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Finland: trade unionists take development cooperation work to heart

Confronted with the elimination of government support, the teacher union Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö, one of Education International’s member organisations, decided to review its international affairs strategy to ensure it can go on leading development cooperation activities in the future.

From project financing by the Foreign Affairs Ministry to self-financing

Explaining the way union Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö (OAJ) previously implemented development cooperation (DC) projects, OAJ Organisation Manager Jenni Arnkil says her organisation’s “overall DC work was based on an international affairs strategy of project-financing by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. This means that when the DC project was approved by the Ministry, they financed 85% of the project funding, and 15% was financed by the applying organisation itself.”

This system achieved significant results. Arnkil stresses: “OAJ has been doing bilateral DC work since the 80´s based on the same system. We have had projects, for example, with teachers’ unions in Gabon, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Togo and Zimbabwe.”

She insisted that “Education International’s input has been important for us in pointing out possible partners and helping in building and executing the projects”.

Dedication of union membership fees to DC work

A clear political shift led OAJ to adopt a new approach to financing DC activities. In 2015, a new Finnish government was formed by the Centre Party, the Blue Reform Party and the National Coalition Party. It cut DC financing by approximately 40%, and the remaining money was allocated to bigger DC organisations. The OAJ applied for funding in 2016 and 2018, but did not get any projects financed. “In 2018, we practically have not been able to engage in DC projects at all”, Arnkil deplores.

That is why OAJ decided to try a new approach. “We have been considering the possibilities and scenarios since 2018,” Arnkil says. “We want to find new ways of doing things and it is important to widen our perspective concerning the work for solidarity. We started to update our international affairs strategy and took it to the union´s decision-making bodies in the spring of 2019. In May 2019, our Council, the highest decision-making authority in the union, approved the new strategy. It plans to gradually increase the sum used for the work for solidarity and global responsibility up to 0.7% of our membership fees. Hopefully in couple of years we will reach this. We are also seeking to find ways to cooperate with other organisations/operators in the field.”

This is in line with the Resolution on Development Cooperation adopted at the Second World Congress of Education International (EI), held in Washington D.C., U.S.A., in 1998. This resolution in particular calls upon EI member organisations to allocate a minimum of 0.7% of their income to development cooperation programmes.

“We are now kicking off a new action plan for the DC work as well,” Arnkil indicates. “We will have our budget planning for 2020 in autumn, and that will of course validate the new strategy.”

She concludes by noting that “it has been emphasised in the strategy that our focus in the work for solidarity and global responsibility will be on strengthening the education and union rights. Combined, this means that the most important way of executing the work will be – of course – strengthening teachers’ unions.”