In Members, Members, New Member Interview, NEWS

It is with pleasure that we announce a new edition to our network, the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (DIAK). DIAK is the first EN member based in Finland.

To learn more about DIAK we met with Harri Kostilainen, Senior Advisor (RDI) Diaconia University Of Applied Sciences. Harri holds a PHD in social sciences and has been part of DIAK for 17 years. During that time, he has been involved in research and innovation connected to social enterprise development in Finland. Besides national research and innovation projects, Harri has worked on a multitude of European projects. Most notably, Harri produced the Finnish report on the scope of European Commission’s mapping of 35 national social enterprise ecosystems. He has also been actively involved with sector leaders in a form of Peer exchanges and expert groups.

DIAK at a Glance

DIAK is one of the few private universities in Finland, however they are still mainly funded publicly similarly to other Finish universities. It is their ownership that is something special. They are mostly owned by Finish Protestant Church-related organisations and Helsinki Deaconess Institute Foundation, who are a large Finish social enterprise.

Helsinki Deaconess Institute provides services for people at the risk of social inclusion, with beneficiaries including homeless people, children, families, older people, immigrants and substance abusers. The Institute produces effective social welfare and health services that help improve the day-to-day lives of their clients. 

DIAK works in the same space. The university programs offered at DIAK are focused on topics such as health care, social welfare, diaconia and interpreting. DIAK’s focus distinguishes them from other universities of applied sciences and positions the organisation as a strong player in the Finnish social impact ecosystem. 

DIAK has worked to integrate the ideology of social entrepreneurship into all their programs. Harri states: “In our approach to entrepreneurship, we found that social enterprise development and our work in that sector is something that is best suitable for us because it is aligned with our core values.”

Social Mission and Activities

Besides its wide range of offered programs aimed at training the next generation of changemakers, DIAK has an extensive research and development department (RDI). DIAK’s RDI implements a variety of European social project “We are doing a lot of different kinds of European-funded social projects on the national basis and then we are active in Erasmus+ programs and Horizon Europe. We are also an active member of the international research network funded by the European Commission. It’s about multidisciplinary innovation for social change which creates a great space to learn more about the international social innovation and social  enterprise ecosystem.” 

DIAK is one of the six organisations running the Centre of Excellence for Social Enterprise funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. The Centre was launched as a joined initiate from sector leaders with the aim to create a more enabling national ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Besides DIAK, the leadership consists of the Finnish Association of Social Enterprises Arvo, Rehabilitation Foundation, Pellervo Coop Centre, Silta-Valmennusyhdistys and Vates Foundation. 

[The Centre] is doing activities directly targeted to improve the Finnish social enterprise ecosystem. We give guidance for impact practitioners and organisations who want to change their action towards more socially-minded practices. DIAK is responsible to improve research and education when it comes to social development. We have an incubation program. We are soon launching a data-service for social enterprise in a form of a map-based solution to find out what kind of social enterprises exist in Finland. This initiate is implemented with support from the Finnish statistical bureau.”

Working with Euclid Network

When asked why DIAK decided to join EN, Harri said the main catalyst was the learning opportunity:

“You have better possibilities to learn when you are joining forces with the like-minded people and network. We want to learn and of course, if we have something to give to this network, it will ideally be beneficial for both sides. We saw Euclid as a space that combines the practitioner and the knowledge creation initiative, so I think it is a very interesting combination for our type of university. We are not trying to build general theoretical knowledge we are trying to do research which is beneficial to those who are applying the research results.”

One example of Diak´s RDI is co-created Zekki digital service which won the European social innovation competion 2021. 

DIAK works to create new knowledge and deepen the understanding of the concept of social entrepreneurship. The team is also very interested and is actively increasing activities to the social innovation process. In the future, they aim to look at how social enterprises can benefit from and effectively leverage social innovation to benefit society. Harri states that he would like to think that in five to ten years, we will be more aware about the social innovation processes and their practical implementation. We are looking forward to collaboration with DIAK and our members to make this vision a reality. 

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