This is Part II of a three part blog post concerning the collaboration between AALTO Master students of the Media Lab and the School of Business and MENA Design Research Center. This post is about the visit to DEMOS Helsinki, a Finnish non-profit organization that is similar to MENA Design Research Center. (Image sources: demoshelsinki.fi, merijnhos.com, tylkkari.fi, low2no.fi)
As part of their research, the AALTO students were looking for similar institutions and organizations in Helsinki, where potential synergies with MENA DRC can develop: one such non-profit organization is DEMOS Helsinki. They arranged a meeting with Satu Korhonen (Head of Product Development) and Outi Kuittinen (Head of Co-Creation) of DEMOS and Doreen Toutikian (Director MENA DRC) in order to start a personal conversation about the history and development of DEMOS as well as the challenges they have faced in the past 9 years since their establishment in 2005.
“The first five years were the most difficult” confirmed Ms. Kuittinen. The organization was founded by 2 people and now after nine years they are eight full-time employees with a large extensive network of interns and collaborators throughout Europe. Through this network and collaborations, they were able to develop and grow as one of the most prominent non profit organizations in Finland that deals a variety of issues and challenges faced by Finnish and global societies. One of their most famous projects which has now developed into a platform of its own is Peloton. Its focus is to develop innovative strategies for sustainable energy consumption within the Finnish industries and households by changing consumer behavior. Another popular project of theirs is the Koulu Festival which was a weekend long event where anybody can teach a class about anything; this was a great social project that aimed to build interest-based communities and bring people together.
Much of the openness and energy is derived from the team who seem well-grounded researchers with creative sparks that are not shielded by corporate attitudes. They are all very versatile and skilled in many disciplines such as: economy, sociology, political science, design, technology, media, geography, education, philosophy and business. When asked about not having a specific focus for the organization, it did not seem to be a concern as they prided themselves on their versatility and multidisciplinarity. They stress on being a serious research based organization but also enjoy the fun side of interacting with people in the learning process. In fact, since they do not fixate on one topic or theme, they perceive it as an endless opportunity to stay open to new ideas and concepts. When asked about their financial sustainability, they were very transparent about the state, city, and European funding they receive to pursue their projects.
The visit to DEMOS Helsinki was very insightful and comforting. Many similarities in aims and challenges were clarified. A comparison was not the aim behind the meeting, but an understanding of how contexts might differ or influence the process of developing a non-profit organization. One thing was clear as the session came to an end: there are many people who are trying to build better communities and societies in their respective fields, and it is the common ground in between these people and disciplines that can pave the way to real development and growth.