Finland: Using social media to promote education union’s development cooperation and solidarity work

published 21 January 2022 updated 9 February 2022

Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö (OAJ) proactively uses social media to inform its members about its development cooperation and solidarity work. The union has allocated part of its membership fee to this form of promotion, which has increased members’ understanding of and commitment to development cooperation and solidarity work.

In Spring 2019, the OAJ Council decided to allocate 0.7 per cent of its membership fee to promoting its work in development cooperation and solidarity initiatives. The move was in line with a recommendation from Education International that 0.7% of membership fees be directed to these activities.

As well as promotion, OAJ’s aim has been to involve OAJ members in this work, with its domestic solidarity work primarily based on the idea of benefiting from trade union activities.

A valuable membership benefit

”We strongly believe that through open and fact-based solidarity work, we can increase members' positive thoughts about membership,” said Jenni Arnkil and Kaj Raiskio, who are in charge of these activities in OAJ. “Members participating in or following OAJ's development cooperation and other solidarity work on OAJ's media [platforms] feel that they receive a valuable membership benefit from solidarity work; they value the importance of doing good.”

In addition, feedback from surveys of OAJ’s new members highlighted that solidarity work is considered an important activity of the organisation, they added.

In the second semester of 2021, OAJ started to build a domestic network around solidarity and development cooperation from the bottom up.

”In the beginning, we brought together those members who find the themes interesting. And we send a separate newsletter to the network of enthusiastic teachers at regular intervals,” Arnkil and Raiskio outlined.

Use of social media to drive information and engagement

They set up an OAJ members’ group on Facebook dedicated to development cooperation and solidarity work – OAJ's Solidarity Domestic Operations Group. In the group, they report on their work and involve members in the improvement of the development cooperation carried out by the organisation.

In this Facebook group, members – teachers, experts and supervisors from early childhood education to higher education and adult education – can share their own experiences, solidarity and development cooperation projects, or related articles. The group also deals more broadly with development cooperation issues specifically related to the education sector, such as the situation of teachers, children and young people around the world, helping the global South, solidarity work training, volunteering, and various forms of charity.

For example, in the Facebook group, OAJ outlined its cooperation project in Eswatini. Members were very interested in hearing about teacher’s working conditions there and how trade union rights were realised in this country.

OAJ also explained its involvement in Education International’s Urgent Action Appeals and what had been achieved. Most recently, it encouraged members to help teachers in Haiti.

Already the group has been a success, growing from almost 250 members in the first month to around 350 members currently, Arnkil and Raiskio reported.

Reaching out to OAJ branches

“The next step is to encourage our branches to nominate representatives responsible for solidarity work. In the initial phase, representatives are sought from the branches with the largest number of members.”

They are also very pleased ”to notice that there are many OAJ members for whom development and solidarity issues are important. Making the work of the OAJ visible strengthens the members' experience of the OAJ as a bearer of global responsibility. In the domestic network, we will initially focus on sharing and strengthening knowledge, but we hope that, in the future, we will also be able to involve our members in various forms of development cooperation and solidarity work more strongly than before.”

Partnerships with national non-governmental organisations

OAJ is also starting to train members in development cooperation and solidarity work. Among other things, the union offers the opportunity to participate in a joint two-day training arranged by OAJ and the trade union solidarity centre of Finland, SASK. This training provides participants with basic information on international labour law and agreements, as well as on the situation of teachers in the world, and opportunities for lobbying and mobilising.

Furthermore, OAJ is the main partner of Red Nose Day in Finland (an English charity concept where serious topics are approached through humour). Through the Facebook group, OAJ told members about the progress of the campaign and encouraged group members to organise their own fundraising events in their own workplaces and associations. “This year’s fundraiser raised more than €100,000 to improve the education of children around the world. A valid result,” Arnkil and Raiskio stressed.