Monthly Archives: December 2015

MSc thesis in Geography got the second prize in the Master’s award in development studies!

UniPID and the Finnish Society for Development Research awarded Noora Stenholm the second prize in the Master’s contest, last November 2015. Stenholm got the credit with her thesis “Gendered perspectives on rehabilitation after involuntary resettlement in urban Sri Lanka.” Stenholm’s thesis concern on resettlement project in Sri Lanka, and she did fieldwork in Colombo.

Sri Lanka/Noora Stenholm

Sri Lanka/Noora Stenholm

“I did a qualitative research in a slum in a development project where groups hit by floods and tsunami, were resettled” Stenholm explains. She interviewed women about various issues dealing with their physical environment, living standards, employment, social relations, safety nets and possibilities to take action. She also interviewed project workers and town planners. Information was compared to their situations before the resettlement.

“Results vary, but I found that the community has a great impact on adjustment. In Colombo there are many involuntary settlements; however the project that I observed, is considered to be a successful one”.

This year, 25 Master theses have been submitted to the competition. The ranking criteria include societal applicability, impact and innovativeness of the work

“The award feels good! I think one of the reasons why I got it, is that I did my research on a new theme and in a new environment”, Stenholm comments.

“My interest in urban space and involuntary displacement was awaken during a lecture in development studies in 2012. Then I happen to travel to Sri Lanka twice before my field research, first for vacation and then on a study trip organized by the geography department. I have read about the country’s history and during my staying in the country, I have better defined my research questions. Local researchers and other people we met during the geography field course assured me about their relevance”, Stenholm explains.

After the field research period, Stenholm started an internship at the Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), where she is still working as a researcher.

“I am in the team Sustainable Development Futures, doing research about renewable energy, sustainable development, climate change and capacity building in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean”, she writes from Vantaa airport, on her way to a conference in Yangon, Myanmar.

“I could say that my educational background has been great for my career in the field of environment and development. At the geography department I have received much support and encouragement for my professional life. My current job is extremely interesting, challenging and developing… and still I would like to go back to Sri Lanka, one day”, Stenholm plans.

The first award prize was granted to Tomi Launio, for his thesis “Population Dynamics and Livelihood Change on Ukara Island, Lake Victoria”; while the third place was awarded to Paula Pankakoski, for her thesis “Place and Belonging – an Ethnography of Rural Migrant Children in Beijing “.

You can read more about Stenholm thesis here: Noora Stenholm, Gendered perspectives on rehabilitation after involuntary resettlement in urban Sri Lanka

And about the award prize here!


Research with students is fun!

Paola Minoia and students on the field trip in Ecuador

Paola Minoia (left) and students on the field trip in Ecuador

I am Paola Minoia, docent and lecturer in development geography. I have done all my previous studies in Italy with research periods abroad and my PhD thesis was on “water and identities” in Northern Sudan. I started working in Finland in 2008. Before that, I was working at the University of Venice, and going back in time, for UNDP in Lesotho and Egypt, and in various projects: with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UE, NGOs, local administrations. I can say I got various hints on different working places and (govern)mentalities dealing with development!

In Finland I have continued doing research especially on water and environmental justice and politics, in the same time increasing my teaching experience applying experiential learning. Besides students’ activation in class, I have seen that it is possible and very fruitful to involve Master students in research. In my type of studies, field research is very important, and students have the opportunity to work at the Taita research station in Kenya for their theses. A few have been involved in various projects, for instance the Academy-funded TaitaWater (here is the project report). Our department has also organised field courses in the Global South. I have been personally involved in 3 trips: one in Morocco in 2011 (please have a look to the video  and to the report), one in Sri Lanka in 2013 (the report is here), and a recent one in Ecuador, in October 2015 (here is a news published by the Universidad Estatal Amazonica). Soon we will publish a report, stay tuned!

Development geographers’ visit in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Heikki Rahikainen

“What will you become once you graduate?” This is the question that I have heard so many times. I don’t have any straight answer to that question, sometimes I just like to reply “I don’t know” or “a drunkard” (as it is a very popular and respected type of employment in Finland). Of course I have thought this question a lot like any other student.

We visited Markus Teir, Antti Putkonen and Nora Klami in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

We visited Markus Teir, Antti Putkonen and Nora Klami in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

So, many university students worry about their future employment as we don’t (usually) graduate for a certain occupation. What about us development geographers? One possible employer for us could be the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which we visited last week. We had three speakers, who were diplomats with their study background in geography. They told us about their work in development aid and answered to some of our pre-given questions. However, I feel that the most important part of the excursion was about the job opportunities. As the employment opportunities in the ministry are highly contested between, say, political scientists, law studies and geographers, it was great to know that many geographer actually work there. The “geodiplomats” gave me a lot of confidence that it is possible to get involved in diplomacy although you are not majoring in international relations, law or business.

Career as a diplomat could be an excellent choice for a development geographer. We do have many skills and knowledge of issues that are useful in diplomacy. Perhaps to most useful “skill” that came up was the generalist nature of our studies. Development issues are also always important. Of course, we can’t compete with certain things, for example with the knowledge of laws, but that even isn’t the point, as diplomacy requires a range of different types of people, knowledge and skills.

