Aalto University: Towards the next generation of social innovations – Northern Dimension Future Forum 2021

The Forum was organized by the Northern Dimension Institute, an international university network, which is coordinated in Finnish-Russian cooperation by the Center for Markets in Transition (CEMAT) at the Aalto University School of Business, together with the Northern Arctic Federal University (Arkhangelsk) and University of Economics (St. Petersburg).

Prof. Riitta Kosonen opening the Forum.
The Forum was a continuation of the previous Future Forum in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague societies worldwide calling for a need to develop solutions to various socio-economic challenges. The Future Forum offered a forward-looking, multidisciplinary and solution-oriented approach to help understand the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Forum, the Northern Dimension partners, i.e. the European Union/EEAS, the Russian Federation, Norway and Iceland brought their official greetings emphasizing the importance of the topic. The Forum was opened by Professor Riitta Kosonen, Lead coordinator of the Northern Dimension Institute. The forum consisted of international expert presentations and a panel discussion that focused on Finnish experiences.

Marina Kalinina, Vice-president for interregional cooperation Northern Arctic Federal University, Russia
The role of international and Northern Dimension cooperation in tackling the crisis
The Forum underlined the importance of international cooperation in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, reminding that national measures will produce more sustainable results when combined with multilateral rules. The experts stressed the need for better international coordination of national healthcare systems to, for example, recognize vaccinations given in other countries. Furthermore, international cooperation is an important channel for sharing best practices in combatting the crisis.

“The silver lining in the corona cloud” – innovations and lessons learned
The forum reminded that despite the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various societal fields, the crisis has also positive outcomes. These include a digital and technological leap in sectors such as healthcare, where the pandemic triggered the much-needed digital revolution that will in the long term decrease costs. The crisis also highlighted the importance of trust and co-operation in designing social innovations and practices in different sectors such as research, workplaces or voluntary work.

The pandemic has also challenged the traditional ways of thinking and doing things. One example is rethinking the role of culture in society from being an object to be supported and protected, but also an accelerator of sustainable development. Paradoxically, culture has suffered from the pandemic, but has also potential to alleviate negative consequences of the crisis such as loneliness and inequality.

Also, the “forced digitalization” such as the shift to remote work or studying has revealed that digitalization should be understood more broadly than just as technological tools and solutions. It also calls for reworking processes and workplace infrastructure. It has also become clear that digitalization is not an “either-or” alternative to traditional ways of organizing and providing services. Flexibility is needed to give the users of digital healthcare services, students and employees the option to choose the face-to-face option to avoid polarization.

At the policy level, the pandemic has improved the understanding of regulation and policy measures that are needed under conditions of crisis. The forum underlined the importance of clear rules and regulations and their effective communication to actors such as event organizers or employers. The epidemic also showed that the impact of governmental support to businesses is dependent on the right timing and understanding of the specific needs of different industries.

Northern Dimension Future Forum 21 Panel discussion
Towards the next generation of social innovations
To conclude, the forum stated that in the future, everything relies on the youth – the thinking, values, and the mental toolbox that they have when they take the lead. The COVID-19 epidemic has largely shaped the mindset and thinking of the current youth. This entails that the youth – having seen the current turmoil and the digital services developed to combat it, should have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of various adaptation strategies. We are therefore very much looking forward to the next generation solutions that will be able to mitigate not only crises but also ensure equal availability of services and thereby avoid polarization in societies.

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