heritage of Finland forward, which Finland as a design nation is very famous for.

Designing a better customer experience is the strongest growth driver today. It forms a competitive advantage and ensures the consumers’ demand for a product or a service.

WW: You once mentioned that Finland is a “design nation”. Why is Finland a “design nation”?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Finland is a design-centred country.

Finland has received the highest number of design awards globally as compared to the size of the population. And for excellence in design, there is no other measurement for the time being, other than the awards and rewards accorded to the country.

For example, the Finnish company Planmeca has received so many awards and rewards for industrial, service, digital and product design. When we had our executive seminar “Design Drives Business” in Singapore on October 2016, the representative of Planmeca said, “I’d just show you the most recent design awards we have won. This is because we have received so many global awards and rewards for design that if we were to show them all, it would probably take all day.”

So you see, Planmeca is a true design company working in B2B, and has received great global recognition and acknowledgement for design. They produce for example big and colourful dental chairs. 98% of their production goes towards exports.

WW: Wow, that is a very high percentage.

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Yes, very, very high. And Planmeca’s production is 100% based in Finland. They have not outsourced production to any Chinese producers or manufacturers—they produce everything in Finland.

We can say that Finnish design really drives their business and they can be proud of it.

By “design”, we mean: Product design, service design, digital design and design as strategy. And design as strategy is one of the most used in the United States of America right now.

Take for instance, Pepsi’s CEO Indra Nooyi, who is one of top three most influential women CEOs in the world. Nooyi says that design has become so important for them in developing their current competitive advantage. Design is present in each and every decision that they are taking.

Designing a better customer experience is the strongest competitive advantage a company can have today.

WW: It is fascinating that “design is present in each and every decision they are taking”. How would you define the term “design”?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Well, Design is part of everyone’s life. I’m sure that there are many definitions to the term “design”.

Perhaps we could conceptualise a modern view on design as like this: Design is something that tries to reach a better user experience by implementing product design, service design, design as strategy and digital design as a channel to carry them all forward.

My background is actually very strongly grounded in the area of branding, so in our Design Finland 100 project, we are looking at the concept of design from the branding perspective. This means that design needs to bring differentiation for a product or service. It needs to have aspirational features and made desirable for the consumers, whether they are in the B2B or B2C industries.

Only this way, businesses can create a path to win their customers’ hearts and ensure that the experience for the end-customer is an improved one with design management.

Like the wagon in the train, you have a captain who is driving the train, and you have the wagon. And they are all part of the design.

WW: So, what do you think is the differentiating factor of Finnish design?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Well, first of all, its heritage value is huge.

We have had very, very, very good artists who were globally recognised early in Finland’s history, and that integrates design as part of our national identity.

For example, Alvar Aalto stands for the most recognised achievements in regard to Finnish design. One of his most famous consume designs enjoys high awareness, namely the Savoy or Aalto vase.

Sustainability is typically also one part of Finnish design. You don’t get rid of an Aalto Chair, for example, in one generation. An Aalto Chair can last for at least two to three generations without wearing out—it is so durable.

We can even think about Finnish design via the most iconic architectural design in Finland—the Villa Mairea. According to the Wall Street Journal dated 4 June 2015, there are five house designs in the world that are most worth seeing and visiting. On the third position they have chosen Finland’s Villa Mairea, which is designed by Alvar Aalto.

The typical characteristics of Finnish design are simplicity, authenticity and beauty. They have very clear forms and features. These characteristics give Finnish design a recognisable look. In general, Finnish design exudes harmony and form over function.

By form over function I mean that the design of the article does not have to be practical. Only service design needs to be practical. Therefore, we need to know whether we are talking about product design, or service design.

WW: It really seems like Finnish design is the bridge between generations! You’d mentioned that DF100 is targeted at Southeast Asians. Why Southeast Asia, though?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: We try to reach the very prestigious status of design, which Finland should have, but doesn’t enjoy for the time being, at least when we are looking at the issue from Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is known as the new growth engine of the world economy and considered a significant market for Finnish companies.

