What We Can Learn from Finnish NGOS About Resilience | Beth's Blog

What We Can Learn from Finnish NGOS About Resilience

Happy Healthy Nonprofit, Resilience

Earlier this month, I was honored to receive an invitation from the US Embassy in Finland and State Department to teach workshops in Finland for NGOs, Fulbright Finland, Womens Groups, Multi-Cultural Nonprofits, Youth Groups, and a network of Finnish-American Societies as shown in the photo above.    I had an exciting and busy week of teaching public workshops, facilitating informal staff workshops, and meetings at the Embassy mostly on the topic of Networked Nonprofit, digital strategy, and leading on social media.

I really enjoy teaching in different cultural contexts and observing different learning styles and approaches to working for a nonprofit.   While many of the challenges for embracing a networked mindset and implementing a digital strategy that makes use of social media channels are similar for US nonprofits,  there were some unique differences.

When discussing the ideas in The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, people in Finland have figured out keeping calm versus fire drill culture.   Take for example, Fulbright Finland  where I did a workshop with their staff about personal branding and professional networking.

The above photo shows their conference room where they have staff meetings. According to Terhi Molsa, Executive Director, the painting on the wall is of a lake in Finland, because being near water encourages creativity. The space creates a calm and reflective environment. There are couches and comfortable chairs. How many of us pay attention to the relationship between physical space and our productivity?   The group also paid attention to group energy and taking brief breaks.

The latter may be due how children are taught in the Finnish educational system.   Before I left for Finland, I read Timothy Walker’s Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. In Finland, classroom time incorporates “brain breaks” after 50 minutes when one’s natural focus and energy begins to wane.   And, it pays off as students perform better on educational tests than their peers in other European countries.

Taking brain breaks is an important work skill as well.  The secret to being productive in a connected world without working 24/7, is designing your work day around something called Ultradian Rhythm.    As Tony Schwartz has reported, this was first discovered by a sleep researcher Nathan Kleitman found that the 90 minute basic rest-activity cycle is not just part of our sleep, but with us during the day.   During this 90 minute cycle we move from higher to lower alertness and our energy waxes and wanes in these cycles throughout the work day.

Another thing that I noticed is that people in Finland embrace joy and happiness (maybe, in part, because it was the summer months with the extended amount of light.)   It comes as no surprise to learn that Finland’s newest core curriculum prioritizes “joy” as a learning concept.     As adults, and working for nonprofits,  it can be easy for us to forget about prioritizing our happiness.  It can be really hard to do when we are having a difficult day, but if focus on prioritizing joy like Fins it can boost our resilience.

Another thing I noticed is that Fins have figured out work/life balance.   When they take vacations, they vacate!   Also, they seem to put good boundaries around “work” time and free time.   Perhaps it can be summed up by the sign I saw at the public Sauna,  about calling it a day.  When you take a break from work, whether it is for few minutes as brain break or not working continuously, you are able to boost your resilience.

I think these lessons from Finland about resilience are very important for us to remember, especially in times of great stress due to what happening in our world, our country today.

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