(From the left) Leif Berg, FinFami ry and Markku Kärmeniemi, Kakspy ry. Photo credits: Pekka Kivilahti.

My CBC Story – Markku Kärmeniemi

Markku Kärmeniemi
Director of International Affairs
Social Psychiatric Registered Association of Southeast Finland 

South-East Finland – Russia CBC 2014-2020 Programme funds InnoMent –project (Joint Development of Innovative Mental Health Services), leaded by the Social Psychiatric Registered Association of Southeast Finland, KAKSPY ry. Partners in the project are FinFami Uusimaa from Finland and St. Petersburg Public Health Institution Municipal Psychiatric Hospital No. 3 named after I.I. Skvortsov-Stepanov and St. Petersburg Public Health Facility Psychoneurology Dispensary No. 5 from Russia. 

These partners are not together for the first time. KAKSPY, having its premises in Kymenlaakso Finland, and providing services to promote the inclusion of people in challenging life situations, has worked together with its Russian partners for more than fifteen years. Their cooperation has been wide including trainings, expert visits, exchange of experiences and cultural events. On top of joint activities, they have gained added values by getting to know each other’s cultures and bonding for “improving the world”.  The idea to apply for CBC project financing to strengthen the existing partnership evolved also from this long cooperation. 

 

Work for common approach on mental health issues 

Markku Kärmeniemi works as the Director of International Affairs of the KAKSPY. His main responsibilities are to coordinate international activities and to manage housing service production. KAKSPY’s largest customer groups are mental health rehabilitators and substance abuse rehabilitators, and here is also their focus in the cross-border cooperation. The primary goal is to promote the use of an inclusive approach and consensus on mental health issues throughout the project area.   

“Social and health sector should be accepted as an important sector for cross-border cooperation. Its effects on the wellbeing of citizens and national economies are undeniable,” points Markku Kärmeniemi, and the expected results of InnoMent –project are indeed exploitable. The results of the project are utilized in the partners’ own services, and disseminated also for the other relevant organizations, as well as in international cooperation. Practice –orientation is the key element in the project activities, but also in its results.  

In addition to the core actions, the partners seek for deepening management skills and understanding for the future international projects. This is welcomed, since we still need empowered common approach on mental health issues on both sides of the border, also to get full benefit of the economic growth. 

“A particular attention must be paid to preventing exclusion, as it reduces people’s suffering and promotes social equality. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 proves the direct influence of health to the economy, highlights Markku Kärmeniemi, Director of International Affairs from the Social Psychiatric Registered Association of Southeast Finland. 

 

Shared values strengthen partnerships and pave the way for newcomers 

Implementation of an international project may have challenges, and the bottlenecks are recognised by those, who already have some experience. This is also something to be reflected on the Programme level, and spotting the needs for support is one of the issues that can be addressed now, when the 2021-2027 Programme development is in the pipeline. Knowing your partner is one of the most important assets that supports to fluent and successful cross-boder cooperation, but for the Programme to evolve, there is also a demand for newcomers. In this respect, mentoring –approach could be an attracting possibility, when based on the shared values of all involved partners. 

In the InnoMent case, familiar partners enable mutual confidence and trust where one also can build own organization’s capacity. In addition, a significant result is that the international project activities also strengthen partners’ national networks and give the organization credibility. It is also possible to find route to emphasize your personal values as well. “My personal interest on cross-border cooperation stems from my world of values. In my view the mental health problems, like other issues, should not be treated solely as national matters, says Markku Kärmeniemi. 

 

Economy of Wellbeing – possible new mind set for the future 

During the first half of 2020, we’ve lived in very different social environment that we are used to. Our minds have been challenged by concerns of our own and family members health and restrictions of meeting other people. As the nations and communities, we are dealing with serious economic cuts, while in turn, this pandemic could also set our minds in a new position. 

Clearer connection of the social wellbeing and economic has been noted in the policy level already before Covid-19 pandemic. During the Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2019 (eu2019.fi), the approach of so called ‘Economy of Wellbeing’ was introduced for the policy-making, falling into one of the main objectives of the European Union: to promote the wellbeing of its citizens. Embracing a new mind set was challenged and the European leaders were called for stronger linkage between people’s wellbeing and economy. (Veli-Mikko Niemi. 2019. Director-General, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland.) In the scope of cross-border cooperation, the impacts of the pandemic lockdown are widely discussed in the projects level but also on the programmes’ level. The situation has raised questions like; how we deal with the emergencies and what is the suitable level of flexibility in the financing instruments. 

Social and health sector cooperation has not been strongly pointed out in the current South-East – Finland CBC 2014-2020 Programme priorities, even it is included as part of broader topics such as innovation and education. While making choices for 2021-2027 Programme, continuation of social and health care cooperation between Russia and Finland could be seen very beneficial for both countries and easily linked with the people-to-people cooperation 

With the current InnoMentproject, we have become aware of a significant opportunity for cooperation in the development of housing services for special groups. Supported housing services increase inclusion and promote the development of civil society, states Markku Kärmeniemi.  

Markku, and the whole project team, is pleased with the three-year project’s outputs so far, and look forward continuing its implementation until the end of May 2022. Programme stakeholders are also interested on looking at the final results and hearing out the experiences of the partners. 

Editor: Sari Loisa