Ambassador's blog: Boundary-breaking boost for economies of developing countries and Finland

The Slush growth company event once again brought flashes of light to the November gloom for its 15,000 participants. Around 50 startups and techno-hub representatives from developing countries also participated, with the support of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. For example, I met Ruth from Tanzania whose startup has created an innovative water filtration system based on nanotechnology. The Slush spirit is just what we now need: instead of wringing our hands about our problems, we need to find innovative products and services which customers want to buy now or in the future.

Ruth Elineema (left), Sinikka Antila and Rose Funja met at Slush.

The Slush buzz comes to the rescue

It's great to see Slush's innovative buzz catching on among firms looking to grow in developing markets, and among development workers. Finnish companies have become more interested in distant markets in Africa and Asia as economic growth has stagnated in Europe. Startups are the most open-minded of such companies – for example, they view Africa's fast-growing mobile phone markets as attractive laboratories for testing new technologies. Developing markets have strong economic growth, fast-developing infrastructure and a growing middle class which is consuming more and more.

Jobs created by developing the private sector

The new focus areas of development policy are shifting faster towards private sector development and job creation. The Finnish private sector wants to be strongly involved in this. Ideally, Finnish and developing country firms will form partnerships which lead to products and services based on the R&D resulting from joint planning. This will also lead to new business partnerships.

Into developing markets via new kinds of partnerships

It has been fascinating to watch how new modes of cooperation have appeared among NGOs and companies that have traditionally been strangers to one another. NGOs' knowledge of local conditions and expertise can be crucial to companies e.g. when operating in highly challenging conditions.

There are now more refugees or people fleeing their homes in the world than at any time since the Second World War. The war in Syria is one of the most extreme causes of this crisis. These people need housing, power and clean water, as well as education and health services. Companies offering these may find it easier to engage in cooperation with NGOs already involved in working with refugees, due to the local knowledge and networking of the latter. A good example of this is the Syrian Resilience Development Forum held in Amman. Finn Church Aid organised a 'Finland' stand for the related Innovation Fair and was joined by two startups offering mobile services, Funzi and Fuzu, as well as RK-Housing which provides innovative housing solutions. We now need more of this kind of cross fertilisation!

Economic growth and trade based on innovation and breaking down boundaries

Collaboration of this kind is incentivised by support instruments directed at companies engaged in development cooperation. Finnpartnership supports the creation of business partnerships between companies from Finland and developing countries. It can also provide support for business analyses, pilots and training, as well as cooperation with NGOs. The BEAM programme by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Tekes supports innovation-focused research and business activities between companies, research organisations and NGOs from developing countries and Finland. Finnfund supports private investment in developing countries. In addition, a new instrument is under development in support of public sector investment in such countries. Other development work and support from NGOs fosters broad-based growth in developing countries and the development of the business environment.

Team Finland supports businesses

The Team Finland service model also supports companies seeking to break into developing markets. This service model includes instruments in support of development work, providing interested parties with information on the related possibilities. A marketing mentality and the courage to go out and sell your own products are needed in addition to support. Hopefully, the long-developed growth programme for developing countries will also be made available to Team Finland.

Support is therefore available for innovative initiatives and the arsenal of funding instruments is under continuous development, according to need. I would advise firms interested in market entry in developing countries to make full use of these options. Let's build new types of partnership, break down boundaries and emerge from our silos! This is how we can help developing countries to fulfil their own potential while boosting our own economy.

I hope that Ruth found the kinds of partners from Slush with which she can continue the product development of her water filtration system and the production of new solutions to ease everyday lives.

Ambassador Sinikka Antila
Trade and Development
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland


Sanna Nuutila