The international technology prize boosts Finland’s reputation as a country of innovation.
Whenever Finland’s image is discussed, technology will inevitably come up as one of the themes. Finland is known as a country where the share of research and development in proportion to GDP has been globally top-ranking for a long time, the population is well-educated and innovation performance is among the very best in Europe.
According to Pekka Huhtaniemi, an expert on Finland’s image and the Finland 100 Ambassador at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Millennium Technology Prize supports the very strengths on which Finland’s brand should be created: a solution-focused society, sustainable development and a high standard of education.
“The Millennium Technology Prize, awarded for innovations for a better life, fits well with the greatest strengths of Finland’s brand, it shows our determination to give visibility and funding for our core values,” says Huhtaniemi.
Also the Ministry of Employment and the Economy (MEE), which grants the money for the prize, finds that the Millennium Technology Prize is particularly important in showcasing the competitiveness of Finland. According to Petri Peltonen, Permanent Secretary at the MEE, the prize efficiently exhibits the Finnish practical mindset.
“The rationale behind the Millennium Technology Prize is the extensive impacts of science and innovation on society, even on humanity at large, and also to blaze the trail for new applications. This differs from the Nobel prizes, for example, which are awarded solely on the basis of scientific work and a lifetime career,” says Peltonen.
Peltonen was head of the MEE Enterprise and Innovation Department for a long time, and in his opinion the Millennium Technology Prize is also a fine example of the kind of cooperation between the research and corporate worlds as well as the public and private sectors that is characteristic of Finland.
“Teamwork between civic organisations, businesses and research institutions is a Finnish strength. An excellent case in point is how Technology Academy Finland, an independent foundation established with trade and industry funding, awards a prize granted from Government funds while bearing all costs of the prize management itself.”
Technology after Nokia
Fostering and strengthening of Finland’s reputation as a country of innovation and technology requires clear symbols of achieved competence. This is particularly true today because our technological glory is no longer concentrated in individual large enterprises.
“Previously, it was easy to justify Finnish technology expertise by pulling out the Nokia card. You just mentioned the company’s name and the response was always ’I know what you are talking about’. The Millennium Technology Prize is an important link in our story and our efforts at securing visibility for our reputation,” says Pekka Huhtaniemi.
Being a strong expert in the work for country images, Huhtaniemi notes that making a single prize known internationally is a great challenge to any country. However, when he served as the Finnish Ambassador to London, he had a close view of how the Millennium Technology Prize suddenly gained awareness in Great Britain in 2014. That year the prize was awarded to Stuart Parkin, “the father of big data,” who was the fifth Briton to have received the prize or a nomination.
“The previous British winners have not become as famous for the prize as Parkin. The social impact of Parkin’s data storage innovations extends far into the future, and along with intensified public relations work, this was the key to the publicity and popular interest he aroused in Britain,” says Huhtaniemi.
Huhtaniemi wants to remind us that global hubs such as London have so many things happening all the time that it is very difficult to get media attention. When we succeed at that, symbols like the Millennium Technology Prize can be used to reinforce the perception that Finland is at the cutting edge of technology and innovation. The grand total of such perceptions become the country’s image, which plays a big role in attracting new investments to Finland, for example.
“When the Millennium Technology Prize is awarded in May it will be yet another gold nugget for Finnish Embassies around the world for building the public image of Finland,” Huhtaniemi reminds his colleagues.
Benefit to the whole world
Even though the Millennium Technology Prize and Finland’s reputation for technology are mutually reinforcing, the main purpose of the prize is to support global progress.
“We are trying to bring the benefits of the Finnish practical mindset to the whole world.”
“We must keep the basic idea clear in mind: we are not only promoting Finnish interests, we are trying to bring the benefits of the Finnish practical mindset to the whole world. This is not about burnishing our brand with money, it is about promoting global progress,” says Petri Peltonen of the MEE.
In a global world, people’s lives are affected by common problems and solutions. It is therefore also essential that a Finnish prize can be awarded to anywhere in the world − without devaluing its significance to Finland.
Peltonen believes that the Finnish state will continue its strong commitment to funding the Millennium Technology Prize. The resolution to grant the prize sum of one million euros is made every other year by the Parliament, and so far the prize has been considered an important element in supporting socially significant innovations.
“In addition to the Government, Members of Parliament have found it practical to combine public and private funding, and the prize enjoys a fairly wide acceptance across the spectrum of political parties. As long as trade and industry play their part in funding the operations of TAF, the state will certainly commit to allocating the prize money,” says Peltonen.
Text: Laura Manas
The Millennium Technology Prize 2016 will be awarded on 24 May in Helsinki. The winning innovation and the person(s) receiving the prize will be announced at the award ceremony.