The fourth partner in FRiDGE is Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia, who is also responsible for project communications. South Ostrobothnia is one of the 15 regions in Finland, locating in the western part of Finland.

Read more what project coordinator Hanna Meriläinen has to say about the region and RCSO’s goals for the project.

What is RCSO about?

The Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia is a regional development organisation owned by the 17 municipalities in the region. We have four operating areas in our organisation that are: International Affairs, Regional Development, Regional Planning and Cultural Affairs.

In the office we have approximately 30 employees so the ties between operating areas are very close. The FRiDGE project is coordinated under the International Affairs Operating Area, but we are working closely with the Regional Development Operating Area, as they are the Managing Authority of the European Regional Development Fund, funding especially development projects under the priority axis 2 and are the responsible organisation updating and monitoring our policy instrument,  the Regional Strategy of South Ostrobothnia. 

Who are working with the project?

The FRiDGE project will be coordinated under the international affairs team and I (Hanna Meriläinen) will take care of all the project related work of FRiDGE. In the international team we are currently running around 10 Interreg projects and we are a team of 7 members.

Currently I’m working on three other Interreg Europe projects (NICHE, CESME and ERUDITE) that are going to finish by the end of March. I’m very excited to start with this new project and hope that I can use my previous knowledge and lessons learned.

In addition to the Interreg projects I am also managing a regional Europe Direct Information Center  and my main task with that is to inform local people and organisations about EU’s effects to the region. Those tasks are a lot about communicating EU-funding opportunities and EU-funded projects. As the communication manager in FRiDGE, I’m very excited to use this knowledge in the project also.

FRiDGE project coordinator Hanna Meriläinen. 

Tell us something about your region?

The Region of South Ostrobothnia is located in the western part of Finland approximately 330 km north-west from Helsinki. The regional capital is Seinäjoki where our office is also located. We are quite a rural region known for wide flat lands and fields.  We are also known for a strong culture of entrepreneurship and exceptionally large number of SMEs as we have almost 13 000 SMEs in our region.

Food industry is important for the region’s economy and we are proudly presenting ourselves as the Food Province of Finland. We are a home for some major food and drink processing companies in Finland such as Atria (meat), Valio (dairy) and Altia (spirits). But we also have a great number of smaller food and drink producing companies. Agrotechnology is also a strong manufacturing sector in the region.

Who are involved in your stakeholder group?

In our stakeholder group we have members from the managing authorities of the main funding programs  (the European Regional Development Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development). Then we also have representatives of the main research and development organisations who work closely with food sector companies. We also have one SME in the stakeholder group, but we hope that during the other project activities we will be able to engage more SMEs. 

We had our first stakeholder group meeting in the end of November 2019 and the next one shall be organised in April 2020. In the meeting we discussed the project idea and our region’s goals for the project.

What do you want to achieve with the project?

With the project we want to learn good practices from other regions and also improve our policy instrument to better acknowledge the development needs of the food and drink industry SMEs in our region.

We would like to learn good practices about successful collaboration within the food sector and between the SMEs when reaching new markets. We are also eager to learn about new ways of reaching markets with different distribution channels etc. Another interesting point is to learn how other regions have been able to improve the strategic business know-how of small companies and how this has led to growth. We are also interested to hear new ideas for the development of our regional Food Province brand.

We are also interested to change experiences with the partners on the policy level and see if there is something we could learn from also. Our own policy instrument, which is the Regional Strategy of South Ostrobothnia will be updated during 2021 and we will try to influence the new strategy with the knowledge gained from the project.

Within the partnership we are open to new collaborations and especially to ideas where our region’s SMEs could find benefits of reaching new markets.