Helsinki (17.01.2012 - Juhani Artto) The Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland SASK recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. I believe that it is safe to say that the organization has far exceeded the expectations of the some 40 union representatives who participated in the founding meeting of SASK on 5 November 1986.
A short summary of SASK's development demonstrates why such a claim is justified. Its work has significantly expanded and developed when measured by all essential criteria.
A new book on SASK, written by Oona Ilmolahti, divides the history of the organization up into four stages. The years prior to its establishment tells the story of how the Finnish trade union movement gradually began to get more involved in international activity, especially since the 1970s. Then the first development projects and the solidarity action in support of Chile's trade union movement made it obvious that this kind of activity demands a lot of administrative work, financial resources and specialized know-how. In turn came the realisation that a new special organization for managing such projects was needed.
The years from 1986 to 1994 are called SASK's Learning Years, in the book. They are followed by a period that is characterized by the way in which SASK’s approach -the overall input and methods of working towards its goals- was becoming more professional. That period lasted until 2003. The current stage from 2004 to 2011 is dealt with under the heading SASK As a Partner.
Projects in decisive role
"SASK's basic task is to implement, in developing countries, projects that support a free and democratic trade union movement", is how SASK seeks to define its strategy for the next five years. This is to be brought about mainly by supporting trade union training. Another basic task is to act as a tool for its member organizations in the overall effort to influence development policy in Finland and internationally.
Over 80 per cent of its financial resources are devoted to projects. Per project the annual expenditure is on average EUR 60,000. In the 2012 budget almost EUR 5 million is targeted for project work.
The 2010 the total sum of expenditure was EUR 6.2 million. Over 80 per cent of this money came from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Almost EUR 500,000 was collected from member organizations as their share of project expenditure. And another, albeit minor, source of funding was generated by charity fundraising.
In nominal terms the budget is now over three times larger than ten years ago. SASK's finances are sound and enviably secure as it is one of the few development NGO's that has a multi-year framework agreement with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The number of projects has gradually increased and has ranged between 70 and 90 per year in the past three years. In ten years the annual number of ongoing projects has doubled. During the next three years’ period, SASK is planning to decrease the number of projects and increase the average size of projects to enhance the long-term impact of project work.
Focusing takes place geographically, as well. At the moment, the projects are scattered among some 60 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America including the countries participating in regional activities. Currently, a third of the projects are regional being run simultaneously in several countries. In the future, SASK will concentrate most of its project activities into approximately twenty main program countries. The work in Europe is being phased out leaving just the post-evaluation of a long-standing project in Kosovo included in the 2012 plan of action.
Employees also to the South
Several years ago an important qualitative step forward was the decision to employ regional coordinators to the main project areas. The first of these, Orlando Quesada, began working for SASK in August 2004. He is based in Manila. His work covers all the projects in South-East Asia and China.
Simião Simbine, based in Maputo, has worked as the regional coordinator for Southern Africa since April 2006 and Vicente Carrera, based in Panamá, covering the entire Latin America since September 2006.
KC Sharan, based in Kathmandu, has worked, since 2008, as the regional coordinator for South Asia. The regional coordinator in Western Africa Marinna Nyamekye, based in Accra, began her work in the service of SASK in June 2010.
Thirteen employees based in Helsinki
Currently there are thirteen permanent employees whose base is in Helsinki, at the office of SASK. They are responsible for, for example, program planning, communications and the organisation's finances. Many of them visit partners in the South frequently for project planning and monitoring and other consultations.
In 25 years SASK has had four executive directors. The post is now held by Janne Ronkainen. His predecessors were Ilpo Manninen (1986-1989), David Seligson (1989-1996) and Hannu Ohvo (1996-2010).
Larger base in Finland
SASK was set up by the union confederation SAK and all of its affiliated unions. Later on another union confederation STTK and three of its affiliated unions have joined SASK. From the union confederation Akava four affiliated unions are now SASK members. Thus SASK has step by step made progress towards the goal of being the solidarity centre of all Finnish trade union organisations.
SASK has also local chapters of trade unions and individuals as its supporting members.
More partners around the world
SASK cooperates closely with a wide range of union organisations, from the Global Union Federations, GUF's, and the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC to dozens of national trade unions in the South and in the North. SASK is in continuous dialogue with its sister organisations in the other Nordic countries and in the Netherlands.
An important role in SASK's activity have also had research and training centres, such as Dieese in Brazil and Labour Research Service in South Africa.
Not only project work
On top of project cooperation in the South, SASK is running campaigns, development education and other information activities in Finland. Campaign themes coincide with the Decent Work agenda and its main international campaign partners are the GUF’s, the Play Fair at the Olympics network, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Make IT Fair campaign network.
Making qualitative progress
Over the years SASK has paid a lot of attention to ensuring that the objectives of individual projects are met, says Riitta Soveri, Programme Manager of SASK. The results have been positive. Thousands of workers have benefited from the successful implementation of individual projects.
"In recent years the focus has been shifted away from individual projects and their beneficiaries to the overall impact a stronger and more capable trade union movement can make on the conditions of workers in a particular country. This longer-term programme approach helps SASK to be more strategic and focused in its interventions and achieve more sustainable change", Soveri says.
"In a changing world we have to make new decisions on where we direct our assistance. Resources of the Finnish trade union movement have to be directed to countries where a positive impact is strongest", says Janne Ronkainen, SASK's Executive Director. "Project work in some countries will come to an end, and in some others it will be expanded or take its first steps."
"For example, Brazil is on the way to becoming a donor country, and its trade unions are changing over from being recipient organizations into donors." Trade unions have struggled fairly successfully also in several other South American countries and in Asia", Ronkainen reminds us.
"In some countries, such as India and Namibia, economic growth has been strong but most of workers have not benefited from this development. This challenges us to focus, more than in the past, on income distribution issues."
"In most of African countries trade unions struggle for their existence. This presents us now and also in the future with a huge challenge."