Meeting with Mrs. Susana Malcorra: Women’s empowerment in the age of contested multilateralism

This post is written by Local Task Force (LTF) members Helena, Eugenia and Ruth:

Last week, volunteers in the Una Europa Helsinki Local Task Force had the opportunity to meet with Mrs. Susana Malcorra, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship for the Republic of Argentina and the former Chief of Staff of the UN Secretary-General, as she visited Helsinki to attend a discussion panel hosted by the Finnish Institute for International Affairs (FIIA). As a former UN official, as well as the founding member of the advocacy organization Global Women Leaders (GWL), she brought two crucial messages: women’s empowerment and the future of multilateralism in world politics.

The power to not take yourself too seriously

LTF sat down with Mrs. Malcorra on Monday evening, the day before her speech at the FIIA panel. As she said, she came to the meeting straight from the airport, since her plane got delayed – but it was one that she specifically asked to have, as engaging with young people, women especially, is something she considers a crucial part of her job.

The former chief of Argentinian foreign policy started her career rather unexpectedly in the private sector: engineer by training, she spent the first 25 years working for IBM and Telecom Argentina. As a woman in a male-dominated field, her beginnings were challenging – as she told us, when she showed interest in a sales position in her IBM entrance interview, she was told that the company does not employ women in sales. However, determination is one of her qualities that you notice almost immediately. “I was ready to jump across the table and attack the interviewer,” she told us, laughing. Later she learned that he asked the question on purpose, to see her reaction – and a few months later, she was working the sales job as the only woman in the team.

Willingness to take risks is what also brought her to the UN. Despite being on the track to one day becoming a top manager, she left IBM after strong disagreements with the new leadership. “One night after handing in my resignation, I remember I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I was full of doubts about my decision.” She told us it was her husband who assured her that there is nothing to worry about. And he was right. She got the offer to apply for a managerial position in the UN World Food Programme in Rome, and despite starting as an underdog in an openly political hiring process, she got the job. “I was told I won’t get in because other countries had strong candidates,” she explained. “If you know me, you also know that this is the last thing to tell me. I had no political backing from my country, but after 11 interviews I was offered the position.”

Mrs. Malcorra shared that one of the reasons for this success was her ability to look at things from a different angle – she brought her own vision and ideas but was also willing to listen to others. Her sense of humor also helped. “I believe it’s important to talk human,” she said and emphasized that this is a transformational quality often brought to the team by women. The support of female leaders and women’s empowerment is one of her strongest topics.

“I will believe in equality when I see non-brilliant women at the top”

“We started the GWL after running for the position of UN Secretary-General. There were seven of us, all highly qualified women. None of us got the job. But we realized that we are not just rivals – we should be partners in promoting women’s empowerment,” stated Mrs. Malcorra when explaining the beginnings of the organization GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion, an advocacy group for multilateralism and gender equality consisting of over 60 global female leaders. Since 1945, women have held just 12% of the top jobs at 33 of the biggest multilateral institutions (Reuters). Mrs. Malcorra shared with us numbers and facts on the reason why considering the role of women in higher political institutions is more urgent than ever. She mentioned how, for instance, a gender balance in the Parliament lowers the rate of violence – in other words, if you have women at the table, you are likely to have a lower degree of violence and to find a more sustainable solution.

Luckily for us, most of the meeting was based on a Q&A, which created a lively debate. We asked Mrs. Malcorra what she thought about gender quotas and how she judged the idea that every decision should be based on meritocracy. “Meritocracy is important, but not enough” she pointed out, as gender equality is very much a power struggle. Policies need to accelerate this process and quotas are a necessary tool – “I will believe in equality when I will see non-brilliant women at the top positions, as men I see every day”.

“Dare!”

