Nelli’s Spatial Story

“Factors affecting effective regional cooperation are mindsets and perceptions emanating from the past.“ - Khaleda Zia

My spatial journey commenced back in 2012 when I packed my bags, said farewell to my alma mater, University of Helsinki, and joined a Master Programme for European and International Relations under the EU’s Jean Monnet framework. The programme took me to Istanbul, Nice and Berlin and in the meantime, my classmates representing 20 different nationalities became my extended, multicultural family. That was truly living and learning Europe (and beyond)! With the inspiring professors, guest lecturers and their interdisciplinary approaches, I grew especially fond of theories and topics related to governance and policy.

After graduating, the road took me back to Turkey to pursue a traineeship at the Embassy of Finland in Ankara. While I was captivated by the cultural history and stark contrasts of Turkey, the situation in neighbouring Syria deteriorated and the refugee crisis and political instability in the region became a pressing daily issue.  The situation truly served as a reminder of the challenges for international cooperation and how devastating the consequences can be when the aspects of inclusive governance and balanced regional development are disregarded.

From the Turkish Anatolia, I moved to Brussels to experience the dynamics of the EU at first hand. Working with topics related to the Union’s Cohesion Policy and regional voices, it became apparent to me that even though finding unity in diversity can be challenging at times, it is also the core asset of Europe. The EU, for all its faults, has secured peace in Europe longer than ever before and been an advocate for balanced regional development across the Union.

My spatial journey so far, combined with my years at Nordregio, has convinced me that regions, cities and municipalities are important change agents in counteracting issues such as demographic and economic vulnerabilities, climate change and extremism. Therefore, the focus needs to be on evidence-based and locally grounded policies which aim at building smartly, innovatively and sustainably on local resources. Instead of directing funds to the rural or less-favoured regions as a charitable subsidy for their remoteness and challenges, the focus should be in truly investing in and developing the regions to become more attractive and resilient places to live in. Many promising approaches for this paradigm shift are in place, and therefore I am excited to work around themes such as green transition, bioeconomy, regional smart specialisation and innovation policy at Nordregio.

Our contemporary challenges surpass any national or regional boundaries, and therefore collaboration and joint problem-solving prevail as key components for development, both locally and globally. Inclusive regional policies backed by multi-level governance and cooperative models have a decisive role when aiming to create open, sustainable and mutually equal territorial spaces. With all this in mind, building bridges between regions, people, sectors and tiers of government appears more important than ever.