Annamari Arrakoski Engardt: Speed to windward

Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt, Managing Director of John Nurminen Foundation, reviews the past year for the John Nurminen Foundation, and takes a look into the future.

This year, my log entry is a lengthy one. The year has been exceptional, and it has been more necessary than before to consider what the place of our Foundation is, both in Finnish society and in international cooperation.

In 2019, we broke our own fundraising record, receiving approximately €2.5 million in donations from our partners and private donors. In addition to private support, public donors such as the Ministry of the Environment and the EU continue to be important financiers of our operations. Record-breaking growth was a prominent feature of our year: within a short time period, we launched ten new projects, and our staff has grown to almost 20 employees. At the same time, we have organised various events and experiences, enabling the participation of hundreds of people in the work for the Baltic Sea.

This spring was historic for us all: in March, the coronavirus pandemic reached Finland, bringing our society to a grinding halt.  We at the Foundation have also adapted and reacted to the changed circumstances. The purpose of the Foundation withstands time, which is why we cannot be tied to the fluctuations of a quarterly economy, or one or two years of crisis. We seek to secure our financial status so that even when we find ourselves in the middle of a storm, we can raise our gaze to the horizon, and move forward towards our goal. Measured by the number and quality of our new initiatives and cultural activities, we have in fact made this year and this spring unmatched by any other in the Foundation’s almost 30 years of history.

Tangible and measurable results

In our projects that protect the Baltic Sea, our focus continues to be on the greatest problem faced by the Sea, i.e. eutrophication. Climate change accelerates the symptoms of eutrophication by heating up the sea and increasing runoff. This puts the diversity of the sea in danger. And this is why our work is picking up speed. In our efforts to reduce eutrophication, we have moved from larger nutrient load sources to smaller ones, and moved on to new projects once the greatest sources of nutrient load have been fixed. We add up tonnes and kilograms of phosphorus, but also keep our eyes open for other operations that could solve other challenges. We assess if these solutions or the way our projects work could be scaled up to build more extensive operations.

The principals that are our keel remain the same. Before embarking on a new project, we have a set of criteria with which it is assessed. Do our operations bring results? We must be able to communicate what the effect of a donation will be, what added value our operations create, and what are the problems we solve. Are the operations targeted and tangible, and are we able to report on their tangible results? Many problems faced by the Baltic Sea are multifaceted, making it impossible to identify the one magic trick that would solve them all at once.

Cross-border cooperation is an essential part of our operations. The pervasive problems of the Baltic Sea have to be solved together. An important part of what we do is our in-depth collaboration with research institutes and universities – with researchers and scientists. When we embark on new fields of operation, we have also encountered doubts and critique. Our work, however, is deeply rooted in the recommendations and results of the scientific community, making it easy for us to move forward. We are backed by research results, and our operations are not directed by anything else than what is best for the Baltic Sea.

Last year, we organised two Baltic Sea election debates, for both the parliamentary and the EU elections, and met up with decision makers on the issues in our election platform. Thanks to the active work by us and various other stakeholders, the gypsum treatment of fields was in fact included in the government’s Program for Improved Water Protection, and in Southwest Finland, the Ministry of the Environment decided to launch an extensive project aiming at diminishing runoff to the Archipelago Sea. The Foundation-led River Vantaa Gypsum Project moved steadily ahead towards its goals. At the end of the year, we also received funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an international project commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment, promoting the gypsum treatment of fields in the entire Baltic Sea area.

Trying things out with a start-up spirit, scaling up successes

Curiosity and an inquiring mind are integral to how we work. Our societal work has been boosted by projects launched with a start-up spirit.  A good example of these is the five-year Local Fishing Project, which launched the targeted fish stock management of cyprinids in the Baltic Sea, aiming at creating a permanent market-driven operation. The Local Fishing Project is an excellent example of an activity that encapsulates the Foundation’s entire mission and passion to deal with the Baltic Sea as an entity, not just as a bunch of unrelated protection projects. With declining biodiversity, the entire ecosystem is under threat. Can coastal fishing survive? Will there be new generations to take over this age-old livelihood? Cultural impoverishment and mainstreaming are also acute threats. To put it bluntly:  the Flounder Festivals of the archipelago have been swapped for supermarket salmon.

Many kinds of efficient first aid water protection measures are needed from agriculture, with gypsum treatment first and foremost, alongside structure lime and fibre, which are currently being researched.

At the same time, we want to be involved in finding solutions for high nutrient loads, caused e.g. in Southwest Finland by manure from livestock production accumulating in certain areas. In April, we launched the Satakunta Manure Recycling Pilot, which balances out the use of manure in agriculture. At the time of writing, we are about to launch the international Sustainable Biogas project.