We also asked for some advice on how to effectively communicate in male-centered debates. Self-esteem is the stepping stone to gaining influence. Women tend to focus on what they do not know or on the fact that they do not know enough to apply for a certain job, express an opinion, etc. On the men’s side – surprise surprise! – the same thoughts leave space for a solid “I can do it”-attitude. Women should be encouraged to dare, try, and get more confidence along the way. A new job, for example, should feel like an oversized coat – too baggy and uncomfortable at first, then, step by step, we grow “muscles” and fill the gap. Now the coat fits perfectly, and we realized we made what we thought impossible. Slowly it will even feel tight, and that means new challenges must be considered. Women in top roles are necessary, as she highlights: “If you are not engaged, you are not shaping the agenda”.

“There are no right or wrong decisions”

A delicate but maybe inevitable question once we learned Mrs. Malcorra has a child, was whether it has been difficult to balance career and family. “You never get it right”, she laughed. It was difficult, indeed, and compromises were a daily occurrence. Her partner was essential to share responsibilities and some mistakes are inevitable. The support of her family can be represented by the honest dialogue with her son after a broken promise: “Mom, I want you to keep your promises, but I don’t want you to quit your job”. It was uplifting and inspiring to hear about the good and the bad, with moments of uncertainty that every human has. It is ok to doubt, but there are no right or wrong decisions. There are decisions. In the case we find them wrong, we work to make them right. 

“Multilateralism will remain indispensable”

As Mrs. Malcorra emphasized, women’s rights are threatened once again. In her opinion, this process is closely tied to the retreat of multilateralism – the order of international politics centered around international law, the UN, and the importance of giving voice to smaller countries and marginal groups instead of letting the most powerful players turn global politics into a cut-throat competition among the fittest. This was the topic of the panel titled Will multilateralism survive in the age of strategic competition?, hosted by FIIA on Tuesday 28th February, where Mrs. Malcorra was the keynote speaker.

She emphasized that the practice of international institutions working together is in crisis due to populism, nationalism, digitalization, and an increasing lack of trust. There is an urgent need to strengthen the practical values of multilateralism, as well as cooperation in health, trade, and climate change, since these are challenges not even the biggest states can face on their own. The war in Europe is a grave threat to multilateralism both politically and culturally. But as Mrs. Malcorra argued, it should not be forgotten that the multilateral system has to accommodate not just the democratic and liberal governments that work together, but the undemocratic ones as well.

Regional multilateralism is emerging as one of the alternative forms of international cooperation. As was emphasized by Mr. Haavisto, the Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs who also attended the panel, “multilateralism can work in conventional forms, but it also needs to adapt to new realities. While it might be undermined in the future, it will remain indispensable.” Inequalities in regional development should also be considered when trying to strengthen multilateralism, especially by the developed countries including the EU and Finland.

All in all, the survival of the multilateral international framework is not just a point for abstract academic discussion. On the contrary, the well-being of millions of people around the world is closely tied to it, with women and girls being among the most affected groups. One of the main messages in Mrs. Malcorra’s argumentation at our Monday meeting was that not power politics, but politics focusing on the well-being of everyone in the society has to be the path we take if we want to live in a more just and equal world.

Conclusion

We live in turbulent times, and thinking about the future can sometimes be a gloomy, worrying experience. However, it is only one side of the coin, since times of great changes can also lead to the creation of something new and better. What is needed are people with a vision and confidence to advocate for such a change. Both of our encounters with Mrs. Malcorra left us with a feeling of new energy and optimism that such people are out there, and what more, dedicate considerable time and energy to advocating for and inspiring others. So put your coats on, ladies (and gents), and let’s dare!

Written by Helena Drdlová, Eugenia Castellazzi and Ruth Nawakwi

Photos by Stinne Vognæs (1-4, 6) and FIIA (5)

Una Europa in the Night of Science: Will AI save us…?

This blog post is written by our LTF member Saana:

Time passes by ever so quickly and we are drawing near to the end of the third period of the academic year. However, it is never too late to take a little look into the past and reflect on it – especially when the theme of the discussion is trendy and thought-provoking artificial intelligence (or more familiarly: AI). 

Una Europa took part in the Night of Science on the 12th of January and invited a set of interdisciplinary speakers to discuss AI from the perspective of humanities and social sciences with the headline ‘Fact or fiction: Will AI save us?’. Did our panel find the answer to this profound question? Well, I guess you must keep reading.

So many people attended!

The evening kicked off with an introduction to Una Europa MOOC: AI in Society by researcher Tomi Kokkonen. MOOC: AI in Society is a multidisciplinary online course about AI and how it creates challenges within our society. The course views the issues and questions from several points of view like justice, health care and democratic participation, among others. Kokkonen pointed out that as the influence of AI in our society increases, the wider public also needs literacy and deeper understanding of AI. And it is the aim of this MOOC course to make more people more aware of the effects of AI in society.

Tomi Kokkonen giving a representation on MOOC: AI in Society.

After Kokkonen’s introduction, the evening’s panel could start. But first things first, let me introduce to you our panelists:

    • Jaana Hallamaa, Professor of Social Ethics & Deputy Director in ETAIROS project
    • Raul Hakli, Senior Researcher in Practical Philosophy & co-leader of RADAR
    • Anna-Mari Rusanen, Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Science, AI in Education
    • The moderator of the panel: Jukka Nurminen, Professor of Computer Science

From the left: Tomi Kokkonen, Jaana Hallamaa, Raul Hakli, Anna-Mari Rusanen and Jukka Nurminen

Discussion between the panelists and the audience was very lively and the theme brought up several intriguing questions. First, the panelists started thinking about the headline question, and Rusanen pointed out that the question should rather be: “Will the AI developers save us?” – because after all AI is still “only” a tool.

Hallamaa mentioned that when using tech and AI, a person becomes firstly a subject: user of tech, secondly an object: at the mercy of different applications, and thirdly data: raw material. This is an interesting point of view when we discuss AI as a tool – in a way, a person also becomes a tool. The roles that we play and the rules that are given to us can be difficult to map out as humans according to Hallamaa.

Rakli joined in the conversation by wondering if there really is something new to the fact that we have this new tool called AI? Throughout history people have developed new tools and ways of working, which have further created new jobs. Rakli also talked about the more dangerous side of AI: AI systems go deep into things that are typical to human beings and essentially human. These things are, for example, thinking and reasoning. Might we therefore start to lose our skill to use our brains? Do we become dumb because we don’t use the muscle inside the skull?

To this Rusanen answered that the history of humankind is a history of development of tools. Tools have always extended our skills. For example, writing extended memory, eyeglasses extended senses, and so on. According to Rusanen, we do not necessarily become dumber because of the tools, they rather extend our skills. However, AI does bring challenges to the education system: we need to teach the children how to use new technologies in a meaningful way. 


Our audience got to write down some questions. However, the discussion was so lively that we didn’t need them in the end!

These were only little snippets from an extremely interesting evening. Our panelists didn’t solve the question of saving the world, but it is certain that the discussion gave everyone lots of food for thought.

Are you curious about the role of AI in society? Learn more in the Una Europa MOOC course!

The Third Una Europa Student Congress in Kraków

This year’s last blog post is also another in the series covering Una Europa’s autumn 2022. It is written by our LTF member Saana:

The Third Una Europa Student Congress in Kraków

Now that the end of the year is approaching fast and steady, it is a good time to stop for a moment, take a breath, and glimpse back at one of the most exciting events of the Autumn: Student Congress.

Una Europa Student Congress was held for the third time from 26th to 28th October 2022 and this time the host of the event was Uniwersytet Jagielloński in Kraków, Poland. The main goal of the event was to bring the students from all over Una Europa’s partner universities together to discuss, network and contemplate on how the university of the future might and should look like. Additionally, during the opening ceremony of the student congress, the #UnaForUkraine fundraising campaign was launched to show that Una Europa stands with Ukraine.