Via DF100, we will build new relationships with academic institutions and business partners in the region, the home of 667 million people. In other words, we will crowdsource new ways to market Finland. Students gather together to create new approaches for Finnish companies in business case competition.

The three winning teams of the case competition will be invited to Finland to show their results in August 30th 2017. In this seminar ”Totally Design for Growth”, Finnish growth enthusiasts and Asian students will meet and network.

WW: What are some of the must-knows in Finnish design?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo:

  • Finnish design has a very rich heritage; its history goes back about 100 years!
  • Finnish design is highly acknowledged globally. And now we want to raise awareness for its excellence and prestige in Southeast Asia through our Design Finland 100 initiative!
  • Finnish design is almost like a religion in Finland. This in other words means that design is part of our national identity.

We take design so seriously. Like a religion, the development of the form is more important than commercial value for the Finnish design.

We need to move Finnish design forward such that we have greater commercial value and recognition. Design drives value and design has a clear role when reaching Asian consumers.

And in order to capitalise on Finnish design, we need to find new ways in order to increase its recognition and how it can be used as a tool to commercialise Finnish products and services.

Design Finland 100 project helps companies with this.

WW: Actually, if Finnish design is so good, why don’t Finns commercialise it already?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: You see, the demand for Finnish design is not generating more demand. This is because we want to keep the design for ourselves—we don’t really want to use it for the benefit of the customers.

WW: This is very strange to me. I think in Singapore, few people will be able to continue doing something that does not yield commercial value.

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: This is it. This is why Finland can consider engaging more with Singapore. This is because our design heritage needs to be commercialised.

And this is why the Suomi neito—the young Finnish lady—needs to “marry” the Singapore lion. Like the following Mentos Video!

WW: We have often heard that Finns are as “shy” as the Suomi Neito. The implication is that because of this “shyness”, Finns are not so good at marketing. What do you think about this?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: I think we are actually very good at marketing. However, at the C-level, it is usually the case that our marketing budgets are too small to reach global awareness.

I think Finnish marketing people are geniuses, because they are so creative with what they do on a very small budget.

Let me give you a context: In Sweden, the marketing budget allocated by the CEOs are 5 times bigger than Finland. You can do a lot more with a greater marketing budget.

So I think Finnish marketers have excellent marketing skills because they are able to do so much with so little.

Nowadays, there is more and more that kind of thinking that marketing and branding is made by every employee. I think it is…!

WW: Let’s go back to the truly inspirational Design Finland 100 project. What can Singaporeans/ Southeast Asians expect in the upcoming year?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Design Finland 100 is a platform to celebrate 100 years of Finnish design thinking. Its aim is to build bridges for Finnish and Southeast Asian companies.

I am sure there are Southeast Asians, who have never heard about Alvar Aalto, Marimekko, Fazer or the traditional sauna company Harvia. Each of these companies offer something that no one else can offer.

This year, Southeast Asians will hear and get to know all of these.

For the Asian university students, the business case competition will be an once in lifetime experience! During the competition they will definitely challenge themselves! They will get unique, real-life business problems to solve, they will learn how to work in a team while there is time pressure and they will learn to think in new ways with global perspective.

This experience they will remember for ever! The registration for the competition opens soon, so get ready!

WW: That is so exciting, I look forward to it! Finland celebrates its 100 years-old birthday this year. What is the one birthday wish you have for Finland?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Let’s raise a toast for Finland’s amazing future and for even better future of the design!

WW: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Finland should be recognised as a leading design nation. World class design knowledge is an increasingly crucial competitive factor in the global economy. Consumers prefer to buy brands with a strong design element and they are willing to pay a premium here.

Design gives a promise of a better customer experience. And that is what we all want for our customers, right?

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂 Feel free to check out the amazing Design Finland 100 Case Competition, like the Design Finland 100 Facebook Page, or follow Design Finland 100’s instagram @design_finland_100 .

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Her Excellency Paula Parviainen, the Finnish ambassador to Singapore.

