Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE – Key Takeaways

Our sister project HEI LIFE is reaching its final stage in the end of 2022. Their aims include also  creating processes and support services for integrating international talents at Finnish higher education institutions with the Finnish Innovation Infrastructure. Part of their mission was reach out for the international NGOs and pilot cooperation mechanism to support employement and industry cooperation.

Lucia Vuillermin, Vice-chair of International Working Women of Finland and Kristaps Kovaļonoks, Planning Assistant (International Partnerships & Research Assessment) at University of Turku, are highlighting in this blog the various concrete steps for both the HEIs and international academics and staff on creating further opportunities together.

The Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE project was a collaboration that took place in spring 2022 between International Working Women of Finland (IWWOF), Turku Science Park (Talent Turku project), and the University of Turku.

A program called Empower Wednesday was developed in 2020 by the International Working Women of Finland association. Since then, the Empower Wednesday series has progressed, gained more visibility, gathered a lot of positive feedback, and constantly attracted international experts. This is also visible in numbers: since its launch in 2020, the program has run 3 series of events with over 1800 participants, 48 speakers, and 13 companies. The goal of Empower Wednesday is to support international talents in their integration process and to provide them with key information that will help them find their path to working life in Finland.

The Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE webinar series was produced as part of the HEI LIFE project and is aimed at supporting integration and switch of careers among international experts residing in Finland. The HEI LIFE project intends to build national models for Finnish higher education institutions to support the integration of international academics, staff, and their families.

The following topics were covered during three online events:

  1. Networking: From academia to business & From business to academia (the event was followed by a digital networking session provided by the DigiMesh project),
  2. How to sell a research project to a company,
  3. Recognizing and utilizing your academic skills if entering work-life in business.

A further webinar was created in cooperation with Empower Wednesday and the University of Helsinki to support the target group of international spouses of the academic staff. The topic covered was “Hidden jobs in the Finnish market”.

In all the Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE events participants had the opportunity to listen to inspiring speakers, virtually network, and exchange thoughts about integration in Finland. Each session contributed to educate, add value, and provoke thoughts.

International Working Women of Finland has identified seven key takeaways from the project that may guide future NGO collaboration and activities, including the integration and retention of international talent in Finland. These findings are as follows:

  1. Step into the shoes of your audience

The importance of knowing your audience really can’t be stressed enough. While there are many international talent programs and support services that aim to target immigrants, a large fraction of these programs tends to be unsuccessful in their efforts. One of the key reasons Empower Wednesday is successful is that it is entirely run by immigrants for immigrants, therefore the program goals are aligned with the interests of international talents. Shaping future programs brings us to the question – “How can you know the answer if you don’t know the right question?”

  • Taking collaboration to the next level

The integration of highly educated international talent in Finland is in the best interest of the government, the private sector, and the non-profit sector. The effort to increase collaboration between the three sectors must be stressed for supporting the integration of talents. Here is an example of how strategic partnership collaborations can strengthen this mutual goal: Involving the non-profit sector would provide excellent insight into the target audience’s needs, and the non-profits would benefit from funding that would otherwise be challenging for them to secure on their own. NGOs require financial support from donors in order to be effective and have a long-lasting impact.

  • Highly skilled does not mean easy to integrate

It is a widely held belief in Finland that highly educated immigrants do not require support in their integration path. Our data from the Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE collaboration proves otherwise. With a total of 118 participants joining from all over Finland, we were able to confirm what we already knew: International academics, staff, and their families need support and cannot be neglected because doing so may lead to them leaving the country. Furthermore, the loss of their knowledge and skills is a significant loss for Finland, a country already suffering from ageing population and labour shortage.

  • The power to inspire: the impact of an inspirational speaker

Behind every successful event, there is a dedicated speaker with the power to inspire others. A good speaker may use many qualities to liven up the webinar, from gripping storytelling skills to transforming the speech into a two-way interaction. And the result is a very memorable event experience. The speakers of Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE webinars were relatable individuals with a problem-solving attitude and shared their own struggles that many in the audience could relate to, along with possible solutions to overcome these struggles. Our events were much more than just attending a webinar, they transformed into interactive and engaging sessions where people could learn from one another, connect online, and find the support they need through other experienced individuals.

  • Live events are better but online ones are more inclusive

The fiercely debated question “Live event or online event?” can be tricky to find the right answer to. Many vouch that live events are more beneficial, making it easier to meet people and network in person. And while that point is difficult to argue, the convenience of online events makes them widely popular, too. The accessibility of an event from any corner of the country, from the comfort of your own home, has allowed many individuals to participate in Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE webinar series, making this series more inclusive. Giving the target audience the chance to connect online and have access to information about their integration is crucial, especially in Finland where some areas are remote.  

  • Brainstorm. Record. Rewatch. Redo.

It is understandable that not all events will have the same success rate. But to minimise hiccups and ensure smooth running, it’s important to learn from our mistakes to improve future webinars. One of the ways to do this is to record all events and re-watch them and note where there is room for improvement. For example, during one of the webinars, there was some misunderstanding among the audience regarding the topic of the webinar. Such an issue can be easily solved by clearly communicating the topic while promoting upcoming webinars.

  • Stop considering oneself (or your colleague) as an immigrant but rather an active member of society

One of the most valuable lessons learned from the Empower Wednesday Goes HEI LIFE project was to stop considering oneself as an immigrant but rather an active member of society. Not only does this lead to a huge shift in attitude, but one is able to properly evaluate how to become a contributing member of society. Finland, like any other country, has a need for academics, highly skilled professionals, IT experts, nurses, caregivers, and many more occupations. The aim of this project is to support the integration of international talents and bridge the gap between Finland’s need for expertise and international experts’ need for employment. The goal is a long-term one, but even in a short period of time, we were able to provide over 180 people with useful information, offer them a platform for discussion, and facilitate virtual networking.

To keep up to date with Empower Wednesday, check the recorded webinars on YouTube.

Read more: HEI LIFE Project Workshop Explored Ways to Promote the Employment of International Talents in Finland (utu.fi)

This blog post has been written jointly by:

Kristaps Kovaļonoks, Planning Assistant (International Partnerships & Research Assessment), University of Turku

Kristaps is helping Finnish higher education institutions to internationalise – one collaboration at a time. As a young Latvian expat, he knows first-hand the challenges international expats are facing while trying to adapt, integrate, and build a successful life in Finland. For the past 4 years, Kristaps has been actively devoted to the cause of international talent attraction and retention. When Kristaps is not supporting national projects, he works on his blog Couple of Expats where he shares tips and tricks for navigating life in the Nordics.

Kristaps’ profiles:

Lucia Vuillermin, Vice-chair, International Working Women of Finland

With over 15 years of experience in communication and event organization, Lucia is an Italian living in Turku. She is currently the Vice-Chair of International Working Women of Finland, within the Association she has ideated and implemented Empower Wednesday. Presently she is part of the DigiMesh project, running her own communication company and a Master’s Student in Digitalization at Åbo Akademi University.

Lucia’s profiles: