Oulu Region (Northern Ostrobothnia) is amongst the most peripheral regions in all of Europe. Yet the population of Oulu Region has been steadily growing since around the year 2000 and the average age (40.2 years) of the region’s population is the youngest in all of Finland. It has been regarded as a region that embodies the whole of Finland and its nature, economy and networks form a combination not easily rivalled, offering good opportunities of living, travel and professional life. One of the biggest challenges in Oulu Region is its high unemployment levels as in comparison to the entire country, the situation is mainly difficult for young people under the age of 25. Furthermore, Oulu region has a young population that is often moves to educate themselves in the bigger cities and do not return.
Action Plan created in FOUNDATION project was focused to support especially the vitality of the Oulu Region, especially the rural parts of the region which have internationally focused small companies, whose main concern is availability of educated employees. It is important to notify that structural fund programme in Finland cover the whole country but have more detailed priorities in regional strategies. Municipal strategies underline the importance of public-private-third-sector networks in vitality policy and rural development. Rural development policies have to go beyond strategies that are based solely on economic growth targets and rather address issues of local participation, social innovation, and establishing trust.
A key factor in achieving policy change has been to raise awareness of the need for concrete support models for youth entrepreneurship and, in particular, for action to be integrated into educational institutions. Currently, policies to support entrepreneurship are mainly based on entrepreneurship education. These activities rarely include direct and encouraging elements to move on to business creation in the incubation phase. Active involvement of relevant stakeholders (regional council and education organisations) was essential in order to be able carry out this piloting phase. FOUNDATION project had a great impact raising stakeholders’ interest, so the partnership with other regions and shared experiences and examples were motivating relevant stakeholder to join activities in phase 2.
After active discussions with key stakeholders in the region, the need for policy change was recognised. The relatively stable nature of the programme required careful planning of sufficiently effective interventions. Regional Management committee (MYR) of Oulu Region Council decided to target development actions to increase entrepreneurship and policies to support entrepreneurship among young people, which was stronger commitment to supporting entreprenurial activities among young people that was targeted in action plan. One of the tasks of the MYR is to guide the development and strategy of the province. The presentation made by the Secretariat of the MYR to the MYR highlighted the level of business creation in the province, in particular the number of young people setting up businesses. Both are lower than in other comparable European countries.
In its statement, MYR encourages taking entrepreneurship-related measures into account: The Regional Management Group of Oulu Region Council (North Ostrobothnia) urges the institutions providing regional development funding to take particular account in their decisions of measures aimed at youth entrepreneurship and new concepts to support entrepreneurship. Thus, the strategic role of Regional Management Committee (MYR) decisions in allocating regional development funds was applied for effective policy change.