OAJ Finland international cooperation: Using own resources to ensure autonomy

published 30 November 2021 updated 16 December 2021

In 2019, the Finnish education union OAJ decided to allocate 0.7% of its national budget to development cooperation, supporting its cooperation programmes that span several continents.

1. When and how did your organisation decide to get involved in international cooperation? Is there a mechanism in your union to allocate some of the union's funds to international cooperation?

First of all, we must emphasise that international cooperation means in this context mainly our DC-work. We naturally have a lot of different kinds of international cooperation in addition to the work in the development cooperation (DC)-field (for example the European Trade Union Committee for Education-ETUCE and the Nordic Teachers´ Council-NLS).

OAJ started international cooperation already in the beginning of the 1980’s in Africa. Bilateral development cooperation project with teachers’ trade union ZIMTA in Zimbabwe. Over the years we have had projects for example with the unions in Gabon, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Mozambique,Namibia and Togo.

In the international strategy in 2019 OAJ decided that it will allocate 0,7% of the membership fees to development cooperation and other solidarity work. That means around 200 000€/ year. OAJ is now increasing its’ work in the field strongly but functionally.

In its’ budget, OAJ is naturally always considering what would be the amount to be allocated to the international cooperation. We don’t have other existing official mechanisms for allocating funds to international cooperation despite the annual (bilateral) assistance toMarttiAhtisaariPrimary School in Namibia.

2. What are your union's priorities in international cooperation work?

OAJ's objectives in terms of international cooperation priorities are in line with EI's guidelines. The OAJ believes that at the national level, there should be two priorities for international (development cooperation and solidarity work) cooperation: strengthening education and supporting trade union activities.

In particular, the OAJ emphasizes the strengthening of the activities of teachers' unions,as from OAJ’s point of view, both key objectives can be promoted simultaneously in this way. Development cooperation projects in support of teachers' organisations also support, in principle, the rights of girls and the development of democracy.

In strengthening the trade union activities OAJ also emphasizes the development of the union structures, not just individual activities.

3. What do international cooperation projects bring to your union? How do you reinvest international cooperation work in your union? Is your union's international cooperation work something that your union members care about?

International cooperation in the DC-field gives us wider understanding of the global questions. Improving the teachers’ situation together with other unions gives us the sense of making a difference. The cooperation with EI gives us also a possibility to observe our organisation and its functions in a new way. We are very grateful for having the possibility to work with EI and its’ member unions.

Our members care about our international cooperation. For example, almost 350 members have joined the OAJ's Solidarity Domestic Operations Facebook Group in ashort time (in three months). We are also trying to inform our members of our international cooperation in different ways, electronic newsletters, Facebook, magazine, website etc. In the beginning of 2022, the first training session for our members on DC and other solidarity work takes place.

4. What is the most difficult thing about international cooperation work?

At the moment, the most difficult thing is to find the sufficient human resources to develop the work within the strategic lines. We also had to tackle quite central questions when we began to develop the solidarity work in our organisation in a new way and with new people in 2019. Where to start and how? What are the questions to be asked? Who are the persons we need to contact? Who is having DC-projects and where? How to engage members to the activities etc. We are very lucky to have a great group of colleagues in other Nordic unions, who have been willing to share their experiences with us. The Education International's I draft of the DC-handbook was very helpful as well. We have now learned many lessons, although there is yet to learn a lot.

5. What advice would you give to a trade union wanting to get involved in international cooperation?

  • Establish contacts with Education International's headquarters and regional offices.
  • Join and form networks with wide range of operators in the field.
  • Look at the field broadly.
  • Ask, ask, ask, there are no stupid question in this field either.