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January 15, 2012

Silicon Suomi: Why Nokia's right to call Finland home

Ever since Stephen Elop, the first non Finnish CEO, took over at Nokia there’s been speculation that Nokia should move its headquarters to Silicon Valley. In some North American journalists’ eyes, Suomi, (the Finnish name for Finland) is a godforsaken backwater, a place famous only for saunas, ice swimming and a president who looks like Conan O’Brien. But, there’s some very good reasons why Stephen Elop recently said Nokia’s headquarters would stay in Espoo. And they’ve got nothing to do with his love of ice hockey.

The world’s biggest boffins

Innovation takes brains. The Finn’s have that in abundance. In fact, Finnish kids are some of the best educated in the world. The PISA survey, which compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, maths, and science is conducted every three years. And every year since 2000, Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies. In 2009, the US, home to Silicon Valley, came 23rd for science and 32nd in maths.

Harnessing girl power

Sadly in many parts of the world, women don’t get the chance to use their skills to drive forward technological innovation. Thankfully, Nokia’s home country isn’t one of them. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, Finland is the third most equal country in the world, behind Iceland and Sweden. Maybe not surprising when you consider Finland was the second place to give women the vote, way back in 1906, and the first county in the world to have a women President and Prime Minister at the same time.

A sharper competitive edge

The mobile business is one of the most competitive in history. Bad news you’d think for Nordic countries with their “welfare states”, which apparently stifle competitiveness. Well, it turns out that’s as mythical a belief as sauna elves. According to the World Economic Forum, Finland is the fourth most competitive place on the planet. And it’s no surprise that, thanks to their brainy kids, Finland also occupies a top position in higher education and training.

Just the right work-life balance

Look up the definition of efficiency and you’ll see it has nothing to do with working longer, but with working cleverer. Ensuring a proper work life balance ensures people’s brains function at maximum velocity. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Finland has the fourth healthiest work life balance in the world, with nearly 16 hours a week dedicated to leisure, and just 4% of people working over 50 hours a week. The USA ranked 23rd.

Happy days 

Research has shown that a happy worker is a productive worker. So how does Finland fare in the smilely stakes? According to Legatum Institute 2010 Prosperity Index, very well. The Index, which ranks 110 countries, covering 90% of the world’s population, looks at 89 variables sorted into eight subsections: economy, entrepreneurship, governance, education, health, safety, personal freedom and social capital. And the Finns, despite a winter that seems to last forever, have sunshine in their hearts. They’re the third happiest people on earth, behind Nordic neighbours, Norway and Denmark.

Add to these accolades, the fact that Finland has one of the smallest gaps between rich and poor, is the world’s least corrupt country and has more blondes per capita than anywhere else, and it’s not surprising to hear that Newsweek ranked Finland the best country in the whole world. Which makes you wonder why, rather than speculate about Nokia moving to the Silicon Valley, journalists aren’t speculating about other tech companies moving to Silicon Suomi?

But, what do you think? Does it make sense to start California dreaming or is Mr Elop right to stick with the Land of a Thousand Lakes?