However, diplomacy also brings its own challenges. As it came up in the excursion, diplomacy is more of a lifestyle as it (usually) involves working for years in foreign countries and readiness to act at any time of the day. This means that one has to make compromises in, for example, family life. The work can be quite unpredictable and complex, which itself may be even desirable, but it can also create very stressful situations. These things must be considered seriously but as we were told, most diplomats make their whole career in the area of diplomacy as it is so interesting and rewarding.

Thinking about the future, geography isn’t an obstacle, it’s much more an opportunity that opens range of possibilities. It will not give us any answers by itself: it’s up to us ourselves to make a good use of it.

Career opportunities for development geographers

Johanna Maliniemi

I think most of us have decided to study Development Geography, because we had a desire to change the world a fairer, safer and equal place. Study years have passed fast, and Master’s students need to really consider how to try to fulfil their goals after graduating. Volunteer work is always nice, but with many thousands’ euros study loan, you also need to think the salary. Great news was heard in our 4th seminar: there are many options to combine these goals!

We had two visitors in our meeting, who inspired and encouraged us by sharing their own paths in development career. The first speaker was Outi Hakkarainen from Kepa, who works as an officer for advocacy and development policy. Kepa is the umbrella organisation for Finnish civil society organisations who work in field of development cooperation, and Hakkarainen has worked there more than 10 years. Her career path went through Latin America, as Hakkarainen went to Mexico after studying and worked there years with issues of democracy. After years in Latin America, she decided to work in Finland and got work at first in Stakes and later in Kepa. Hakkarainen has a long experience of field of civil society, which is also goal for many development geographers.

Image/ Tuija Pakkanen

Image/ Tuija Pakkanen

Our second guest was Tuija Pakkanen from WSP Finland, in which Pakkanen worked in an urban architecture unit as an urban analyst. She has also a lot experience working abroad, as she has been in the US, Nicaragua and Nepal. Pakkanen is a good example that it is not only NGO’s in which development minded people can work. She has been working for various private sector companies which deal with environment. After finishing her Master’s studies in development geography, she got one year contract in the US Forest Service in California. After the experience in the US she got a GIS and forestry related job in Arbonaut Ltd in Nepal funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs bilateral development cooperation programme. Pakkanen worked couple of years in Nepal, but then she wanted to work in Finland and got work in WSP. She thinks that by working in private sector, you can also change the world because you can make the companies to work sustainable way. She has used GIS skills a lot in her work, but she told that you do not necessarily need to be expert of GIS to get the works but to have some experience and confidence that you are able to learn more. You will learn the skills while working anyway.

Activism was mentioned by both guests to be a good quality in job seeking. Hakkarainen tells that she has always participated in activism and encourages students to do so. Activism and volunteer work would be a great place to learn also while you are studying. There are many student associations and other organizations were students can participate. Either it doesn’t need to be just hobby kind of thing but Hakkarainen mentioned that she sees it as a life style. Other mentioned qualities in job seeking were flexibility, interest in political issues, teamwork, quick to learner, open and active mind.

Benefits of being a development geographer were discussed also, and one of the key quality is, that geographers understand the wide issues and sees the multidimensional causalities. The development geographer is a person who understand how environment, society, markets and politics have impacts to different levels of society and who knows what could be the actions to change system to more sustainable and fair.

Migrants’ lives and the negotiation of their identities

Lim Yew Chen

Conference Building

This is the building where the conferences are held (RMIT Storey Hall). You can find more information about this particular conference from the following link:

 During the first week of November, I attended two conferences in Melbourne on migration in the world in the Asia-Pacific region. I am interested in the lives of migrants in the lower rungs of the society they moved into, and participated in the conference “Transient Migration in the Asia-Pacific: Identities, Social Networks, and Media” hosted at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

The working group I took part in, explored the lives of migrants from countries like the Philippines and China to developed countries like Hong Kong and Australia. Presentations started with Catriona Stevens speaking on how low-educated, economic migrants from China arrived in Australia for temporary work but soon found it challenging to return back. This has made them “reluctant settlers” in Australia, where they stay because of the better education system that is offered to their children. This sudden influx of transient to permanent “identities” in Australia affects both policies and also their assimilation into the country. Next, Evelyn Kwok presented on the exploitation of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong by their employers, the public and the Hong Kong government, with only a salary of 450 USD monthly for a 6 day work week. She also charts their identity construction through their place-making strategies in urban spaces. Lastly, Assoc. Prof Farida Fozdar presented on the lack of understanding on migrant workers’ social and cultural needs when Australia opened its borders to economic migrants to resolve its economic concerns. All these presentations have one key theme in mind that relates to development geography, which is the global movements of transient migrants and their marginalisation and exploitation if they are in the lower rungs of society. The presentations explore their “identities” i.e. their nationality, ethnicity and how this in turn affects their assimilation or segregation in their host countries. Indeed, migration is a challenge with increasing globalisation where diasporas and individuals are constantly challenged of their identities and their idea of home.

Inside the conferenceAfter this working group, the week of conferences ended on a poignant note- that academics should also look at how their researches can provoke thoughts and influence policies. As we study in various courses in development geography, hopefully we will also be able to apply our knowledge and research to help create a better place for those who are exploited and marginalised.