Balancing out the decline in inhabitants in the archipelago, we can observe that the strong and fascinating indigenous culture of the area has survived, with thanks due precisely to the sea and the distances. One of the most important tasks of our generation is indeed to see to it that the rich cultural heritage of the Baltic Sea does not wither down to a couple of archipelago museums or cultural reservations, but remains strong, vibrant, and relevant. This theme was highlighted in our 2019 publication, the gorgeous book Meren maa – Havets land (land of the sea) by Ritva Kovalainen and Pekka Turunen. We will continue to broaden the themes of the book and will, before the year is over and with funding from the Weisell Foundation, implement an opportunity to take a virtual tour of the Åboland Archipelago, brilliantly documented by Ritva and Pekka.

One of our 2019 highlights was our cooperation with Moomin Characters. The #OURSEA campaign, announced at SuomiAreena in Pori and officially launched at the 2020 Boat Show, is a major effort and at the same time exactly the kind of activity that the Baltic Sea deserves. We are grateful to Sophia Jansson and Roleff Kråkström from Moomin Characters for the decision to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Moomins with such a campaign, which has inspired an incredible number of people from Iceland to Japan to join forces and work for the sea we share. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign will continue until the end of July 2021, allowing our lengthy planning work and many inspiring events and encounters to reach the visibility they deserve.

In spring 2020, in cooperation with the Finnish Museums Association, we opened and published the Digimuseo.fi service. Our intent is to bring content from museums within the reach of the general public in a new and inspiring way and within a digital environment. In April, we decided to accelerate the production of the concept – still on the drawing board – so as to allow us to react to the society around us immediately, and be able to offer something concrete for people who are isolated because of the coronavirus pandemic. What we achieved was a small miracle. In the digital museum, you can also visit the collections of the John Nurminen Foundation, with more Baltic Sea content to be added later on. The reason why our Foundation took on such a prominent role in the construction of this service is that we had successfully implemented the much lauded treasure trove of marine stories, i.e. the lokistories.fi online service, and we wanted to scale this success up to be available for the use of the entire cultural heritage sector.

There are so many stakeholders: corporations, private individuals, project teams, members of parliament, decision makers, and members of the Foundation’s board who have been involved in our operations, making impossible to thank them all here by name. A key factor in the success of one of our important initiatives was Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki, who exactly one year ago was introduced to our idea of celebrating an international Baltic Sea Day on every last Thursday of August. The Mayor liked the idea, and observed that in the spirit of the Baltic Sea Challenge, Turku would be a natural partner. The rest is history. We launched the new theme day, dedicated to the Baltic Sea, already the following August. We are the ones who came up with the idea of the Baltic Sea Day and we lead the project, but the day will be successful only because so many stakeholders have jumped in to join us. Our own tangible Baltic Sea Day activity is the Sea of Memories project, which collects the Finns’ Baltic Sea memories, and will feature them in a multimedia exhibition.

Nothing is impossible

What is the John Nurminen Foundation made of? Our recipe includes professionalism and ambition, a suitable amount of passion and curiosity, creativity, courage, solution-orientedness, sisu – and yes, also perseverance. We have recorded our story on video, using the voice of our founder and Chairman of the Board, Juha Nurminen. We have our roots and a saga of our own that empowers us. And, not to forget the ingredient that is perhaps the most important and the most irrefutable: optimism and faith in the fact that solutions to problems can be found. Our unofficial motto, “Nothing is impossible”, actually crystallizes what is essential – this is what my six years leading the Foundation have convinced me of.

The friends of the Foundation and of the Baltic Sea are on our minds as we finalize our latest waterway protection project, launch an international biogas project, prepare to pilot the spreading of lime in Southwest Finland, agree on meetings with embassies to discuss gypsum, produce the Meren maa armchair journey, and prepare to present the story of the Baltic Sea in an exhibition, book, on the sound waves, and as a video.

I hope you will watch the emotional story, as told by Juha, on our YouTube channel. Alternatively, you can tune in to the My Baltic Sea podcast, where my most recent guests have been Baba Lybeck, Ari Huusela, and Sanna Sonninen. You can also visit our museum virtually via the digital museum, and sign up your Baltic Sea Day activity at itämeripäivä.fi.

Once more, thanks are due to all our partners, supporters, companies and individuals who have donated their effort pro bono – to you all. We are grateful and happy to know you are working with us to save both the Sea we love and its heritage.

28 May 2020
My home office in Helsinki,

Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt, Ph.D.
Managing Director, John Nurminen Foundation
Twitter: @AArrakoski

Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt was a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors from 2013 to 2014, and the Foundation’s Secretary General since the beginning of 2014. She was appointed Managing Director on 1 June 2020.

John Nurmisen Säätiön toimitusjohtaja Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt