It's difficult to make friends as an adult.
This simple observation was the starting point for Arla Joensuu and Timo Kuusisto's idea to create Kaverisovellus. "People have different life situations and reasons why friendships fall through or why they just don't have any social relationships,” Kuusisto observes. “If old friendships break, it's hard to get things back on track."
As solution-oriented people, Kuusisto and Joensuu wanted to help reduce loneliness. Thanks to their free service, users can look for friends using both their website and a more advanced mobile app, launched in autumn 2021. In a year, over 12,000 Finns have started using it, and a further 50-150 Finns download the app every day.
While studying the causes and consequences of loneliness, Joensuu and Kuusisto realised that social impact is at the core of their – they want to reduce loneliness. This makes Kaverisovellus an example of a “social enterprise,” a company whose primary mission is to address a social or ecological issue. As such, a social enterprise has set solving that challenge as its primary objective and uses most of its profits to contribute to this goal by developing its activities or making donations (Centre of Excellence for Social Enterprises, 2022).
According to the Finnish Red Cross Loneliness Barometer (2022), at least half the Finnish population suffers from prolonged loneliness. And while Joensuu and Kuusisto’s concern about the extent of loneliness has grown enormously, so too has the public’s desire to reduce loneliness.
That’s why their work feels meaningful – it’s not just about developing any old app: "In addition to developing the technology, we’re also confronting a much bigger challenge," Joensuu says.
The pair see loneliness as a problem so bad that it can no longer be ignored, and that solutions must be developed. Yet they wonder at how ineffectively various actors still approach social problems such as loneliness.
"There’s plenty of talk, but no action. We got fed up with the situation and that has kept us going," explains Joensuu.
Being a social enterprise isn’t limited to just limited liability companies, but it can also be a cooperative, association, or foundation. An example of an association that aims to bring about positive social change is Mixed Finns, a community organisation founded by Alice Järske, Priska Niemi-Sampan, and Janina Waenthongkham which is active on Instagram, and offers peer support and a community for mixed Finns of colour. The association's other missions are to expand the image of Finnishness and provide anti-racism training.
The trio met each other at the University of Helsinki's Students of Colour association, where they found peer support for what it's like to be a student of colour at a university where most of the students and staff are white. At the same time, they educated staff at the University of Helsinki about anti-racism and discovered that there were their knowledge and practices on the matter were lacking.
"If there are knowledge gaps in the university, the cradle of civilisation, then there are certainly problems in different organisations across Finland as well," says Jäske.
When the trio realised the problem at hand, they set up an Instagram account in spring 2021 and started developing Mixed Finns. The need for peer support and shared experiences was clear, as evidenced by the fact that the Instagram account already has more than 10 000 followers at time of writing.
"We understand the importance of peer support. We benefited from it at Students of Colour, and now we can use it to help others. In addition, we can convincingly present to, say, financial donors the case for why peer support is so important,” explains a proud Niemi-Sampan.
Having now worked full-time on Mixed Finns for seven months, Niemi-Sampan and Jäske say that they’d heard about social entrepreneurship before, but it is only through their work with the project that they’ve truly gotten to understand what it is.
"At its core, what we do is based on values and acting on those values. As we worked on the project, we realised that, yes, we’re doing some of that social entrepreneurship.” Jäske says, laughing.
In their content, the Mixed Finns combine research-based knowledge that they’ve gained at the university. Niemi-Sampan, who has a degree in social psychology, is knowledgeable in issues such as identity and prejudice, while Jäske has a background in education studies on white normativity in the world of schools, and Waenthongkham is a political science student who can outline the social, political and global structures of racism.
Mixed Finns' content is appealing and successful precisely because of their ability to address research in a broad and generalised way. Their perspectives are complemented by interviews with researchers and the Mixed community for their recently published non-fiction book, which was funded by a grant from the Kone Foundation.
While Jäske and Niemi-Sampan say that they get somewhat regularly contacted with requests for them to come give talks or host training sessions either for free, for a small fee, or for exposure, the pair wants to make it clear that social entrepreneurship is not charity work.
"People seem to think that that if you’re passionate about a cause and it’s important to you, like anti-racism is to us, then you might be willing to work for free in the name of building awareness. It’s true that there are occasions where we’re happy to go for free, but I think that, in principle, our expertise should be valued enough for us to be paid for our work. Of course you should be paid for educating others,” Jäske explains emphatically.
The trio is currently considering suitable business models to continue and develop their Mixed Finns activities. For them, entrepreneurship is first and foremost a way to turn ideas that are meaningful to them into something concrete and practical.
"I hope that people’s conception of what entrepreneurship is will broaden. Entrepreneurship can help change society," says Niemi-Sampan.
This piece was originally published in Finnish on Think Media and was translated into English by Mikael Malmivaara.
Do you have a socially impactful idea? Apply to the SÄRÖ/FRACTURE programme, where we'll provide you with all the help and support you'll need to turn your idea into something real. Apply by September 25th! The programme is organised by Helsinki Incubators with its partners, the Helsinki Think Compay and YYO (the Finnish Centre of Excellence for Social Entrepreneurship).
The programme includes three events which are open to all, where you can learn more about social entrepreneurship. The events will be held in English in the Think Lounge of the University of Helsinki's Think Corner at Yliopistonkatu 4.
- October 10th: Inspiring Business Stories and Backcasting, 17-20
- October 18th: Types of Business & Founding a Social Enterprise, 17-20
- November 15th: How to Scale Up Social Innovations, 17-20
Criteria for a social enterprise according to Arvoliitto.
- The purpose of the business is to contribute to a social goal: social, health/well-being, ecological, employment, cultural. The purpose is set out in its governing documents (articles of association/bylaws).
- The business operates in the market and a significant part of its revenue comes from the sale of services/goods.
- The company is independent of the public sector (autonomous management and operation).
- The company uses its profits primarily to promote social objectives.
- The company's activities are based on ethical guidelines, transparency and good governance.