What is the future of corporate responsibility like? In what ways can the academic world cooperate with businesses in creating new solutions for global challenges, such as climate change, deteriorating human-nature relationship or diminishing social activity in local communities? How can businesses link these potential solutions to value creation? And what kind of part should actors in development field play in all of this? These were just some of the questions at the core of UPM x Mini Challenge: Responsible Community Relations workshop which took place at Tiedekulma on October 28th–29th 2017. The workshop that brought together UPM, the well-known Finnish forest company, and enthusiastic students from different disciplines and universities, was facilitated by Helsinki Think Company and organized in cooperation with HYY’s Development Cooperation Committee.
Text: Emmi Vallittu and Ella Heikkinen
Photos: Emmi Vallittu
HYY’s Development Cooperation Theme Week 2017 ended with an intensive workshop weekend, during which students got a chance to solve a real-life case related to corporate responsibility. The focus of the case was on responsible community relations: how to build dialogue between the company and local communities in a responsible way?
Building sustainability – A journey without a finish line
In the past and present, UPM has had a myriad of strategies not only for making the actual production more sustainable, but also for the social dimension, too. These strategies have aimed to strengthen the relationship and communication between UPM and the locals. Taking Finnish pupils to forests, establishing labs and libraries for children in China and initiating nature restoration projects are only a few examples of these strategies. However, future’s challenges, such as unexpected changes in environment, economic structures, technologies and employment, require all companies to stay innovative and flexible in terms of sustainability. According to UPM, communication between the company and the communities affected by it is one of the most important dimensions in this.
Accordingly, at the heart of the challenge that UPM set for the workshop participants was one question: What more can be done in terms of responsibility?
UPM’s representatives highlighted the importance of the local level in this process and encouraged the participants to come up with new spaces, channels and levels for the future cooperation between UPM and communities. ”We are looking for fresh ideas that are created by multidisciplinary teams explicitly”, said UPM’s Sami Lundgren, Vice President at Environment and Responsibility. ”We have collaborated with universities of technology before, like at hackathons, where the challenge is very limited and concrete. This time we would like to get a wider perspective on our challenge and that is why we are very much looking forward to this collaboration.”
The Mini Challenge was also organized in order to provide opportunities for students that are interested in sustainability issues. The cornerstone of each Mini Challenge is that the participants are able to bring their knowledge into practice and find new ways for influencing in society. “Although my team involves people from diverse backgrounds, such as Forest Science and Finance, we all have the same motivation: to create solutions that have an actual and concrete impact”, said Veera Vehmas, a student of English philology from the University of Helsinki.
The route from challenges to solutions – Turning teamwork into reality
In general the varied solutions of participating teams were good and innovative but it was one team, however, that really impressed the judges.
The winning team’s solution was based on an idea of a platform that enables everybody, whether a local, a nature-loving tourist or a concerned citizen, to grasp both the scale of UPM’s sustainability work and to familiarize themselves with production processes of UPM. The aim of the platform is to build true dialogue between the local and the corporation by offering a direct, accessible and simple channel for two-way communication that would work both on smartphones and browser. The platform would enable, for example, location-based information searching about UPM’s production sites, charity, and nature restoration work. The feedback function in this platform would give an opportunity for the users to connect with the company: they could give reviews about UPM’s activities through the platform. UPM could also stand out positively: the company could make its real pursuit for sustainability visible with this honest communication and accountability.
From development perspective, the solution was credible, too. ”In many development countries the smartphone is as much of an information source as in Finland”, noted Lyydia Kilpi, a representative from Kepa, a service base for development cooperation. The solution could, for example, increase trust between locals and administration, in addition to businesses, especially in those countries where there is room for improvement in accountability.
Winning team’s students Eveliina Muuri and Jacques Marais both agreed on that they had learned a lot about UPM and the ways old companies are looking for creating new ways of doing corporate responsibility, like in this collaboration.
Also UPM got what they wanted out of the workshop. ”All in all, it was great that the solutions were concrete and realizable, especially the winning team’s solution. It would be possible to continue from here with the winning team and do a pilot version, because the team had taken into account both the community relation perspective and the matter of value creation”, says UPM’s Sami Lundgren. “This is a good starting point for future collaboration.”
Corporate responsibility as a theme is complex, huge and vital, when one thinks about future’s development cooperation or policies. This is exactly why multidisciplinary cooperation and student participation is essential. To create even more active practices of responsibility and development, critical yet fresh standpoints on matters are needed. By participating, people who hold themes such as sustainable development, human rights or NGO collaboration close to their hearts could bring forward ideas and experiences that otherwise might stay unnoted.