The busy years of growth

The second part of the series exploring the history of Kone Foundation introduces us to professors emeriti Risto Alapuro and Erkki Haukioja.

In the early 1990s, the grant policy of Kone Foundation had changed significantly from the good old boys’ activities of the first decades. Following the death of Heikki Herlin, Pekka Herlin acted as chair until 2002. In the 1980s, the Board of Trustees had been joined by professor Erik Allardt and regional governor Kauko Sipponen. During their term, the focus of the grants began to shift towards academic research. Back in the early 1980s, a large proportion of the grants had been awarded for other purposes than research, but by the early 1990s, the focus had shifted almost entirely.  The procedure was made clearer with the 1992 decision to limit the grants to research in humanities as well as in social, legal, and environmental sciences. However, the rules still allowed funding for other projects promoting Finnish society and culture.

Throughout the 1990s, Kone Foundation’s operations were still based on the full authority of the chairman, who now was Pekka Herlin. Operations were managed by Hanna Nurminen, who was vice chair and secretary, and Hilkka Salonen, who had, as of 2001, been responsible for financial management and administration as well as acting as secretary of the board. Some changes were made to the Board of Trustees in 1994–1995, when Sipponen and Allardt stepped down and Ilona Herlin and professors Erkki Haukioja and Risto Alapuro joined the board.

The next extract provides a glimpse of the activities of Kone Foundation through the eyes of the two long-term trustees, Alapuro and Haukioja. The terms of Ilona Herlin and Hanna Nurminen, and the changes of the 2000s, will be discussed in the next part.

An offer you could not refuse

Risto Alapuro, professor emeritus in sociology, reminisces that there was talk about Erik Allardt leaving his seat to Alapuro as a legacy. In reality, Hanna Nurminen had first suggested Alapuro, and Allardt had been happy to approve, as he had been too modest to make the suggestion himself.  In the end, Alapuro was on the Kone Foundation Board of Trustees for almost 20 years, until 2014.

However, he was not solely responsible for the social science grants for the entire time. As volumes grew, they were forced to involve outside help. As Alapuro says, each person has their own views of their field, and immutability can be negative, so a change was welcome. 20 years on the board does make the professor emeritus wonder about the length of time for one person to hold such a position.

The ecologist Erkki Haukioja, now professor emeritus, had joined the Kone Foundation board a little earlier, in 1994. Haukioja, who was professor of zoology at the University of Turku, remembers that making environmental research one of the branches of the foundation is primarily due to Hanna Nurminen. Grants for environmental research had already been awarded at the beginning of the decade for research on topics such as the ecological impact of agriculture on the environment, and the reduction of tropical forests.

Hanna Nurminen contacted Haukioja and he was invited for a discussion at the Munkkiniemi Manor. He was met by Pekka Herlin, Kauko Sipponen and Max Jakobson.  Haukioja remembers his confusion as he turned up in his cardigan and met the men in suits. The discussion was lively and covered topics such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and how difficult it is to foresee events of this scale. Haukioja noticed that Pekka Herlin liked his comments. After the meeting, Hanna Nurminen phoned him and asked whether Haukioja would be interested in representing environmental research on the Board of Trustees of Kone Foundation. “It really is an offer you cannot refuse, not that you would like to, either” he says, smiling. Haukioja was a trustee until 2011.

Cosy and efficient foundation

Pekka Herlin was chairman of the foundation from 1989 to 2002. Although Herlin was already unwell at the turn of the millennium, he still made an unforgettable impression on Haukioja and Alapuro.  Haukioja says that he still has immense respect for him. Pekka Herlin was a man of action; decisions were made quickly and efficiently. A group of professors weighing all the options would never have achieved the same efficiency. Alapuro remembers Herlin for his punctuality. Meetings at the Munkkiniemi Manor started at 10:00 sharp and if you were a few minutes late, you would know about it.

The agenda for awarding grants was very clear at the time when Pekka Herlin chaired the meetings. Each member had been informed about the amount available for their branch and all the relevant applicants, of course. Everyone was responsible for their own evaluations and there were no specific instructions. It was obvious that you would use your own judgement and ability to identify the best applications. Having gone through the applications, board members would gather at the Kone Foundation head office at the Munkkiniemi Manor with their bulging application folders. They would take turns in introducing their proposals briefly and as a rule, they were approved without objection. Decisions were made quickly. According to Haukioja, the grant process was efficient, functional and rational.  There was less talk at Kone Foundation and more action.

