As an unusual arrival procedure Finland’s new Ambassador to Thailand, Mr Jyri Järviaho, along with his wife Elina Multanen, began their new life as ambassador couple with a two weeks’ Bangkok riverside stay at a five-star hotel. This was of course due to the ongoing quarantine rules for arrivals from abroad. Meanwhile, their adult son with own family remains in Helsinki.
Since then they have also taken short trips to some of Thailand’s most well-known holiday destinations; Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Phuket and Samui – while other excursions they hope to do also in the region must wait for the right conditions when travel can resume.
More recently (on 19 April) H.E. Mr. Jyri Järviaho also made the short trip to Dusit Palace to present to His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua the Letter of Credence, enabling him to fully operate as Finland’s Ambassador.
Jyri Järviaho describes the places visited as wonderful and highlights the Chiang Mai visit, which included a joint Nordic component together with the other ambassadors from that region.
“One day was for the common Nordic events and another dedicated to bilateral issues with our commercial team from the embassy and three Finnish companies.”
His first impression of the host country: “It’s a wonderful and colourful country where many things are happening at the same time. You have these holiday destinations to which many Finns love to come, so in many ways a very interesting place to be. The connections between people are close. Many Finns have some experience of Thailand; they’ve been to Thailand, or know people that spend time in Thailand, or know Thai people living in Finland. They have touched Thailand one way or the other.”
Being also the Ambassador to Cambodia he is very much looking forward to visiting Phnom Penh, once the Covid-19 situation allows travel.
According to Jyri, Finland has a newly established Honorary Consulate in Phnom Penh, with Mr Timo Järvinen, as the Honorary Consul.
Bangkok is Jyri’s first ambassador position: “It is a great honour and privilege to be a Finnish Ambassador in Thailand and representative of one’s country in this way; a highlight of any diplomatic career. I have been so excited about this possibility. Of course it’s at the same time a big responsibility.”
He describes himself as a generalist, having done various tasks such as political issues, commercial, some development issues and also human resources.
“I believe I’m outgoing but I’m also interested in substance and various issues at the same time, so I like to dig into things as well. Having said that I’m always keen on meeting new people and learning, which is so good in this profession, where you always see new people.”
The background to the appointment is that the ambassador has been employed by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) since 1999, and held various positions within the ministry including stints abroad.
He has also studied abroad during two years; first in Newcastle for European studies in political science, and then international relations and security policy in Denver. Prior to that, ambassador Jyri studied in the Finnish town of Joensuu at the University of Eastern Finland, where he took a degree in economics.
“I did not plan to apply to the MFA when I was studying. But I was always interested in society and how it functions, global issues and so on. I worked two years at the EBRD, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and I did an internship at the MFA for about a year, prior to joining the ministry.”
Previous Asian connection is that that Jyri served in the Asia unit in 2005 and 2008, covering commercial issues for China but also for Malaysia and Singapore as country desk. “I travelled to China with business delegations and also visited Malaysia and Singapore.”
Malaysia he has also visited privately before.
Directly before Bangkok Jyri was Deputy Director General of Human Resources in Helsinki and before that Director in the Human Resources Unit for 4.5 years. “I was head of the HR and personal planning unit, dealing with who goes where and also being responsible for recruiting new diplomats and administrative staff for the ministry. That was a very interesting job – but of course not always thankful as some people may get disappointed – to meet people and understand their wishes and hopes and try to give them some view how the ministry sees their work and how they could see their career moving within MFA.”
He has previously also served in the Finnish embassies in Riga and Belgrade as deputy to the Ambassador and was also posted to the Finnish Permanent Mission in Geneva.
“The position in Geneva concerned arms control and disarmament issues – also that a very interesting area where you can follow big power politics and see how they operate in the international scene.”
“Belgrade is our embassy from former Yugoslavia and from the Balkan countries Belgrade is quite an important city to be in if you wanted to understand Balkan politics. And we have some business interests there. During the time I went there, in year 2000-2003, was just after the Kosovo crisis, so there were lots of issues relating to Kosovo, the Nato bombings etc. Then the democratic processes started in Serbia and we started all kinds of cooperation and development projects in Serbia, Montenegro and also in Kosovo,” comments Jyri.