Finnish People, Finnish Politics, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

(Feature Picture: Her Excellency Paula Parviainen with our Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong!)

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Her Excellency Paula Parviainen, the Finnish ambassador to Singapore.

An experienced diplomat with over 20 years of experience in the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Paula regards her posting to Singapore with fondness having first served here as the Deputy Head of Mission from 1996-2000. She has also served at the UN, in Paris and in Beijing in addition to serving as Press Attaché to the Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade. In September 2015, Paula became Finland’s 7th Ambassador to Singapore.

Singapore’s also Paula’s first ambassador posting, and everybody loves Paula!!~~

Enjoy the interview! ♡

WW: Hello Paula! Thank you for accepting our interview. Can you tell us more about yourself and what you do?

Paula: Boring as it may sound, I am a Finnish civil servant.

I have been a career diplomat at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs since 1995. I joined on the same day when Finland became a member of the European Union.

It was the beginning of a new Era for Finnish diplomacy.

Since then, I have held about ten different jobs in the Ministry, and some of them so different from the previous that it is almost like changing your profession.

From Middle East peace process in the United Nations to press attaché of your minister for foreign trade, and from Paris to Beijing…in very different cultures.

That is the fascinating aspect: you have to be humble and admit that you know very little at the beginning of a new posting.

And then on hindsight, you can see how much you have learned in just one year!

WW: What motivates you in becoming an ambassador?


Paula: I think that most career diplomats want to become ambassadors one day.

As an ambassador, you are nominated by your country’s President to represent him and the people in another country. It is an honour but also a huge responsibility.

I was very happy to become ambassador of Finland to Singapore. I started my diplomatic career here 20 years ago, and I still have many Singaporean friends from those times.

I feel that there is so much that we can do to strengthen the bilateral relations between our countries and increase trade, investments, student exchange and tourism.

WW: I really liked the point you said about tourism! So many Singaporeans are now travelling to Finland and the Nordic regions to see the Northern Lights. Having said that, what is the Number One misconception foreigners have about Finns/ Finland, and why do you think it is far from reality?

Paula: That it is so faaaar and so cooooold!


When you have a direct flight between Singapore and your destination, I tell you, it is not far.

‘Also, Finnish summers and even autumns are at their best very warm and pleasant. I have really learnt to appreciate the changing seasons – they are not only four, but twelve!

All months are different and the length of the day is the crucial factor.

And, in Finland, you never freeze indoors, like here with the artificial cooling of places like movie theatres – I bring my down jacket to the movies….

WW: Haha. On a more serious note, the Finnish economy has not been doing well since 2007. How do you think the Finnish welfare state can continue to take good care of citizens and residents in Finland?

Paula: We have to continue to be an inclusive society and support each individual to find his or her place in the society and use his  /her full potential.

Our welfare system has made people too passive in certain cases. Sometimes, the system does not always motivate one to work harder, since you get the basic income even if you don’t work.

We have to continue to educate our people, since a small country only has its brain power.

The welfare system should have more incentives to people to work in Finland and pay their taxes. If there are more beneficiaries than tax payers, then it just is not sustainable…

We have to continue on the path of lifelong learning to help even the older generation to keep up with the fast pace of digitalisation.

Also, we have to do a better job in integrating the foreigners coming to Finland.

WW: What are the three things you are most proud of as a Finnish citizen?


1) Our education system, which is still world class and leaves space for creative thinking. Increasingly, it is also encouraging entrepreneurship among young people – and still free for all.

2) The equality between women and men, and the role women play in our country–be it in politics, public or private sector, arts and family life.

Finnish women are pretty strong and independent and most men are used to it.

3) Our nature, and how we seem to appreciate it more and more.

A weekend in a Finnish summer cabin, with sauna, tree–hugging :), berry picking, fishing and doing basic, physical chores like taking care of the forest etc.

It is just priceless!

WW: How about the three things you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen? Do you think change is possible, and if so, how do you suggest change to be implemented?


  • The increase in protectionism and prejudice against anything foreign.

When times are economically harder, some are scared that there will not be enough for them, if they have to share with “outsiders”.