Students from our University of Helsinki also traveled to Kraków in order to participate in the Congress. Sara Korjunen, Student Board member from our university, took part in the Congress to meet students from different universities and work together with them. In addition, Sara was excited to learn through interactive experiences and being able to do all this while traveling to a new city that she hasn’t been to before:

“I think the most memorable thing about the Student Congress was when we were given the opportunity to find solutions to problems presented to us in teams. We were able to talk about current problems in the academic life. Brainstorming possible solutions in multicultural teams was a super interesting experience! In that moment I felt like our voices were truly heard,” Sara says.

Ida Laakkonen, a doctoral researcher from the Faculty of Law, attended the PhD networking event which was held concurrently with the Student Congress in Uniwersytet Jagielloński. Ida participated in the PhD networking event in order to meet other junior researchers from the Una Europa partner universities, and exchange ideas and experiences with them. Discussing all the different aspects of doctoral research while taking walks around the city and museums was the most memorable part of the event for Ida.

She says: “The PhD networking event is essential to connect junior researchers and create long-term shared initiatives while ensuring the presence of junior researchers in the Una Europa Community”.

And that is one of the goals of Una Europa. To create a community for students between Una Europa partner universities, and to build a university free of country borders. Like Sara says: 

“The Congress gives the opportunity of an international experience for students. During those few days students get to meet each other, learn, and work together. It also assures the students that their voices matter and their ideas are taken seriously.”

 

Micro-credential in Sustainability

One of Una Europa’s missions is to educate about the big topics of today. Read what our LTF member Melinda wrote about the Una Europa micro-credentials course in sustainability.

Micro-credential in Sustainability

As the year draws to a close, let’s take a moment to look back on one of the things Una Europa has achieved in 2022. On a mission to create a European university of the future, Una Europa added a new micro-credential to its course catalog! The theme is one of the five central academic focuses of Una Europa: sustainability.

Achieving ambitious climate goals requires cooperation across borders and disciplines. The climate crisis is not an issue that can be solved by one country alone. This is where international collaborations like Una Europa come in.

The Una Europa micro-credential in sustainability is a collaboration between The University of Helsinki, the University of Bologna, and the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. It encompasses five multidisciplinary Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) that have to do with the environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainability. The courses are based on the latest research as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The aim of the courses is to provide students with the basic knowledge about sustainability they need to be a part of the change for a more sustainable future. Laura Riuttanen, university lecturer in atmospheric sciences at the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR), says universities can be drivers of that change. Riuttanen is the academic lead on the micro-credential in sustainability. She would like to see universities be an active part of the sustainability transformation: I find that teaching is really the way to transform societies”.

According to Riuttanen, it is important that we update our knowledge on sustainability and on biodiversity so that we know what needs to be done and how we can help. The MOOCs in this micro-credential offer a flexible learning environment, as the online courses can be completed at the learner’s own pace.

The launch event for the micro-credential was held at the Think Corner back in October. The participants had the opportunity to hear about the new micro-credential, as well as discuss topics related to sustainability.

The micro-credential is free for students studying at any of the Una Europa partner universities. After completing all the courses in the micro-credential, students are awarded a certificate as well as 10 ECTS by the University of Helsinki.

 More information about the micro-credential and instructions for how to enroll can be found on the Una Europa website:

https://www.una-europa.eu/study/microcredential-sustainability#content

 

Una Europa meetings in Bologna and Edinburgh

September has been a busy month for Brian, our Student Board member. Read his remarks on the two events he attended at the Una Europa partner universities: Magna Charta Univeritarium Anniversary in Bologna and Una Europa community meeting in Edinburgh.

