Rauli Svento: GenZ is the pioneer of resilience research
Economics is rooted in the search for the ‘common good’
Within economics, Svento’s interest lies in applied research. His main research topics have pertained to environmental and energy economics, health economics and regional economics.
“I developed an interest in economics, because in my view, economics is rooted in the search for the common good. We are trying to find solutions that serve everyone and reconcile different needs. Researchers need to find the best possible solutions and the right political decisions which promote the common good,” Svento explains.
Svento made his career mainly at the University of Oulu, and he retired in 2019. However, Svento is still taking part in several different research projects, and he also supervises doctoral research.
“Career in research tends to be funny like that – for me, retirement means that instead of salary, I am now drawing a pension. But I do enjoy it, as I get to participate in as much as I like and in my own terms,” Svento says.
Svento’s career in economic research has been versatile, and he recalls his most fruitful projects and collaborations. Although there are many, the collaboration with North_Finland Birth Cohort researchers, leading the BCDC energy research project, as well as working with creative resilience research in the GenZ profiling project have been especially rewarding for him.
Creating a new word ‘energy weather forecast’
Before his retirement, Svento managed the BCDC energy research project, which was funded by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland. The goal of the project was to see how intermittent renewable energy sources (such as wind power and solar power) could enter the market independently without receiving economic support.
During the project, Svento and his team ended up creating a new word called energy weather forecast. In practice, the energy weather forecast is attached to the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s weather forecast, and it outlines factors that influence how that particular weather can be utilised to harness energy, wind – and solar power.
Svento and his team developed an application which contains hourly updated forecast data on how wind and solar power are available to use in the given weather. The application grew very popular, and it can be downloaded from BCDC energy’s webpage. In the current energy crisis, the Finnish Meteorological Institute has also started to update a simplified version of the energy weather forecast on their twitter account.
As a result of Svento’s teams work, the Institute of the Languages in Finland approved two new neologisms to be officially incorporated into the Finnish language – energiasää (energy weather) and energiasääennuste (energy weather forecast).
The BCDC energy project was multidisciplinary as it involved several different disciplines, including, for instance, information studies, computer science and engineering.
“Multidisciplinary projects are really fascinating, because they offer chances to learn and reflect. The combining of different disciplines generates better solutions. We managed to find new solutions as a result of several fruitful discussions and debates,” Svento recalls.
Is entrepreneurship in your DNA?
Health economics, which is another form of applied economics, investigates the link between people’s health and their economic decision-making or financial success, as well as how shocks and crises affect people’s well-being.
The popular proposition that entrepreneurship is genetic was interesting to Svento, and he collaborated with the Finnish Birth Cohort researchers to investigate the link between DNA and entrepreneurship.
“We were able to show that DNA does not contain anything that would predispose a person to entrepreneurship later in life. Anybody can become self-employed,” Svento elaborates.
Svento and his team also investigated the link between genetic background and learning. Like entrepreneurship, learning is also neither affected by genes.
“Everybody can learn - it is the learning environment that should be designed so that it enables everyone to learn,” Svento says.
Defining creative resilience
For some years now, Svento has collaborated with his colleague, Associate Professor Jaakko Simonen on creative resilience research in the Oulu region in terms of Nokia Inc.’s collapse, which led to the loss of more than 3000 jobs. While studying Oulu’s case, Svento and his team noticed that people were able to adapt to the new situation quite well. This observation led them to come up with a new concept, creative resilience.
In literature, resilience has traditionally been understood as the ability to bounce back and return to the original state after experiencing a shock. However, Svento proposes that instead, we should bounce forward and rethink. Returning to the original state might even trigger the same problems that were there to begin with.
In the future, Svento is hoping to continue with resilience research. Collaboration with Simonen and the GenZ Economic Resilience team is still ongoing. Together with their partners, Svento, Simonen and the Economic Resilience team have analysed mobility data to understand the economic effects of the Covid-19 on the so-called ‘Arctic five cities’ located across Finland, Sweden and Norway.
“While the politics of the Nordic countries regarding Covid-19 are certainly not identical, the economic effects are not that different. Economically speaking, all the Nordic counties have recovered quite well from Covid-19,” Svento explains.
The GenZ project supports the profiling of economic resilience research
Overall, Svento thinks that the GenZ profiling theme has been the pioneer of resilience research at the University of Oulu. Thanks to GenZ, there is now a research team that specifically focuses on the resilience theme.
“When the GenZ Profiling theme was established, we as the developers of GenZ felt that it was very important to promote the profiling of human sciences. We were a small group of people, and together we mapped out the questions relating to digitalisation that were essential from the point of view of human sciences,” Svento explains.
“That is when the research subthemes co-evolution, co-creation and resilience were formed, and on the basis of them we were able to build a reliable view of how the university could be at the front of research in human sciences,” he continues.
Being part of the GenZ profiling theme from the very beginning has been really rewarding for Svento.
“Being part of GenZ is really an element of joy for me in my academic career. We received excellent reviews and I really feel that we succeeded,” Svento says.
The future world needs urgent climate actions
Svento expresses that digitalisation is here to stay, and adapting to this change is necessary for everyone. Different digital services will become increasingly more common, but the challenge lies in value creation. In other words, digital services should be designed so that they are easy to use and serve their purpose.
Overall, Svento thinks that taking urgent climate action, preservation of biodiversity, and maintaining world peace are the important, collective goals of the future.
“In fact, the preservation of biodiversity positively correlates with economic growth, says recent research. The preservation of biodiversity is not important just in terms of nature having value in itself. It is also important in terms of the continuity and maintenance of human life,” Svento says.
Although Svento says that remaining optimistic about the achievement of these goals is at times difficult, he is forever an optimist on the level of individual people.
“Governments, institutions and companies are of course responsible for making large-scale decisions. But I think that each of us should start to think critically about the choices that we make in our everyday lives. We can make better choices without having to fully step out of our comfort zones,” Svento says.
The choices that individuals make generate impacts on the bigger picture. In Svento’s view, the increasing sustainability efforts and attention to ethics in the business world illuminate how customers’ choices guide the companies to make better decisions. This is a recent, positive development which he has observed.
“Little strokes fell great oaks – small but persistent efforts lead to big results,” Svento expresses.