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Learn from Finland

June 11,2019
Finland is a small country in northern Europe. Its gross domestic product (GDP) is one sixth of Korea’s and its population is one ninth. But no country ignores Finland. Respected as a small yet strong country, it takes pride in coming in first in the United Nations’ World Happiness Index for two consecutive years and seventh in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index last year. The country also earns top rankings for its national competitiveness thanks to the excellence of its labor, education and political infrastructure.

In a summit Monday with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Helsinki, President Moon Jae-in agreed to cooperate with Finland on nurturing start-ups. The businessmen who accompanied Moon were mostly comprised of representatives of our start-ups, which means Korea has a lot to learn from Finland in the areas of innovation. The high-tech park in Otaniemi near Helsinki, Finland, which Moon dropped by, is a hub of cutting-edge technologies and home to Clash of Clans and Angry Birds, popular online games in Korea.

What attracts our particular attention is Finland’s digital health care system and mobility — areas Korea can hardly move forward in the face of regulations and conflict of interest among stakeholders. Finland passed the Biobank Act in 2012 to foster its digital health care industry as a growth engine for the future. The law aims to build Big Data of genetic information from citizens’ blood, cells and tissues to support research in related fields. The Finnish government announced the FinnGen Project focused on collecting and analyzing 500,000 citizens — 10 percent of its entire population — in 2017, followed by the legislation allowing secondary use of that information by medical and health industries. Thanks to the amicable environment, global pharmaceutical and health companies — and related start-ups — are rushing to the country, a sharp contrast with Korea, whose companies can’t move an inch due to oppressive regulations as seen in the government’s ban on telemedicine.

The Korean delegation can also learn from Finland’s transport app Whim — which guarantees mobility for bus, subway, taxis and even electric scooters — as a model for the future of our urban transportation. Finland, too, experienced conflicts over car-sharing services like Über. But it found answers after striking a social consensus among parties involved.

Finland’s transition to innovation was not smooth. After the dramatic collapse of Nokia, which once accounted for some 40 percent of its GDP, a crisis befell the country. Yet it aggressively tackled the challenge through drastic reforms.

A common denominator in innovations is pragmatism. For small and open economies like Finland and Korea, the only way to survive is facing facts. Finland chose practicality over ideology to become an IT powerhouse. We hope Moon learns pragmatism from Finland if he wants Korea Inc. to innovate.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 11, Page 30