The total amount of money to be allocated was divided according to applications, in other words, according to the number of application received for each branch, and there was no competition about the allocation of funds. Compared to the old days, there were very few applications that would fall outside the defined branches yet deemed relevant by the chairman and therefore approved. One example of these was the restoration of the Kulosaari-Brändö tram car.


Communication in the new Millennium

For decades, Kone Foundation had kept a low profile in terms of the media. Unlike during the 1970s, they did release information about the grants in the 1990s, but they only began to look at the bigger picture of communications at the start of the new Millennium. Websites were an important channel for providing information on application dates and grants awarded. In 2002, the foundation prepared a communication strategy with the aim of introducing Kone Foundation to the research community and the general public as a foundation dedicated to supporting research in the humanities as well as in social and environmental sciences. Branches were defined clearly in order to reduce the number of futile grant applications.

It was possible to submit an application online, but applicants were still required to print the application form and post it to the foundation. In 2000, many applicants struggled with the online application and the grant amounts in particular. This meant that Hanna Nurminen and Hilkka Salonen, who were responsible for practical matters in the foundation would manually go through the applications and clean them up before they were distributed to experts for assessment.

In 2000, the number of applications was just below 500, and in 2005 it went up to 1114. The number of applications increased every year, as did the number of grants and other funding awarded for projects. Despite this, at the beginning of the 2000s, Kone Foundation only had one salaried employee, office manager Salonen, who was in fact solely responsible for all practical matters in the foundation. Risto Alapuro thinks back to when they realised this and looked at other foundations, such as the Alfred Kordelin Foundation, which employed several people. Maybe the smooth operations of Kone Foundation were thanks to the efficient services of Ms Salonen, or maybe people were too busy during the years of growth to even consider hiring staff. In 2007, they finally decided to hire a part-time research secretary. For the post, they selected Anna Talasniemi, who is currently executive director of the foundation.

Grant decisions

It was not always easy to decide who or which project would be awarded a grant, especially when the number of applications received began to increase at the start of the new millennium. Erkki Haukioja had a clear method for processing applications in his field. He would take his application files and his dog and camp out at his summer house for a while. There, he would go through the applications and pick out the best ones. He would then reread the selected ones and decide who the grant would go to. He would also make sure that there was a balance between different universities. Both Haukioja and Alapuro clearly frowned upon any self-serving activities.

For Haukioja in particular, applications made by research teams were tricky. They were usually well written, but it was difficult to assess the actual applicant. He did not wish to give grants to those with the best instructions on how to write an application. In his view, the decision-maker must also be strict about rejected applications. You cannot have decision-makers second-guessing their decisions and wondering what will happen to those applicants left without funding.

Alapuro reminisces that, while the foundation began to operate in a more professional manner, the application form was improved and the applicants also became more professional. With grant applications now almost a part-time job for some, they are much better at making the applications. However, Alapuro does not think that the definition of a good application has changed much in the last 20 years. There are many appropriate applications where everything seems to be correct; they state the question and tell you how they intend to answer it, and normally all the required information is there. But in the end, the important thing is that there is something in the application, a trick in the research, or an innovative idea, something out of the ordinary.

According to Alapuro, the process of identifying resonant ideas was always to some extent subjective. That was why it was good that the early practice of one decision-maker was replaced with a changing team of evaluators for each branch. In practice, Alapuro and Haukioja continued to assess applications in their fields, but applications in the fields of politics or social history were given to other experts for assessment.

According to Haukioja, this type of work requires an open mind and an acceptance that it is subjective. In his opinion, one of the benefits of private foundations is that they are able to take risks. Even if they make a mess of one of two grants, it is not the end of the world. Alapuro also says that if none of the money allocated goes to waste, there is something wrong.

Decision-making was also supported by the board’s agreement that any connections to proposed grant recipients were to be declared even if they fell within the scope of the legal incompetence regulations. It clarified the activities. Decisions were also easy to make as every year there was more money to allocate. This meant that you were able to allocate funds to various purposes.

