Master Class in Brief

The University of Helsinki's Master Class is a challenge-based program for students, young researchers and professionals. Every Master Class is unique, as the programs are designed in collaboration with a partner organization around a specific theme and challenges. In 2019, the University of Helsinki is organizing two Master Class programs: Sustainability Master Class together with Valio, and Hyvä (yhteis)kunta Master Class (in Finnish) with Kuntarahoitus.

Master class is:

  • a challenge-based learning experience for forward-looking minds from academia, business world and society
  • a co-creation platform to generate new ideas, solutions, skills and knowledge
  • an inspiring partnership program to adopt new working tools and innovation approaches and build a vision for the future

Each Master Class is built around one main theme and a number of related challenges. Some 40 participants are selected for the program following an open call, and every participant will choose their challenge. Master Class teams form around the challenges, and start working towards solving their challenge. Master Class program consists of four months of facilitated teamwork - teams gather to clinics, science camp and bootcamp to boost the development of their solution and learn new working methods.

Continuous team work is crucial for team’s success - and working as a team is the most inspiring and demanding part of the process. Master Class program allows great freedom for teams to decide their own schedules and ways to work together. The joint events mark the program milestones, where you can see your and others’ progress. Master Class mentors help and guide the teams through the process. They are an excellent source to find the right people to ease your way towards the solution and building your own community.


Master Class is built upon co-creation, experiments and learning by doing which will be embraced throughout the program. This means that you will read books and articles, process the contents by writing papers and posts, participate seminars and do teamwork, but in an exceptional framework that seeks to engage different stakeholders in the process during which we seek hands-on solutions to large-scale, complex problems.

Co-creation brings together different parties and their expertize to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome. In the case of Master Class, these will include students, the partner organization's representatives, mentors, facilitators, experts and stakeholders. We will work together in an open manner using the “yes and” -protocol. To make sure we stay productive, we also respect a set of co-creation rules.

Shared value – our theoretical background

Shared value is a concept created by professor Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer in their article ‘Creating Shared Value’, published in Harvard Business Review in 2011 (Jan/Feb 2011). Shared value stands for business that encourages sustainable lifestyle. It is based on identifying wicked problems and needs that consumers have related to them. The concept of shared value brings together societal problems with the core of business. Economic value is created in a novel way, which responds to social challenges and changing needs. The value created is shared between the company and society.

The concept of shared value provides businesses, NGOs and governments with a new way to utilise marked-based competition mechanism for solving social issues. A company can create shared value in three ways:

  1. By creating new products and services that are compatible with social problems and needs.

  2. By redefining its whole value chain for example by solving environmental issues involved in it and adding value by doing so.

  3. By creating and strengthening clusters in local economics and hence enhancing the company’s competitive conditions and local community at the same time.

Added value has nothing to do with charity, responsibility reports or sustainable development programmes. It is a new way of doing business. The concept overruns traditional corporate responsibility models. Instead of setting boundaries for the damages the company causes, its innovation capability is used to advance social good.  

For the rest of society – universities, NGOs, governments and decision makers the idea of shared value offers new kinds of partnership models with businesses and possibilities to boost solving social issues. Civil society and NGOs can focus on their main goals and benefit from new partnerships. The government and decision makers can encourage the private sector to invest in solving social issues.

For universities, shared value can mean new partnerships that produce common good through utilising scientific findings or development of local economies. Understanding and further developing the concept of shared value in university context also gives students, researchers and other staff possibilities to understand their own social impact and ways to use it – without forgetting possibilities of creating new business.

Design Thinking

A method or process for practical, creative problem-solving, design thinking includes "building up" ideas, with few, or no, limits on breadth during a "brainstorming" phase. The Design Thinking process first defines the problem and then implements solutions, always with the needs of the user demographic at the core of concept development. This process focuses on needfinding, understanding, creating, thinking, and doing. At the core of this process is a bias towards action and creation: by creating and testing something, you can continue to learn and improve upon your initial ideas. Because design thinking is iterative, intermediate "solutions" are also potential starting points of alternative paths, including redefining of the initial problem.”

There are different versions of design thinking processes but each can be seen to frame the problem, ask the right questions, create lots of ideas, test and choose the best.

If you want to know more about design thinking, check out what is happening at Stanford’s d-school or at IDEO!

"The culture of experimentation presents a lot of different opportunities. Realizing that was very eye-opening. Our own experiment was so much fun and it was exciting to receive positive feedback for something we'd created from scratch.


– 2013 Master Class participant

Human centered approach, or empathy

Human centered approach is a framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. In order words, instead of organizations, we focus on individuals - their problems and needs. Human involvement typically takes place in observing the problem within context, brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing, and implementing the solution. This may sound tricky and theoretical but it is all about taking inspiration and learning from real people and their lifes. And how this is done? By talking to them, by observing them, by involving them. By empathizing and understanding. Fairly simple and lots of fun.