Magna Charta Univeritarium Anniversary, Bologna

The Magna Charta Universitatum Anniversary took place in Bologna from the 15th to the 17th of September. The Una Europa Student Board was invited by University of Bologna to provide a student’s point of view at the meetings of the Observatory of Magna Charta Universitatum. Magna Charta Universitatum is a declaration and affirmation of the fundamental principles upon which the mission of universities should be based, originally signed in 1988 to mark the 1000th anniversary of University of Bologna.

The theme of the anniversary this year was Universities engaging with Society in Turbulent Times. There was particular emphasis on the ongoing war in Ukraine and the freedom of students and academics which find themselves under oppressive regimes. The meetings consisted of roundtable discussions on different themes, with input from students up to University Rectors. On the final day, an updated version of the declaration, Magna Charta Univeritarium 2020, was signed by attending Rectors and university representatives.

The Una Europa student board took the opportunity to meet on the sidelines of this conference to discuss the direction of the board in relation to the upcoming structure changes of Una Europa, as well as to prepare for the student congress. We also were lucky enough to have a look around the beautiful campus of UniBo which is ingrained in the city of Bologna itself, and to sample the fantastic food on offer there.

Una Europa Meetings at University of Edinburgh

Next from the 26th to 29th of September, a Una Europa community of over 250 came together in Edinburgh to discuss the achievements of the past three years of the alliance, and use this to direct the activities of the alliance going forward. The highlight of the meeting was the Una Europa Kaleidoscope, which contained entertaining presentations on the Summer School, Live my Life scheme, Seed funding and Una Challenge. The Student Board met in Edinburgh on theme to discuss the performance of the board up to now and strategies for the future. Once again it was great to experience another alliance member’s university life and meet with peers.

The highlight of the meetings was a Ceili (Scottish dinner and dance) held in the National Museum of Scotland. We were treated to delicious Scottish cuisine, and then we were taught to dance to Scottish music in the traditional way. It was a great way to spend an evening and those who were dancing sweated quite a lot!

 

 

Pikkujoulu in Kaisa Guidance Corner

As the nights are getting longer and the city is covered in first fresh snow, it is the perfect time to meet and celebrate Pikkujoulu (“little Christmas”), a traditional Finnish pre-Christmas party. Ours took place in the Guidance Corner of the Kaisa Library on Tuesday 29th November and it was just fantastic 😊!

The Local Task Force prepared a bunch of different activities. We are still experimenting, but for example the format “match a country” will probably stay in our repertoire: for Pikkujoulu, the task was to match Una Europa countries with the right Christmas traditions. And it wasn’t as easy as it may seem. Do you for example know where they brew Christmas beer, or where it is a tradition to have horse races on the 26th of December?

You also had the opportunity to write your own letter to Santa about the university of the future you wish for. We collected a nice package of letters which we can’t wait to read… I mean deliver 😉. They really made our day, so you will definitely hear more about them in our future posts or social media takeovers.

Big thanks again to everyone who stopped by, we hope you had as much fun as we did 😊! And if you still want to catch us before the end of the year, we have one more event coming up next week: the Social Night in Thirsty Scholar. It will take place on Wednesday from 19:30 and is open to everybody 😊.

So hyvää Joulua!

“Let’s do this big”: Sustainability transition by co-created learning objectives

One of the most powerful features of Una Europa, to me, is the combination of value-based shared goals and boldness to reach for new solutions. Commitment to sustainability is one of the fundamental values that the University of Helsinki and Una Europa share.

For the University of Helsinki, embedding aspects of the UN sustainable development goals in all our educational offerings​ is one of our strategic goals for this decade. A tangible measure toward this goal is our brand new sustainability course launched this spring and piloted as we speak.

Una Europa, with sustainability as one of its five focus areas, is determined to address the sustainable development goals via dialogue between natural sciences, social sciences, health sciences, engineering, arts and humanities from all eight partner universities. The goal is to co-create innovative formats for education that enable a new holistic approach to sustainability teaching. All academics within the University of Helsinki are welcome to influence their shape and direction.

