Finland’s Foreign Aid
On Monday, April 3, 2023, Finland’s Prime Minister and the world’s former youngest state leader Sanna Marin conceded electoral defeat after her Social Democratic Party (SDP) came in third place to the center-right National Coalition Party (NCP) and the nationalist Finns Party. NCP leader Petteri Orpo is set to be the next prime minister and state leader, as Marin steps aside from her role as party leader. Under her, Finland had a steadfast commitment to the U.N.’s 2030 agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that aim to end global poverty and create a safer and fairer world. Here is some information about Marin’s record on international development, the fallout from this recent election and what it might mean for Finland’s foreign aid budget.

Foreign Aid Under Marin

Marin has governed as prime minister since 2019 as the leader of the SDP. During this time, she has overseen an increase in the amount Finland spends on fighting poverty in developing nations. In 2018, Finland spent 0.36% of its gross national income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA). This had increased to 0.47% of GNI by 2021.

A core priority of Finland’s foreign aid is to promote the rights of girls and women worldwide. This is in line with the U.N.’s SDG number 5. Finland has historically been at the forefront of political gender equality. It was the first European country to grant women voting rights. It was also the first in the world to allow them to stand as candidates.

Finland’s proud history of championing women’s rights manifests in its support for women and girls around the world facing extreme poverty. In 2020 Finland spent more than $220 million to promote gender equality and female empowerment in developing nations. As the U.N.’s SDG number 5 has decried, the empowerment of women is not just a basic human right – it is also an incredible catalyst for economic growth and development.

Party Positions

Despite the progress made under Marin, the SDP’s opponents have shown less enthusiasm toward Finland’s humanitarian commitments.

The campaign of the center-right NCP won 20.6% of the vote. It was fought on the promise of reducing government spending and debt. In second place, with 20.1% of the vote, was the nationalist Finns Party. They had previously stated their desire to cut Finland’s foreign aid spending by at least €200 million.

The last time the NCP and the Finns Party were in government together, from 2015 to 2019, they reduced Finland’s spending on foreign aid. However, during the administration’s final year, they began to reverse their cuts to ODA. The Social Democrats embraced this trend.

The third-placed SDP remained committed to increasing the amount Finland spends on international development, campaigning on a promise to keep Finland on the path toward spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA.

Hope for the Future

There remains uncertainty as to whether the far-right Finns Party will constitute the government. The SDP may have come in third place but with 19.9% of the vote, their popularity remains high. It is not unforeseeable that they enter into a coalition government with Orpo’s NCP.

As the biggest party, the NCP will take the lead in attempting to form a new coalition government. They may not share the same enthusiasm for ODA as the SDP, but their party platform confirms its commitment to assisting developing nations and lifting people out of extreme poverty.

In the wake of Marin’s departure, there remains hope that Finland’s history of supporting the world’s poorest will continue. Marin’s time as prime minister reinforced Finland’s global reputation as a leading light in the fight for gender equality and the mission to end global poverty.

– Henry Jones
Photo: Flickr


Finland's Foreign Aid
Rankings and dollar signs are typically what one can use to compare a country’s contributions to foreign aid against the next. However, what is not present in those comparisons and dollar signs is the context and structure behind the contributions of these countries. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) ranked Finland number 19 out of 30 countries because it provides only $1.08 billion in aid. This ranking is consistent across the board showing Finland as one of the lowest contributors of foreign aid, however, Finland’s foreign aid contributions include quality standards that every country should mimic to get the most out of their contributions.

Finland’s Goal Regarding Foreign Aid

Finland’s long-term overarching goal is not simply to help countries in need but also to free those countries from their dependency on aid and provide each country it contributes to with the ability to flourish. This goal puts Finland in a position to use the idea of quality over quantity when it decides its foreign aid budget and what country will benefit the most from Finland’s foreign aid contributions. Finland’s foreign aid policies follow a strict set of criteria that helps to guide and direct small but potent decisions. The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of Finland has spelled out the four driving components to criteria for foreign aid contributions within Finland’s Development policy.

4 Driving Forces Behind Finland’s Foreign Aid

  1. Strengthening the Status and Rights of Women and Girls: Finland intends to improve the rights of women and girls across the globe and promote gender equality. In fact, Finland is one of the largest contributors to UN Women, after giving the organization 10 million euros in 2016.
  2. Strengthening the Economic Base in Developing Countries and Creating Jobs: Without a strong economy, a country may have limited jobs, so it is crucial for Finland to actively participate in the rebuilding or strengthening of that economy. Finland seeks out partnerships and opportunities to promote the creation of jobs and strengthen the countries’ trade environments. In a three-year span of time, between 2016 and 2019, Finland contributed over $500 million in investments and loans to support sustainable development. Finland’s investment in Somalia went solely toward economic infrastructure and electricity distribution as well as the private sector. This contribution should provide valuable stepping stones to help Somalia rebuild and sustain the resources available to it.
  3. Education, Well-Functioning Societies and Democracy: Finland stands by its rule of law to provide a safe and peaceful environment, sustainable resources and public services to its population. Moreover, it extends those values to other countries. In fact, 57% of Finland’s foreign aid goes to fragile states in order to promote stability and security.
  4. Environmental Challenges and Natural Resources: Finland also aims to offer reliable access to safe and clean water and better water and land resources. It also intends to promote better farming conditions, forest management and decreased risk of hygiene-related diseases. It has implemented sanitation projects in Nepal, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Kenya and more.

Examples of Finland’s Foreign Aid Projects

Finland’s foreign aid contributions have centered around rural development, food security and land tenure in Africa and Asia. Again, while Finland’s contributions may not evenly compare to other countries’ contributions, they directly align with its overarching goal of creating opportunities for countries to build and sustain their own resources. As a result, those countries might be able to enter a position to sustain themselves.

Another great example of Finland’s contributions is its investment in water supply and sanitation programs. Access to clean water and food is a worldwide issue and Finland is aiming to alleviate those issues in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal. Ethiopia and Nepal were among the top five recipients of Finland’s foreign aid in 2015. Finland has dedicated itself to providing support to countries that have the highest need for funds. In Vietnam, Finland contributed to the urban water supply and sewage system, helping those countries achieve self-sufficiency and providing them with consistent access to the sources they need.

These programs and resources are only effective if they can occur over the long term. This is why Finland’s foreign aid contributions focus on programs that support rule of law and political systems. For example, Finland gave Afghanistan $3.2 million between 2016 and 2019 to broaden “civic engagement” and help foster an environment where the people participate more closely with the decision-making process of Afghanistan’s government.

Concluding Thoughts

Individually, each criterion above may seem like an impossible mountain to climb, but for Finland, these are simply the small but potent foundational steps necessary to create and sustain an efficient, profitable and sustainable economy. Finland’s foreign aid contributions may seem like only a small blip on the radar compared to the contributions that the United States and other larger countries are making, but it is blazing a trail to ensure that the funds, no matter how big or small they are, can make a powerful contribution to countries in need.

– Janell Besa
Photo: Flickr