Service-Learning in Finland
We (Urban theology at the University of Helsinki) have collaborated mainly with Helsinki Deaconess Foundation (a non-profit foundation that works among people at the risk of social exclusion), and organizations that collaborate with the Deaconess Foundation.
I have worked with them for a long time, and view them as the key organization working among pressing urban challenges in Helsinki. Our faculty (Faculty of Theology) is a partner in a project headed by the Deaconess Foundation, which aims in improving opportunities for civic participation in Helsinki. Other partners include the City of Helsinki and several non-profit organizations. Students in urban theology participate in service learning in the work of the Deaconess Foundation and other organizations in their project. Students have also made their bachelor’s and master’s theses on issues related to the project (action research, literature reviews on themes relevant for the project etc.).
Employees of the Deaconess Foundation are involved in planning courses, the activities of the students, and also take part in evaluation. Academic objectives are developed by faculty, but partners contribute to planning on how they are understood and carried out in courses.
Around 100 students have participated in this collaboration in different ways. Ways of interacting with beneficiaries varies from hands on work in low threshold communities for people in risk of exclusion to observation, interviews, and development projects.
The impact of all collaboration with beneficiaries is extremely influential for students, as they not only learn from theoretical contents (inequality, urban problems, nonprofit work and sectors of society, welfare services, roles of religious organizations) but also learn work life skills and civic competencies (e. g. to help and understand others, societal motivation, ability to adapt to new situations, communication skills, and ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations).
The main gain for the final beneficiaries comes through the organizations that gain students theoretical viewpoints and ideas for development. The employees of the organizations have evaluated these highly useful in developing their work. The beneficiaries also get their opinions heard, and can participate in developing the work of the organizations involved.
The cooperation between the university and the Deaconess Foundation has not been evaluated explicitly from the viewpoint of perception. However, in our discussions the employees of the Deaconess Foundation have stated that our collaboration has lowered the threshold for them to collaborate with other educational institutions too.
By Henrietta Grönlund,
Professor of Urban Theology. University of Helsinki