Singapore and Finland have a lot in common. They are equal in size, both advanced in innovation and technology, and individually recognized worldwide for their education systems. However, there are also cultural differences between the two countries, which is why the Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori sees great potential in becoming strategic partners: “We are similar enough and yet different enough. That is a good combination,” the mayor told ScandAsia in Singapore, pointing out that it makes a good basis for learning from each other and hence working together.
The goal with coming to Singapore for the anniversary of Finland’s 100 years of independence was to strengthen business and economic collaboration between the two countries.
“We are living in a world, where digitalization is changing the world more rapidly than any one of us can understand today. Therefore, we need strong partnerships in order to make success stories. So it is also a question of innovating future solutions – maybe for the whole world and trying to do it together.”
Though technology is advanced nowadays, coming to Singapore and giving people and companies a chance to meet and listen to each other’s presentations is what creates results.
“This is still a world of people. Even though technology is solving a bigger and bigger part of our challenges, there are still people behind them,” Vapaavuori said, pointing out that when people get to know each other the chances of cooperation will increase.
Similar countries – similar challenges
Similar countries like Singapore and Finland are also facing comparable challenges. According to the mayor, the biggest challenge is now to keep moving forward after reaching the top, having climbed up the latter the previous 50 years: “It is easier to start from a lower point and reach the higher level, where someone has already been. You can do much by copying what other countries have already done, but if you want to be among the leading countries also in the future, the same concept is not valid anymore. Now we have to create something that no one has ever done before, lead the other countries, and not just be clever followers.”
Therefore, Jan Vapaavuori thinks that now there is a higher need for being more creative and brave, which is done best through collaboration.
Another challenge is the matter of digitalization, which not only concerns Singapore and Finland, but the whole world. It will change everything more or less and quite rapidly. It does not only come down to technical solutions, but also the way we are thinking. We only know this speaking generally, but not what it will mean practically, according to the mayor. Additionally, the complications of digitalization increase the risk that some groups will not be able to adapt, for instance the elderly.
“It is not enough to create clever solutions; you also need to create solutions that are easy to use and easy to understand.” Furthermore, the need to rethink jobs is a challenge due to the efficiency of digitalization.
Finally, climate change is a worldwide challenge: “Who are going to really invent the solutions that are most effective in the fight of climate change?” the mayor asked “That’s a question for the whole population.”
Smooth changes rather than revolutions
To move forward and meet challenges, it is often smartest to give the two best pupils a chance to talk together, according to Vapaavuori. Singapore and Finland are the leading countries when it comes to education, yet the systems are quite different. The Singaporean is more efficient, whereas the Finnish gives more room for creativity. This is an area where the mayor sees great opportunity in learning from one another. However, education systems are very much cultural-based, and so the amount of changes that should be made altogether is probably limited: “The point is to take elements from another culture and smooth it into your own system. Drastic changes would not work.”
When asked what effects the increase in collaboration with Singapore will have on the Finnish culture and people, the mayor was very blunt: “I don’t know,” he stated, “but that is why you really need to be clever and understand that with issues like these you should not aim to revolutionize changes but to smooth changes.”
Furthermore, it is not possible for one country to teach another country how to incorporate the changes into their educational system; it is only possible to give inputs and ideas, and then it’s up to the individual country to look at which elements could lift up their system and in what way, he explained. “And that kind of cooperation is much easier when you are of similar size and advancement.”