Diversifying targets of funding

We have come a long way from the disorganised grant policy of the foundation’s first decades, and every year the policy had become clearer: to provide funding for research, with a particular focus on dissertations. In the early 1990s, grants for doctoral studies made up about half of the total amount, while in the early 2000s their share was over 70%. At times, the focus of the grants was discussed, as in 1996, when Risto Alapuro and Ilona Herlin had joined the Board of Trustees. A decision was made to shift the focus to post-doctoral research and possibly launch a cross-disciplinary project.

The first targeted funding project with potential for cross-disciplinary research was called Sanan voima (“The power of words”), launched the same year. It generated new kinds of cooperation among researchers in Finnish language, literature, and history. In the following years, the field of targeted funding and projects was expanded. In 1997, one of the new targets was to increase projects that promote cooperation between Finland and Russia. That same year, the foundation decided to increase funding for initiatives outside the academia.

In Risto Alapuro’s view, the activities became more professional as there began to be more money to allocate in the beginning of the 21st century. Allocating money the old way no longer seemed rational, and there was no point in providing more funding for doctoral dissertations. Rather, doctoral theses written thanks to the grants created pressure to provide grants to junior researchers.  In 2001, a special allocation was made for the first time to provide funding for young researchers. Kone Foundation made it a particular aim to support projects in need of strengthening and perhaps located outside modern mainstream research.

In addition to projects, targeted funding, and supporting young researchers, the foundation took to supporting non-fiction writers. As we have seen in the previous part, non-fiction writers had received support already in the 1960s, but this was not systematic before the 2000s.

Some of the new topics required reflection on the foundation’s statutes. This was the case, for example, when grants were allocated to Russia and the Baltic States. Alapuro remembers that Pekka Herlin had a positive attitude toward expanding to Russia. In the early days, these activities were very down to earth and paying the grants was very practical, too. Sometimes the only way was to put the money in your wallet and take it there yourself!

Both Alapuro and Haukioja are happy to reminisce about the cross-disciplinary projects supported increasingly in the early 2000s. Both men mention the initiative Human Sciences and the Evolutionary Perspective, launched in 2008. It was targeted funding for which an international seminar was organised in Turku in 2010, entitled Evolutionary Perspectives on the Human Sciences. Both men remember that cooperation was very smooth. In Haukioja’s view, the perspective of evolutionary biology is one that both sociologists and humanists should understand. In Alapuro’s opinion, the project was, and still is, current today. He has special memories of the first-class speakers at the seminar in Turku, and the numerous good projects within the topic. The topic was relatively new at the time and it was not widely discussed. However, this was not the first time that Kone Foundation provided funding for an evolution-themed event.  Back in 1982, the foundation had accepted an application from Georg Henrik von Wright for a seminar in Brussels entitled Co-Evolution of Man and Biosphere.

Risto Alapuro also considers important the 2014 initiative entitled Is Finland Becoming Polarised? The idea had come from the journalist Elina Grundström. The aim was to generate mutually beneficial cooperation between researchers and journalists and to increase understanding of inequality and social equity. The programme was also in line with the desire defined by the foundation in the 2010s to seek new, bold initiatives for Kone Foundation.  The Is Finland Becoming Polarised? programme launched a number of important projects and included a seminar with noteworthy speakers from the London School of Economics, among others. According to Alapuro, one of the strengths of the foundation has been its ability to invite such international speakers to Finland and to have the resources for making long-term plans for various events.


At home

Erkki Haukioja has very positive memories of his time at Kone Foundation. Like Alapuro, he can draw on experiences from other foundations and, according to Haukioja, Kone Foundation is a clear winner. “There was a fair amount of work, but the general feeling was that you were making a difference and steering the operation in certain directions.

When Risto Alapuro talks about Kone Foundation, he is constantly referring to home and a cosy atmosphere. There were no conflicts in his career, none worth remembering, anyway. Homeliness and familiarity always worked well in his opinion. Cooperation with the Board of Trustees and foundation employees was smooth. ”They held me like a flower.”


Text: Tarja Vikström, MA