A Finnish team has won a Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism initiative organized by the U.S. Department of State and Facebook. The initiative is an innovative partnership between the U.S. government and universities around the world that challenged millennials to create social or digital campaigns to counter violent extremism and hate speech. The team from Turku won the Facebook part of the initiative called the Facebook Global Digital Challenge.
The Finnish campaign Choose Your Future was created by 50 highly motivated marketing students from the Turku School of Economics. The 5-week campaign focused on promoting the integration of immigrants and refugees into the Finnish society. The students reasoned that if an immigrant does not integrate, they might feel unwelcome and alienated or become frustrated and lose hope, and therefore be at the risk of radicalizing.
The campaign had a strong presence both online and offline. The online channels were used to create awareness of the campaign and to help asylum seekers share their stories. In addition, the students established an integration app called About Turku together with the Finnish company Funzi. The app gives asylum seekers information about important places, activities and everyday life in Turku and has also an events calendar, as well as an online discussion forum. The app is available both in English and in Arabic.
The events organized were a place for asylum seekers and Finns to come together and bring cultures together. The students visited reception centers, organized a friendly football match and hosted an event called “United by Food” during the Restaurant Day in November 2015. The Restaurant Day is an international movement that allows anyone to open their own restaurant for one day. During the event four teams from three reception centers cooked food from their cultures and sold over 600 meals.
In general, the students have received very positive feedback for their work. The asylum seekers have thanked the group for organizing events, and the Finnish Red Cross has decided to organize more Restaurant Day events in the future. Minister of Interior Petteri Orpo has praised the campaign by saying “Choose Your Future is a great example of how academic enthusiasm, voluntary work and digital innovations can help in solving our complex problems.”
Tommi Pirilä from Choose your Future said that the campaign was a great experience. “Through this campaign I definitely learned much more about the refugee crisis. It was very interesting to visit the reception centers. We made new friends and had fun cooking and playing cards with the asylum seekers. Not having a common language didn’t matter at all!” Pirilä says.
The next step is to expand the campaign to other cities in Finland and Europe. Both the U.S. Department of State and Facebook said they are very interested in the program and would possibly like to finance it. Pirilä says that winning the Peer to Peer initiative was a nice start for the campaign.
“Naturally we’re happy about winning the competition, but we want to make sure that the legacy of Choose Your Future will continue even after this. It would be wonderful if we could employ ourselves and make the world a better place though this campaign,” Pirilä concludes.