Too Clever is Not Clever

It is not easy to write a column after a Nobel Prize winner. Almost subconsciously one tries to be too clever.

In the Fulbright Center News 2015 spring issue, Professor Bengt Holmström – then future Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences - wrote about passion and professionalism. He emphasized how exchanges, networks and innovation are integrally connected. “Seeing that something is possible and it can be done has a great value and significant impact,” he wrote.

To me this is one of the key ideas behind ASLA-Fulbright. As the Chairman of the Finland-America Educational Trust Fund I greet the new Finnish Fulbright grantees every year at their Award Ceremony. I always say this: This grant is an opportunity for you to open a door to something new, but it is you who must walk through it.

You can read more about the history of ASLA-Fulbright in Finland in this magazine. This program has been a success. Awards have been granted to more than 1 800 Americans and 3 700 Finns. Among them are many current and future leaders in society, culture, science, and business life. Bengt Holmström was an ASLA-Fulbright grantee to Stanford University in 1974.

This June Fulbright Finland hosted the 2016 European Fulbright Conference under the theme Crossing Borders for Global Partnerships. Over 90 participants from over 40 countries from both sides of the Atlantic shared best practices and experiences in this international conference. The conference was funded by the U.S. Department of State. If we look at the financial return on the investment, one can argue that Finland has the best Fulbright Program in the world. For every dollar that the U.S. government invests in it, the Finnish side brings in nine more. One becomes ten. I want to argue, however, that Fulbright is far more than dollars and euros. For Finland it has brought new horizons and new knowledge that has helped it to transform itself at quite a rapid pace from an agricultural and industrial society to a country with very high living standards.

Fulbright Finland looks closely into Arctic issues. Key areas include energy, water, health and Arctic infrastructure. I believe that these themes are interesting areas for cooperation for the United States and Finland, when Finland follows the USA as the Chairman of the Arctic Council in May 2017. To me “The New Arctic” is about innovation, resolving problems, protecting the environment, and safety. And sauna, summer, and swimming in a clean lake. We live in an age when anyone can develop a solution that can affect the lives of millions of people. To get real benefits from a mobile and digital world we must better recognize our competences and skills and how we utilize them. People move, ideas move. Minds must move, too. Fulbright has an important role in this.

In his column professor Holmström wrote: “You first need to go out to see how others do things, learn from them as much as possible, and then you go back and adapt what you have learnt to your own special circumstances, and then you do it all better. That is how innovations come about.”

We do not need to be cleverer than that.

Jouni Mölsä
Director General of Communications, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Chair of the Finland-America Educational Trust Fund