In concrete, the Una Europa community is working on both a joint bachelor’s degree and a master’s level micro-qualification in sustainability science. The bachelor’s programme in sustainability is a unique initiative as a step toward truly joint degrees: co-created by sustainability researchers from all universities, earning the students a degree recognised by all degree awarding universities. The micro-qualification in sustainability represents a new European opening designed to answer the needs of master’s students, individuals switching fields and life-long learners alike with a 20 ECTS module of four MOOCs.

What can these new approaches to sustainability teaching mean for us at University of Helsinki in practice? To find out, the second UH-Una Open Forum on 31 March set out to discuss our university community’s expectations for Una Europa collaboration. An active group of researchers, teachers, students and specialists sparked discussion circulating around expectations, benefits and needs for Una sustainability cooperation.

The following are my takeaways from the discussion – ideas I intend to keep at heart as we continue paving the way towards our shared goals.

High expectations 

Quality and collaboration were two keywords characterising the participants’ expectations for Una Europa collaboration. The level of ambition and excitement was epitomised in the output of one of the group discussions: “Let’s do this BIG – gather students & researchers & professionals all over Europe to join forces for the sustainability transition!”

Quality expectations were connected to the content and pedagogy of sustainability education but also to the process of creating the joint bachelor’s degree and the micro-qualification. Personally, I am inclined to see precisely the collaborative working method as a solution for increased quality in content. Genuinely co-created contents and methods for education will build on expertise and best practices from all eight universities. However, such a goal can pose needs for a kind of creation process we may not be used to.

Co-created goals to guide collaboration 

In the Open Forum discussion on the needs for successful collaboration, one need named was getting to know each other to create mutual understanding and ultimately shared goals. This is indeed a crucial starting point. It is also something that requires dialogue and proper time and patience given to the process.

Because we also want to advance at pace, the process needs guidance. Intercultural collaborative processes like this can get fuzzy as we come together from our different viewpoints to build something completely new. We easily get lost in mapping out our existing course offerings and figuring out how to best combine them into a new whole, or which practical obstacles to consider as permanent and justified limitations and which ones to work around.

A solution simplifying such decisions is putting our learning objectives to use as the guiding light for our co-creation process. For the micro-qualification, the learning objectives have been defined this spring and the process is well on its way for the Joint Bachelor as well.

Reminding ourselves of these objectives from time to time can solve many problems for us. When in doubt, ask which solution brings us closer to the objective of, say, students critically reflecting the sustainable development goals in different cultural contexts. This can tilt the balance for executing a given course as a joint online course to enable dialogue and participation from all universities.

Keeping learning objectives in mind as our core goals is both a way of keeping focused and building the joint degree and micro-qualification into something more than a reassembling of the courses we already offer – into more than just the sum of the parts, as called for in our Open Forum.

Keeping all on board 

Another insight form the Open Forum was the need for coordination. Fostering participation opportunities and bottom-up development of our sustainability education should be balanced with providing a clear framework supporting the stakeholders involved – students, teachers, administrative specialists, employers and others.

Regular follow up events and updates to keep everyone involved were concrete wishes we should live up to. Here are some of the ways already in use to distribute information and engage interested UH community members.

Updates and viewpoints on Una Europa collaboration are published regularly in this blog. The third UH-Una Open Forum on 19 May will discuss Una Europa seed funding with the aim of supporting the initiation of long-term collaborative activities between the partner universities.

The design of the micro-qualification was created in the leadership of prof. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, advancing novel MOOC co-teaching within Una Europa. From May 2021 on the implementation of the MOOCs will be led by Laura Riuttanen.

Hands-on work shaping the Joint Bachelor in sustainability is about to get a boost from a new preparatory group with the task of coordinating teaching for the Una Europa joint bachelor’s degrees in sustainability and European studies. A call for members to the group will be open during the first two weeks of May – stay tuned for more information!

Jenna Sorjonen, planning officer for Una Europa’s 1Europe project