However, healthy competition is good.

  • The stubbornness of some Finns, who don’t understand that good old times are not coming back (and were they so good anyhow?).

More flexibility and forward looking attitude is needed.

  • Jealousy. I think a lot of these negatives are explained by our history and historic position first as part of Sweden, then as autonomy in the Russian empire.

The younger generation is born to a global and more open world. I believe that there will be a generational change taking place naturally.

WW: Against the context of globalisation, who do you think can and should define “Finnish-ness”?

Paula: Anyone who has lived or visited Finland can define “Finnish-ness” and all opinions are valued.

Maybe you can have an opinion of Finland by only meeting Finns abroad, or by hearing from those Singaporeans who have visited Finland.

There are no minimum criteria to who can define the term….

WW: What is the happiest moment of your life in Finland?


Paula: Becoming mother in Jorvi hospital, 26 years ago when my first son was born.

The second one was born two years later in Capetown, South Africa.

And that was a pretty amazing experience as well …

WW: Can you tell us the top 3 things/ traits you regard as “Finnish”, and why?


  • Finns are original, we don’t pretend to be something that we are not.

Even if it makes us a bit “juntti” or blue-eyed, I still think that by just being yourself you can conquer the world 😉

  • Sisu” is a definition that is hard to translate but is actually a very descriptive adjective of Finns, especially the older generation.

Finns are strong and united when times are tough.

We all admire our grandparents spirit in the time of Winter War and how they built Finland from an agrarian to industrialist country.

Increasing complacency however, is a risk to the future of a nation.

  • Global” is the adjective I would use to the younger generation.

For example, my two sons and their friends take it as very natural to travel the world to work and study in different countries – this is a big change already when comparing with my generation…

WW: You’re so loved by so many Finns and Singaporeans! What do you think are the top three differences between Finland and Singapore, in your view? Can these differences be viewed as strengths?

Paula: Haha 😉 I don’t know who you are referring to?


Finland and Singapore are similar in many ways. Be it the size of the population, open economies, countries in gateway position to a wider region – EU and ASEAN.

Actually it is easier to find similarities than differences. Of course, the climate is different, but we are both affected by climate change.

The tax system is very different!

Finland is more homogenous. Singapore is a cultural melting pot which makes it interesting for culture, food etc.

But on the other hand, Finland has also been part of Sweden and Russia, and has taken influence from both eastern and western cultures…

Finns are probably more creative, we had to find solutions to our problems by ourselves.

But we are not so good in doing business and selling our innovative creations in international markets – this is really where we could work more with the business-minded and well-connected Singaporeans.

WW: If a friend visits Helsinki, where are the top three places/ hidden gems you would recommend him/her to visit, and why?

Paula: If I were personally hosting these friends, I would invite them to sauna on our island, 100 kms from Helsinki. But beware, there is only a dry toilet.

Helsinki has made the sauna culture available to even tourists and this is something I would recommend. Sauna Hermanni is an old fashioned, “Aki Kaurismäki” movie styled sauna, then there are the new Löyly, Culture sauna and Allas…  definitely worth trying.

If they are visiting in winter, I’d recommend that they also try the ice swimming!

Helsinki has an incredible street culture, available to all.

Inventions such as Restaurant day, Cleaning day, open air dance parties, dinner under the Finnish sky etc are all started in Finland and many of such inventions have now spread overseas.

In November, the only reason to come to Finland, if you are a “techy” or an investor, is during SLUSH. SLUSH is the major ground–up start-up event in Europe.


The first SLUSH Singapore was a success in September, and next year it will be bigger!

In late summer, take a hike in one of our natural forests or national parks and with the help of your local guide, experience the berry picking and mushroom picking.

You can enjoy the everyman’s right, that is,  you don’t have to own the forest to be able to collect your food from there…

During summer months, Finland is full of cultural festivals that are really world-class.

And of course, the Aurora Borealis – northern lights are something not to be missed. Now they are abundant, because there is so much of solar activity.

