The educational crisis is one of the largest international development targets. To act as a counterbalance to the cultural and political challenges, we need high-quality education that is responsible and invests in skills needed in the future. Polar Partners Oy helps their international customers construct schools based on the Finnish model by using a turnkey solution.
”Polar Partners exports education, which means that we take Finnish education abroad”, summarizes Maria Haapaniemi, CEO and founding partner. The company’s ready-to-use school concept covers the whole journey from day care to the end of upper secondary education. The different areas that make up the whole comprise learning environment design, curriculum, teacher and management training, and learning materials.
”We design the schools together with the customer using the ready modules”, says Haapaniemi. ”The projects are carried out together with Polar Partners’ partner network that consists of Finnish experts and includes over 40 operators. We help the customer to plan and implement the school and to develop it after operations begin.”
To schools in the developing countries, the Polar Partners school concept provides a first-rate alternative that is based on the Finnish educational model, often regarded as the best in the world. ”Our concept accounts for both academic achievement and future working life skills, and the results are at the leading edge globally. To our customers, this is naturally a new, interesting, and appealing option”, Haapaniemi states. ”All our entrepreneurs have background in education, and helping others is a core value for us. We wish to act responsibly and maintain sustainable development in our own operations as well as with our customers.”
Responsibility is evident in the company’s activities in many ways. We try to arrange most of our meetings online and plan all travel so that several targets are included in each trip. Our trainings utilise digital materials and the projects put local expertise to use.
”Our customers are often pioneers and dissidents in their own societies”, reminds Haapaniemi. ”They realise that quality education cannot be expedited. When something novel is being created, it is always a long-term investment.” Thus, Polar Partners recommends, for example, that their customers employ local teachers, build their schools with the most ecological means available, and to teach the children – as well as their families – responsibility and a way of life that enables sustainable development.
Global interest for solutions to educational challenges
Improving education is one of Unesco’s key sustainable development targets for 2030. Global educational problems are not, however, unequivocal, and international cooperation is required to tackle them. ”In many other countries, basic education is still largely based on outdated methods such as rote learning, teacher-centrism, and continuous testing and exams”, Haapaniemi sums it up. This is why school is a competitive and stressful environment for many children. At the same time, the world is rapidly becoming all the more middle-class. ”More and more parents have the opportunity, in their own countries, to choose a school for their child. According to studies, 82 % of parents are ready to financially invest in a better education for their children.” In an ideal situation, the local school would be the best one and there would be no need for so-called shopping for schools. However, this is not the case in most countries.
There is immense interest in Finnish education, and Polar Partners is constantly contacted from all corners of the world. Right now, most of our projects have been launched in the developing markets, such as in the Caucasus area, southern Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. ”Private schools comprise the majority of our clientele, but we have also worked with public schools. We are adjusting our market focus this year”, Haapaniemi tells us.
The company’s first school built according to the Finnish model, Finnish International School, was opened in Georgia in 2019. According to Haapaniemi, planning the concept was a major effort to both the company, the customer, and the partner network, and the school still requires several years of development activities. Still, the project has already created vast demand and interest in the neighbouring areas.
Success despite challenges
International business also brings many challenges with it. Most typically these are cultural differences, changing political frameworks, and unrest in the target countries. We also need to hold many meetings online, although meeting face to face would be more effective. The sales cycles are long, and many costs are incurred even if there are no or few sales.
”Educational export as an industry and impact investing are something very few Finnish investors know about, so finding investors was an early challenge. We are working very hard to spread awareness and arouse interest, and we have had some recent success too”, says Haapaniemi.
Polar Partners won the Junior Chamber International Finland’s award of Invention of the Year 2019 and was nominated the most promising start-up company in the Tampere region in 2018 at the Kasvu Open event. Haapaniemi is happy to say that the local start-up network has developed over the years. ”Nowadays a lot of events, expertise, and trainings are being offered. The investment networks also have increased visibility, but they still tend to concentrate very much in the Helsinki area”, she states.
To other start-up entrepreneurs, Haapaniemi stresses the importance of management accounting, cashflow know-how, and efficient sales planning. She also reminds entrepreneurs not to forget to look after themselves. Watch the attached video to see Haapaniemi’s three tips to growing entrepreneurs.
Building Tampere’s startup ecosystem together
6Aika – Ecosystems of growth: enabling the growth of companies through collaboration of the Kuutoskaupungit cities
The project supports the access of growth-oriented companies to suitable networks and services supporting research and product development activity. The project is implemented by the six biggest cities in Finland: Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu, and the Council of Tampere Region. The project is based on the idea of the cities’ active role in supporting the innovation activities of companies and the related support networks.