Today is the last day of my two-year assignment as Kansalaisareena’s chief executive officer.

My first public assignment was in October 2017. I was to give an opening speech at the International Peer Support day. It was exciting and inspiring then. Now there is a touch of nostalgia in the air.

Much has happened during the past two years and I have learned a great deal along the way. It has been a privilege to participate in advancing volunteerism through Kansalaisareena. Following are few highlights from the past couple of years.

Increase in membership

When I started, we had 59 member organizations. Now, two years later, 117. These member organizations have approximately 1,2 million members. Even though Finland is a “promised land” with over 100,000 registered associations and 15 million members, Kansalaisareena reaches a considerable portion of Finnish civic society. For example, large organizations and unions as Olympic Committee, Scouts, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Fingo, Diabetes Union and lastly JHL who joined during my last weeks.

The expansion did not remain solely on memberships. Volunteer coordinators’ network has widened remarkably.  When I started, there were 24 regional groups. Now 33, alongside with approximately 750 professional volunteer coordinators. Kansalaisareena’s volunteer coordinators’ network supports coordinators’ skills development, stress management at workplace and through regional cooperation, improving qualify and visibility in volunteering.

Strategy renewal and adaption

Under my leadership, our strategy in Kansalaisareena was renewed. The organization’s vision is that Finland is the best place in the world to volunteer. In Finland, 42 % informed of having volunteered during the past four weeks and 21 % during the past half year. Of all the people in the world, only 4 % live in countries which are viewed as having open civic societies. Finland is one of these countries.

Kansalisareena’s strategic goal is to: (1) improve stature of voluntarism when political decisions are being made, (2) increase voluntarism and improve the quality of volunteering, (3) make volunteering known and enticing, and (4) improve usages of volunteering. We defined our organization values as following: responsibility, courage, transparency, cooperation and equality.

Impact of our work shows in government program

Owing to Kansalaisareena, I was able to participate in the Civil Service Policymaking Advisory Board (KANE) and in its division of labor. In addition, we administered parliament volunteer support group, with parliamentarians from all parties except Liike Nyt. I have participated in several administrative work teams and hearings, given speeches and interviews in different functions relating to volunteering.

Our most impressive accomplishments were the spring 2019 government program negotiations.

We drew our program goals and invited member organizations to join in. All together 48 member organizations signed our goals which were the following:

– Update politically democratic annotation to enhance volunteerism 

– Incorporate volunteerism into unemployment active model

– Increase the recognition of the skills acquired when volunteering and accredit acquired training

During Säätytalo negotiations our accountability stood out. All our goals actualized, and the entries can be found in the government program’s Active Model Version. (The government decision to unravel the Active Model Version was viewed, from the very beginning, critically by Kansalaisarena and sizable part of field organizations.)

We also have influenced in reforming laws for donations and assemblage. Lastly, we have participated in the follow up group relating to revision of association law.

Experimental and agile development 

In the spring of 2019, we boldly started to pilot Climate Aid event in Finland. The goal is to expand it internationally as Live Aid concerts held on 13.7.1985 in London and Philadelphia did. Funding was given by Sitra and a group of large organizations and corporations.

Climate Aid charitable event and concert took place at Musiikkitalo on Saturday, November 11th, 2019.

In summer 2019, Kansalaisareena coordinated events and endeavors for seven different organizations in Suomi Areena. Kansalaisareena has taken responsibility for organizing and managing Finland’s Social Forum event, has renewed its action concepts and participated in several activities as in the World Village festival. Our Jeesaan project should not be forgotten. It has, during the past three years, piloted volunteering courses in the second level educational institutions in Vantaa.

Kansalaisarena has played a markable role in developing digital platforms for various forms of voluntarism. As show of  trust to Kansalaisareena’s remarkable role, on Volunteers’  Day OP Group donated a volunteering platform www.hiiop100.fi for Kansalaisareena to manage. Half a year later we signed a cooperation agreement with Church services’  www.vapaaehtoistyo.fi platform. We have supported and worked on other applications as well. The goal for future is to have one clear and central platform for informing and searching for voluntary opportunities.

Changes in operating culture and leadership

When I started as an executive director, serious air quality problems surfaced in our offices. In a short time schedule we decided to transfer from our old offices to Kalliola, which has turned out to be an inspirational community to increase voluntary activism.

During the past two years, we have moved towards ancillary and self-organizing leadership. Employees are trusted and given responsibility. At the same time, we have actively aimed to improve staff and workplace well-being. For example, we employ a lifestyle friendly workplace where all new employees are offered minimum of three weeks of paid vacation, possibility for remote working and flexible work schedules. When in office, we share our coffee breaks. During workdays we offer time off to exercise and to choose two workdays in a year to volunteer in field of choice. When volunteering, employees increase their own skills, create new networks and significantly benefit themselves 

We have tested group development discussions. Our meetings are scheduled with a five-minute break after every 25 minutes. In self-directing organization, employees themselves determine agendas for weekly office meetings and various development days. Employees’ extra compensation is based, instead on money or gifts, on days off.

What actually did get done?

When I started, I thought I knew the Finnish organization field well. How wrong I was! Starting from the very first day, I realized how wide and multifaceted the organization and volunteering fields actually are. There are so many activists and associations. Invigorating work is done everywhere in the numerous places I have visited.

During the past two years, I have sat in 808 meetings, given 149 speeches/lectures around Finland, given 67 interviews to various medias, written 40 columns and participated in 58 seminars.

True, world does not change by sitting in meetings. Yet, meetings and activities are prerequisite to get changes done. The thing is, rarely any bigger change is based on one person or on one act. Often you must get many people to join and work very hard.

Thanks to all of you who have been part in one way or another in this intensive and fulfilling two-year journey. Hopefully our paths will cross again.  Even though new challenges and saving the planet call me next, my heart is always in volunteering and I will always miss you much.

Text: Leo Stranius
Kansalaisareena’s Executive Director 2017 – 2019

Translation: Pirkko Nurmikko