WW: What is the one advice you have for aspiring young Finns who want to become a Finnish ambassador like yourself?

Paula: Go for it!  The most interesting job I could imagine…

But beware– it is not just a job, it is a lifestyle!

And not always easy to combine with traditional family life…

WW: What is the one wish you would have for current and future Finland-Singapore bilateral relations?

Paula: That there would be more business, investments, tourism and student exchange between our two countries.

That there would be more awareness of one another.

There is so much potential for us to do more. We are complementing each other in many ways.

If we knew each other better, we could create more business together.

WW: We hear that there are so, so many exciting things lined up for the Finland 100 programme in Singapore! Can you tell us some of the events we can look forward to?

Paula: The calendar of all events is still in the making, but the main themes where we want to build bridges between Finland and Singapore are:

  • In education, especially early childhood and lifelong learning;
  • In healthcare, elderly care and wellbeing;
  • In innovations and start-ups, so SLUSH will be even bigger next year; and
  • In design.

We are working on partnerships with our local Singaporean friends to do a lot together.

We want to bring Finnish culture, such as music, cinema, design and fashion to Singapore and continue our meetings with the young people.

Many of them have already said that they want to participate in volunteering in our events!

WW: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?

Paula: It is great that we know our history, there is nothing to be ashamed of. But we can not live in history.

Just like Singapore, we have to take bold steps to look into the next 50 or 100 years and be  brave to make decisions that are needed for us to succeed.

It is of course harder in a multi-party democracy with strong opposition, but we should not be too idealistic when we talk about the economy.

I am proud of the values that Finland is based on.

We should be still more international and open and bear also our global responsibility while investing in the educational excellence in our schools and universities.

We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Her Excellency Paula Parviainen!

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme.This series  “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Photographs courtesy of Paula.🙂 Feel free to follow Paula on twitter @paulaparviainen. ♡

Oh yes and please like The Finnish Embassy in Singapore facebook page and also Finngapore too! ♡

About our Suomi 100 Book.

Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

Have you ever wondered exactly how to preserve a glimpse of beauty in Finland 2016/2017?

Such that a glimpse of this beauty, authenticity and vulnerability:

  • becomes a legacy to be passed on from generation to generation;
  • can be presented as a sincere gift to a foreign friend who wants to understand and know Finnish culture better;
  • is revisited as and when necessary to warm hearts in cold winters.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Finnish life in 2016/2017 is preserved in a physical, tangible form?

Wouldn’t it be nice if…you can go back to these heartfelt interviews ten years later to see how the interviewees have changed?

-“Ah, so ten years on, this Carol Chen is now retired and travelling the world.

-“Ah, so ten years on, there are many immigrant-background leaders who, inspired by Husu, are helping the immigrant community do even greater works in Finland.”

-“Ah, so ten years on, this Emma lady is now back in Finland with kids.”

Wouldn’t you want this book? I know I would want it. 

So, there you have it.

We’re going to print our official “What is Finnish-ness” series into beautiful books.

It’s designed to last forever.


The Hieno! Suomi 100 series is part of the official programme endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office in Finland. This series revolves around the theme of “What is Finnish-ness?”, and we interview 35 people from various backgrounds who love Finland.

80% of our interviewees are nominated by the community. We are already two months into the project, and 12/35 through in terms of completed long-form interviews and anecdotes.

A couple of weeks ago, I bounced the idea of printing this series into beautiful books off Michaela, one of the best designers based in Helsinki. Mimi then got really excited and then told me about a similar concept done by The Great Discontent.

TGD’s print format looks like this:


SO stunning! 😀

Imagine various long-form interviews, quotes, and anecdotes printed in classy hardcover, on beautiful Finnish paper and elegantly designed/ spaced.

Imagine catching a whiff of the sweet, crisp scent of Finnish forests from the printed papers of the book.

Imagine YOU contributing a part to the history of the Finnish nation.

Imagine this Suomi 100 book designed and preserved to last forever.

Can you imagine our book together?

Yeah, we’re going to do the book. I don’t know how but we will get it.

And we’re going to do it together.