Serving in Riga was during the time when Latvia joined the EU, with lots of issues relating to the Latvian integration into the EU. “Of course Latvia is much closer to Finland so there are lots of business interests as well and tourists in both directions.”
Travel and tourism between Finland and Thailand are under normal circumstances also strong, with about 10 000 Thais living in Finland.
“There’s a strong connection between the two countries. In 2019 we had 140 000 Finnish tourists visiting Thailand. Many come during their holiday but there are also retirees who come for multiple months over the winter period.”
“Commercially I think there is a lot of potential to grow and that’s why we have expanded the embassy’s commercial services. The new Commercial Counsellor – a new position – Mr Kai Tuorila started his duties in May and new Coordinator for labour and student exchanges Ms Gitta Hägg-Lundvall in February.”
“Ms Hägg-Lundvall is working as our coordinator on the so called ‘Talent Boost’ area, looking into student exchanges, links between universities and schools, labour movements and recruitment of international workers for our companies including seasonal work.”
In fact, this is a Finnish programme and network that helps companies to find and recruit the international talents they need. It organises networking events, recruitment campaigns and funding for the recruitment of international talents. More than 3,000 international students graduate from Finnish universities every year. They have a global vision, experience and networks that are valuable for companies operating in Finland.
Companies with a wide range of international expertise are more likely to succeed in the international market. Innovative start-up companies founded by foreigners are also welcome to grow their businesses in Finland.
“It’s our government policy that to be competitive in the future we will need an international workforce and skilled people to work in our companies,” says the ambassador.
“As for Finnish export this is important but in many ways commerce is a two-way street; sometimes you need to import things, in order to export. Participating in global value chains accessing various markets and building local connections are vital. From our perspective I think it’s good to work closer in both directions for enhanced business relations – and investments – between the countries. The more we have of those the better it is!”
Circular economy (CE) and education are currently the main sectors for the Embassy of Finland in Bangkok. A MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) on CE between the Ministry of Industry, Thailand and the Ministry of Employment & the Economy in Finland is in the works.
”There are several issues to can work on within circular economy, including recycling waste, waste-to-energy etc. CE is also linked to a wider, cross-cutting theme of sustainable development.”
Another bilateral MoU is also being prepared within education. “We are looking into different ways of supporting Thailand in the education sector. At the moment there’s a pilot project on online teacher education training where three Finnish universities created online training materials for Thai teachers. After collecting feedback from the pilot we can hopefully expand the project in Thailand.”
A recent new business initiative is HEI Schools Bangkok, as Finnish International Kindergarten for students aged 1.5 to 6 years that will open in September 2021. The pedagogy and curriculum are designed based on the latest research in early childhood education from co-founding partner, the University of Helsinki, aiming to enhance a child’s active participation, curiosity and creativity through play and exploration.
Smart cities and smart health are other sectors not forgotten. We have some regional initiatives in these sectors that hopefully will materialise later this year. We are eagerly waiting for travel restrictions to ease, so that physical visits of Finnish business delegations to Thailand would be possible. At the same time we know that there is a backlog in travel, and “a rush in various directions” once travel restrictions are gone.
Commenting also on Finland’s start-up scene Jyri says: “Of course there are good experiences, with the Slush events and the Finnish start up scene is vibrant and actively expanding. Finnish start up event Arctic15 has plans to expand its operations into Thailand. I think there are various exciting opportunities in Thailand and Southeast-Asia for partnerships, financing, market entry etc. Thai universities and science parks are also active in innovation and start-ups. An important aspect is also to learn from each other, in science, innovation and start up cooperation. We Finns have also much to learn from Thai counterparts, and about Asian consumers and markets. I think we all stand to gain from this kind of cooperation.”
“In all these sectors we are working closely with our Thai counterparts in accordance with Thailand’s 4.0 and EEC plans, as well as Bio-, Circular- and Green Economy plans.“
The ambassador’s last thought looks to the future, in the wake of Covid-19: “I would like to mention that we in Finland, as Europe in general, favour the idea that hopefully there comes some economic recovery after the virus. But the focus should now be more on the green economy overall; to change our societies and economies more towards a sustainable development path with more circular economy and careful consideration of many issues and business practices – the whole cycle of things. We cannot afford to use the resources of the planet as we have done so far. This is important and this could be a turning point.”