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Sari Baldauf: Seeking the sources of vitality

What will support and conversely prevent Finland from becoming an agile ‘little giant’ that is part of a Europe and a world of radical changes? We hope to have a wide-ranging debate on these themes during the new process started by Sitra called the Wellsprings of Finnish Vitality.


We started planning this development programme under the theme Sources of Finland’s well-being after the crisis. However, the title triggered a lively debate in our working group on the crisis, its consequences and on well-being. First of all, is it justified to create the impression of a passing crisis? Or, is the world and Finland changing in a profound way from the combined effect of several processes that are under way? Would we be better off preparing for a world in which both larger and smaller crises are solved on a continuous basis while rapidly exploiting opportunities by creating new operating models?

Secondly, is the concept of well-being too static and passive – rather like that of acquired benefit? Does it evoke the idea of maintaining the conditions for dynamic growth in changing circumstances? Does the debate on well-being lead too quickly to a debate about disseminating results instead of considering what Finland will live on in the future?

For these reasons, we ended up using the title Sources of vitality for Finland. This is not a question of gimmicks but of important content in terms of environmental assumptions, priorities, scope, dynamics and even the concept of time. In our thinking, vitality specifically means energy and ideas and harnessing them will create well-being and economic growth and competitiveness based on continuous innovation, while keeping in mind the demands for sustainable development.

Vitality is a broad concept. It covers the virility of every living thing, including, therefore, the natural world and different communities, in other words, the ability to create added value and to regenerate. For vitality to flow, it needs both material and intellectual sustenance. Flexibility and diversity are important elements in vitality. It is worrying that in the latest research of significance, it has been observed that Finns have become much less willing to take risks and more opposed to change. How could a more relaxed approach creating energy and exuberance be engendered in the Finnish way of working that shuns change and is often unnecessarily sombre? Likewise, an approach with a strong can-do spirit?

Maintaining and developing vitality in a world of major changes will require close interaction with other actors and the environment – in other words a networked and inclusive way of operating instead of the closed, hierarchical and disconnected model. In order to gain in strength, vitality needs a diversity of encounters, constructive tension and impulses from various different sources. Because of the strong interactive approach, an individual’s – or unit’s – vitality, or lack thereof, impacts on the performance of the entire network. For that reason, consideration should be given to the actions not only from the perspective of the national economy but also that of empowering individual people.

Finally, I would like to challenge people to consider what kind of philosophy – or operating system – will be needed in the future for maintaining Finland’s vitality and growth dynamic. Should the existing institutions, sectors, structures, division of labour and operating models be the starting point? Or, should the starting point be people, evolving needs and enabling operations that produce added value? Network platforms that enable extensive, dynamic and innovative participation or a disconnected way of operating that is based on maintaining interests and often on history?

What will support and conversely prevent Finland from becoming an agile ‘little giant’ that is part of a Europe and a world of radical changes? We hope to have a wide-ranging debate on these themes during this process. Our motto is: learn from the past, don’t repeat it!”