Donations to economic sciences enable a long-term researcher visit to Stanford University

The University of Oulu uses the donated funds to increase the impact of its research. These donations are used, for example, to recruit new researchers, support the international mobility of researchers, and discover new areas of research. In the field of business and economics, the donations have been used to establish Finland’s first brand professorship and the Center for Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Business (CESB), whose research themes include business growth and the economy’s ability to renew itself, the creation of international business opportunities, digital strategies, responsible business as a competitive factor, and cooperative business and entrepreneurship.
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Hanna Okkonen

Hanna Okkonen works as a researcher at the University of Oulu’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Business (CESB). Her career as a researcher has been both varied and extensive in its scope, but her efforts have always been guided by her uncompromising and courageous approach to important issues that can be used to discover international business opportunities from new innovations.

“The world is changing constantly. If you want to find any permanence, you’d have to look for it in a laboratory. Is there any point to making predictions and long-term strategies when nothing is immune to change? My approach has been to challenge commonly held yet often ineffective beliefs for dealing with strategy work and ask: what is strategizing? How could it be understood in new ways?”, says Okkonen.

Okkonen has studied companies that focus on ICT and health care innovations. She is passionate about finding out why strategy work is generally held in high regard by companies and in management guides, since most strategies are usually so detached from what is really going on in any given organisation: “A strategy that is created in a vacuum will never fit in or be truly embraced by an organisation, which then often leads to trouble. So, is the creation of a strategy really that important for the strategic outcome? Why are strategies often so detached from the everyday policies and practices that actually guide and shape organisations?”

In addition to practice theory, Okkonen’s work relies on process philosophy, which can be used to study the continuously evolving nature of strategies. Process philosophy does not focus on permanence, but on the idea that in the midst of constant change, organisational life is formed by the daily social practices upheld and reproduced by people , which then shape an organisation’s key strategic initiatives. The quiet, unconscious practices of a company may be the real reasons for its success. With reflection, these silent success factors can be made visible and included in official strategy documents.

Okkonen employs ethnography as her research method, meaning that she has observed her organisations on-site. The result has been a veritable treasure trove of research data: 300 hours of observations as well as recordings from meetings.

In addition to her final doctoral dissertation in the field of business and economics, Okkonen examines how medical innovations are honed into international business. “The corona pandemic has been a major source of change in today's world, and while it pays no heed to any strategies, it does respond to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial methods. Entrepreneurial approaches allow people and companies to adapt in an agile manner in an ever-changing and increasingly global world, but how do they enable and create business in the healthcare sector, which is dominated by long processes, legislation and bureaucracy?”

Stanford University provides tools for companies and new perspectives on teaching

Qualitative methods can be used to study phenomena that elude other research methods. Although qualitative analysis is a laborious task, few AI methods have been developed to facilitate the analysis of huge amounts of data. No surprise, then, that the development of new analysis methods is close to Okkonen’s heart: “I applied for a long-term researcher visit to Stanford University through the Scandinavian Consortium for Organizational Research, or SCANCOR. Stanford is home to the Computational Culture Lab, which combines practice perspectives with artificial intelligence. I will take my material there and, simultaneously, try to create new analytical and operational models that companies can use to discover their most important practices while balancing their operations in a constantly changing world.”

From the perspective of research, the thought that only a few people will read your dissertation is rarely an inspiring one. Okkonen is motivated by teaching and providing students with new perspectives.

I always try to involve a company or CEO in my master’s-level courses so that both sides can learn the latest about research and business. I want to see how students are taught at Stanford and develop my own pedagogical skills.

The University of Oulu’s CESB was established with donated funds, and the same funds were also used to support Hanna Okkonen’s researcher exchange to Stanford. Donated funds will continue to play an important role in strengthening the Center’s operations. For example, in the future, the Center plans to invest in webinar equipment to enhance its business collaboration initiatives. Currently, the impact of all donations is increased, as Sitra will match all received funding by a factor of up to 2.5 for every donated euro.