Heidi Virta
Senior Director, Head of Region Latin America
Business Finland
Expert Contributor

Long-Term Vision Helps to Get Through COVID Times

By Heidi-Marian Virta | Thu, 03/04/2021 - 13:23

Last March, when we started working remotely, not many of us guessed that almost a year later we would still continue from home. Video conferences, webinars, instant messaging and social media channels have become vital in exchanging ideas and building trust when there are very few or almost no face-to-face meetings. This is not the first time the world has faced a pandemic but globalization, accessible travel and constant information flow make this situation new, unfortunately with very severe consequences.

If the world becoming smaller has driven us to where we are now, it has also been a great help. Some time ago, I read a report on commercial relations between Mexico and Finland from the year 1977. Back then, Mexico exported to Finland mainly tobacco, coffee and cotton. Finland, in turn, was recognized for its location as one of the most northern countries in the world, its richness in forests and impressive number of lakes (yes – we are a country of thousands of lakes). Consequently, forestry products, paper, cardboard and pulp were almost the only goods imported to Mexico from Finland.

Nowadays, improved transport connections, communication channels and trade policies have made it much easier to reach each other, which has diminished the geographic and psychological distance. In 2019, Mexico was Finland’s biggest export destination of goods in Latin America. Traded products included vehicles, electrical and medical equipment and drinks from Mexico, and various kinds of machinery and equipment from Finland, in addition to paper and cardboard that still are a stronghold of Finnish exports.

Many Finnish companies have understood Mexico’s potential as a global manufacturing hub with a strategic location between the north and the south, skillful workforce and a huge domestic market. Some examples of Finnish companies established here, forerunners in their field, are Vaisala (weather, environmental and industrial measurement products and services), Huhtamaki (innovative food packaging), ABLOY (security and access management), MIRKA (surface finishing technologies), ViskoTeepak (casings to the food industry), KONE (elevators and escalators), Cargotec (cargo and load handling solutions), and NOKIA (critical networks and technologies), to name a few. Outokumpu, a global leader in stainless steel, was mentioned already in the 1977 report, and it continues its strong presence in Mexico today.

Knowing where we come from and where we are now, it is time to gaze into the future. Business Finland is a Finnish governmental agency that promotes trade and funds innovation, especially focusing on new sustainable solutions. Examples of key sectors where Finnish companies, research organizations and universities constantly innovate are: 

  • Bio and Circular Economy – The expertise and long experience in forestry forms a basis for new bio-based solutions and technologies. The ideology of “what was once made of oil can be made of wood in the future” has motivated the development of bio-based products for plastic replacement, textiles and biofuels as well as new mechanical, chemical and biological recycling schemes. Examples of these are processing recycled textiles into reusable fiber, using mine tailings as raw material for ceramic materials and liquefying plastic waste into material that can replace virgin fossil resources.
  • ICT and Digitalization – In 2020, Finland was ranked No. 1 in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which tracks the evolution of EU states in digital competitiveness. Finland develops new solutions and services based on emerging technologies, which help both the public sector and industries to improve their efficiency and performance and to stay safe in the digital world.
  • Clean technology – As a country with a strong relationship to nature (forests and lakes were already mentioned), the development of clean technologies that save energy, decrease emissions and help to protect the environment is a priority in sectors such as mining, manufacturing and energy. 
  • Health and well-being – The well-being of society and its people is at the core of Finnish values and a motivation for innovation, especially making use of the digital transformation and new opportunities enabled by 5G in healthcare.
  • The basis of all this is the comprehensive education system that Finland is known for, whose best practices and tools Finnish education companies share on a global level. 

These are some of the themes where Business Finland works together with the Finnish Embassy to boost collaboration between our countries, continuing the journey from 1977. During times like these that we are going through due to COVID-19, it is important to keep an eye on the horizon and not to forget the long-term vision.

To finish, I would like to quote former Finland President Mauno Koivisto (term of office 1982-1994), whose words I find very comforting in the middle of uncertainty: “If we do not know how things will go, let us assume that they will go well.”

Stay home, stay safe, and stay in touch! Kiitos ja ollaan yhteyksissä!

Business Finland is the Finnish government organization for investment promotion, innovation funding and connecting Finnish companies to international markets. Business Finland is present in Latin America in Brazil, Peru, Chile and Mexico.

Photo by:   Heidi Virta