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Article | 11/13/2017 13:42:00

Students innovating new ideas to collaborate with local stakeholders

Responsible companies aim to maintain active dialogue with surrounding communities. UPM, together with Helsinki Think Company and the University of Helsinki, challenged university students to think about how UPM could develop interaction with various stakeholders at its mill sites.

The challenge was taken on with great enthusiasm. One weekend in October, a group of students interested in the challenge gathered together in Helsinki with representatives from Helsinki Think Company and UPM to tackle the challenge. Sami Lundgren, Vice President at UPM Environment and Responsibility and Marko Janhunen, Vice President, Stakeholder Relations at UPM Biorefining opened the event with a short introduction to the challenge.

The assignment aimed to find practical solutions that would help UPM to improve its dialogue with stakeholders at its mill sites. UPM wants to discuss and share information about its economic, social and environmental responsibility. All of these aspects should be considered in company operations and collaboration with stakeholders.

“The topic is interesting because I want to know more about how global companies adjust their operations to response to megatrends such as climate change, or to requirements set by different stakeholders, like NGOs,” says Veera Vehmas, who is a sixth-year student of English Philology.

According to the jury, the best response to the challenge came from the “UPM Community” team of four students. They suggested that the local citizens and operators could give feedback on the company and its operations via a mobile app.

“This was an interesting problem and fun to solve. I am a chemist, and I have work experience from a paper mill. Our team was extremely versatile because we had expertise on international relations and data processing, for example. That is why we are also able to implement our solution in practice,” says Eveliina Muuri about her team’s strengths. Along with Eveliina, the winning team consisted of Jacques Marais (Applied Mathematics), Annika Ylitalo (Political Science) and Marfa Dontsova (Social Studies).

Annika Ylitalo, who studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, adds that locally, there might be major differences in views when it comes to the forest industry. “Problems feel real for the people living in the mill site and this often includes negative feelings. It is difficult to get direct feedback that would actually reach the mills.”

Lundgren acknowledges the winning team for their solution, which tackled the problem at its roots.

“The idea behind the tool is to give locals a way to send feedback to UPM in real time. For example, in case of unpleasant odours from a pulp mill, we could use the application to communicate the details relating to the problem, as and when necessary. On the other hand, in positive cases the communities could then communicate with smileys and emojis and let us know how we have succeeded.”

UPM has production sites in 12 countries, so the solution was hoped to be scalable worldwide at all of the mill sites. “The winning solution is also interesting in regard to further development. The tool would improve the transparency of our communications and could offer a direct channel for people living in the area,” he adds.

Demand for talents

“We received many interesting ideas. The event was an excellent opportunity for us to meet students and tell them about UPM and our operations. The students, in turn, got a chance to introduce themselves and their expertise to us,” says Pirkko Harrela, UPM’s Executive Vice President, Stakeholder Relations.

Harrela adds that topics relating to responsibility are of great interest to young people, who are clearly keen to work in a company that takes these issues seriously.

“The world is changing and our business model is changing with it. Traditional occupations within the forest industry will most likely remain, at least partially. I do believe that going forward, we will have more and more salaried employees whose backgrounds are more diverse in terms of education and previous work experience.”

“Students of technical disciplines, as well as economists, are well aware of our operations, but UPM might be less known among university students. These events are a great way to find out which kinds of people could work for UPM in the future. The event is certainly useful for all parties.”

University is searching for partners

All of the practical arrangements for the Mini Challenge event were managed by the entrepreneurship society of the University of Helsinki, Helsinki Think Company.

“We arrange Mini Challenges or other similar hackathon type events several times a year. Mostly, the topic is a current theme that intrigues and resonates with people,” says Klaus Hietala from the Helsinki Think Company.

“Students are solving problems relating to practical working life in multidisciplinary and relaxed groups. The focus of this event was on social sciences, but we also have environmental scientists, economists and technical expertise.”

Helsinki Think Company aims to bring the academic skills of students into action by entrepreneurship or via companies.

“Our focus is to get academic talents involved in projects they are interested in already during their studies. The companies that collaborate with us get added value in terms of solutions. It happens quite often in our Mini Challenge programmes that a couple of teams get an assignment to continue the work.”

The University of Helsinki wants to increase its cooperation with various industries. “Our goal is to have a greater influence on society with our studies, as well as to improve our students’ employment prospects after graduation,” says Suvipäivikki Mikola, who handles public relations at the University of Helsinki.

“We want to build a long-term collaboration with UPM and identify the topics with greatest synergies. Events such as the Mini Challenge are one more step in this path,” she adds.


Vesa Puoskari