The 9th Barents Reunion brought people from around the Barents region to Haparanda-Tornio on the 24th and 25th of May 2016 to exchange ideas and to get inspired by the opportunities the Barents region offers.
The Barents Reunion was a well-organized event full of inspiring speeches with simultaneous interpretation – and totally free of charge. Still, the lack of young people among the participants was noticeable. Despite this the programme offered interesting viewpoints from young innovative speakers, especially from the perspective of entrepreneurs
Esko Aho opened the event by looking at the history of the regional cooperation. The former Prime Minister of Finland and a man with a business and academic background said that we must be innovative and have the courage to jump into the unknown.
“The Nordic way of thinking is that you need to keep on track to succeed. That is a totally wrong way to think. Holding on to old practices will only lead to new conflicts”, Aho said.
He emphasized that we need to be able to adapt our thinking and doing by considering the operational environment.
“The key question is what happens when the operational environment, the context changes. Are we able to change our concept, including our business idea and strategy?”
Aho believes that the opportunities can be found in digitalization:
“The digital revolution will change everything but we are not there yet. Today it is still about entertainment but we don’t know what it can bring to the other sectors during the next 50 years. We need to be able to change our ways of doing things and be part in digitalization. Otherwise we will lose the game.”
Pirjo Suhonen, the founder of Ivana Helsinki, questioned the Finnish working culture which loves committees and working groups. She said that in order to create success stories we must act, not ensure, and learn to share responsibility. She encouraged people to get out from the comfort zone and find ways to adapt their expertise to something totally different.
“Do you want to learn about other people and get to know how they spend their money? Buy a magazine that you wouldn’t otherwise buy and ask whether I could offer something to those people.”
How to attract young people?
In his opening speech, Esko Aho pointed out that the world is changing toward the era of entrepreneurship and this is what the Barents region need to consider. He stated that youth should have all the support to found their own companies.
What then could be the best way to attract young people to live in Barents and found startups? In the entrepreneur panel discussion Jonas Kjellber, one of the creators of Skype, recommended that all young people should go and live abroad to see the opportunities. Anja Guttorm Graven, the CEO at Graveniid, continued:
“You will get perspective when living abroad. But the problem is how to get the young to return. We need to make the opportunities more visible and tell what is already going on.”
When long distances and the marketplace are challenging, the right kind of support is even more important.
“Even if you have a business idea, it may be hard to get capital in the North”, noted Kristian Aslaksen, the CEO of Kaupang.
“Staying is not reasonable if the support is somewhere else. You need to have concrete help around you”, Pirjo Suhonen observed.
Text: Johanna Westerlund
Photos: Barents Reunion