The corporate Finnish presence in South Africa

Helsinki - This is Finland - South AfricaFinland has been attempted to raise awareness of Finnish businesses and aid organisations in southern Africa in recent years. (Image source: Alex Brown/Wikimedia Commons)A initiative of the Finnish government, This is Finland (thisisfinland.fi) promotes "things you should and shouldn't know" about the Finnish nation and its reach across the world

At a briefing held in Pretoria, South Africa, Ambassador Petri Salo offered insights into Finland's private sector engagement with South Africa and the southern and eastern African region, through This Is Finland and associated endeavours.

The principal thrust of This is Finland is to link political and economic concerns with trade promotion, through an initiative called Team Finland, an association of around 80 organisations, operating in Finland and elsewhere.

Two of these organisations work in South Africa - the Embassy in Pretoria - and Finpro, a trade promotion agency, which undertakes market research for Finnish companies, and provides other services to support marketing and promotion.

Trading on an expertise in exportation

Finland is highly dependent on exports, and so the recent global economic slowdown has affected the country significantly. Team Finland seeks to redress imbalances in trade between Finland and other nations.

It helps, for example, to promote Finland as a tourist destination, in Africa and to Africans. Team Finland also works with embassies to support individual Finns at work abroad.

Next year, in South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and other African nations, there will be elections. Team Finland will monitor these to assess impacts on economic conditions. The Finnish companies it will report to include: Andritz, Ahlstrom, Kone, Abloy, Valtrac, CargoTec, Tecnotree, Afarak, Storoenso, Kemira, Planmeca, Metso, NSN, Huhtamaki, Autokumpo, UPM Raflatac, Konecranes, Sulzer, Outotec, Wartsila, and Normet.

There are many more companies, working and contributing to African industry and economy, many of which have been involved in the continent for decades.

Investing in multiple sectors

Aki Enkenberg, Counsellor at the Embassy of Finland in Pretoria, elaborated on Team Finland in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The history of Finnish involvement in South Africa includes investment in multiple sectors stretching back to 1994 - with Pretoria now acting as a nodal point for regional development cooperation, and for assistance on a bilateral basis.

There are also non-traditional activities, innovative ways of working, within the Team Finland agenda - entailing civic society support, for example, and investment in high education and research.

By encouraging innovative partnerships, Finland is moving away from a role as donor to a role as collaborator with African entities - and Team Finland is key to this transformation, which is driven by an agenda for sustainable economic growth and social development through economic diversification and knowledge-building.

This might seem abstract, but there are practical approaches underpinning a broad development objective, backed by work with institutional partners such as SADC itself.

The provision of expertise ensures Finnish investment in the region delivers practical results. Take, for example, the Botswana Innovation Hub, which is becoming a key innovator in knowledge and planning.

A major contributor to growth is the Finnish-Southern Africa Partnership Programme to Strengthen the NEPAD/SANBio network. Through an agency called BioFISA, the programme supports work in biosciences and bioinformatics – this is big business in southern Africa, encompassing nations small and large, from South Africa to Malawi.

Improving energy efficiency, in provision and utilisation

Anne Tarvainen, also a Counsellor at the Embassy of Finland in Pretoria, spoke of EEP, the Energy and Efficiency Partnership, in southern and eastern Africa.

Finland is a lead donor here, in partnership with Austria and the United Kingdom, with EEP running a fund of 65mn euros in the region between 2010 and 2017. EEP is a challenge fund, supporting successful applicants towards the improvement of energy efficiency in the region.

There are some universities and non-governmental organisations involved - but the majority of the projects EEP works with in southern and eastern Africa are private sector. The majority of these projects, by the way, are in Kenya and Tanzania.

So far, 17mn euros has been allocated to 113 projects across the region. The aim is to deliver, ultimately, new or improved off grid energy to 25,000 households, with 9MW of installed capacity - this does not include 50MW promised from Namibia's new power generation and distribution infrastructure. More than 500 direct jobs have been created through EEP funding.

Furthermore, around 18,000 tonnes of carbon emission reduction have been achieved. These results translate into poverty reduction, a stronger entrepreneurial culture, and improved economic and societal conditions.

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