“My motto is that, you have to show your capability and value first by doing work for free” – Vanitsri Tirkkonen, Founder of The Finnish Thai Association ry

Vanitsri is a type of people who can make you feel at home right from the first meeting. During the talk, we could see it’s the care for Thailand, her home country that has lightened and kept glowing the fire of patriotism in her heart. “Patriotism is a thing difficult to put into words. It is neither precisely an emotion nor an opinion, but a state of mind.” Vanitsri chose to show her love for Thailand by concrete actions. All major works she has been doing in her career share the same purpose – to promote her nation and support her fellow citizens.

Thailand was a bit boring for me

Back there many years ago in 1990, I was having my first job working for the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research, under the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Energy. I was very proud of myself because I could work directly with foreigners, especially foreign companies. My main responsibility was to help foreign companies to enter the Thai market and vice versa. The know-how and hands-on international working experience from this job became a solid foundation for my later career in Finland.

In this kind of institute, at that time there were about 12 research departments. I knew about Finland thanks to one project between Thailand and Finland that I was appointed to be the coordinator. It’s my pride to take charge of such a huge project at the age of 25.  The project is called “Science and Technology Park” – a business center where several companies are gathered into one place. They sent experts from Helsinki University of Technology (now Aalto University) to Thailand to work on this architecture and concept. I was assigned to work with two Finnish professors. One day, they gave me a suggestion which later changed my life – “Would you like to come to Finland?”. At that time I just got a bit bored with my work. I love adventure and challenges so Thailand was boring for me in the sense that I got some achievements in my professional career already, so I asked myself, “Why not go abroad?”.

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My father was the one who guided and helped me to get into that position, because he held an important role in the Ministry of Finance, taking care of the budget for our whole nation. He told me about the possibility that when I work for the foreign department, most likely I would see a lot of foreigners and get involved in several overseas projects. So, he planned that for me. It means that this is not my own decision that I got these opportunities. I felt like he wanted to push me out of the country to a more international environment. He was the one who supported me about the decision of working abroad. I asked him if he supported me and could afford me to go. And he said, “Why not”. That’s how I came here in 1993 all the way from Thailand. I would say my first job was not so fascinating, but it did give me lots of precious experience to cross the bridge to the other side of the world, at the time when nobody in my home country knows where on earth Finland is. And without the help of my dad, I could have not come to this country. I’m eternally grateful for that.

The Finnish Thai Association is my enormous pride

I left the institute, came to Finland and started my study. After studying, I had my family life. Later, I came back to my profession and established the Finnish Thai Association. I decided not to jump straight to work because I thought there were so many things I needed to learn. And I already had 5 years of working experience in Thailand, so I wanted to explore other opportunities to see what else I could do with a non-profit organization.  The Finnish Thai Association is my enormous pride. There had been quite many of us Thai migrating to this country for years and years but none of them had created something like that to support the Thai community to thrive. I started by teaching the Thai language and later on published my own book.

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What inspired me to get the ball rolling on this project is that I had heard many negative biases about Thai people especially women, people think that a majority of them work as masseurs or prostitutes. I felt like it’s my responsibility to do something to correct this wrong image about my fellow countrywomen. I believed The Finnish Thai Association would be a solution to make a wide impact on public opinion.

I asked a good friend who was a former Nokia employee to be our chairman taking care of the Finnish side and me handling the Thai side. We tried to make this organization more recognizable by several activities, including teaching the Thai language, promoting cultural events (food festival, South East Asian festival, Songkran – Thai New Year celebration, water festival, etc.) in cooperation with Caisa (International Cultural Center, Helsinki). I also want to bring the most of Thai culture to Finland. Many people visit Thailand and after they return home, they miss the country’s vibe a lot. So we want to arrange these kinds of festivals for them to enjoy without traveling a long way.

I knew many Thai people would love to be a part of our promotional programs to show off their skills, all types of talents from cooking, dancing to coaching, etc. So, we tried to gather those people and together we worked towards one single goal which was cultivating our country image as a strong, thriving, vibrant nation. We have successfully helped Thailand to become one of the top travel destinations for Finland and Scandinavia.

I hope the Finnish government will grant us – foreign immigrants – more support to start our business. I believe as long as we keep showing our goodwill to make the economy thrive, we gonna receive the means and tools needed. Startups and new businesses are the keys to foster the economic development of a country. That’s why we have been organizing the ASEAN+ Day to show the public the power and attitude of Asians towards business and cultural value. This year we have now participants from Japan, India, Vietnam, etc.. ASEAN+ Day is one of the biggest cultural events in Finland. I hope through this people can see our effort and capability to build a thriving and vibrant community of Asians living here.

I like to think big, dream high, I don’t like to do small things.

My partner at the Finnish Thai Association collaborated with me to set up a company called Bright Business in 2007. Our mission was to help local entrepreneurs both Finn and immigrants to foster their business. We started to bring lots of products from South East Asia to Finland. We offered all-inclusive assistance and consultancy to our customers from the beginning of their business to the upper phases. I, fortunately, had relevant experience in this field and even on the bigger scale from my work in Thailand. And also with the big help from my partner, I was confident enough to take on this business.

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I also went to Italy to set up another branch there and promoted trade between Finland and Italy. The reason why Italy was selected to be my next stop is that I got divorced. Then I met an old guy who introduced me with his large network and inspired me to get away from Finland for a new adventure and some fresh air for a while. And I also wanted to help the Italian entrepreneurs producing alcohol beverages to get access to the Finnish market by introducing their products to Kesko (a Finnish listed trading sector company operating in the grocery trade). It was quite a challenge for me due to the fact that I don’t drink alcohol, but it was a nice experience.

Show your capability and value first by doing work for free

My career in Finland started first with the Finnish Thai Association, not my own company. Because for us as foreigners in this country, we don’t have so many advantages and support in the beginning. So, I thought starting with an association like NGO or NPO is a good direction to follow. By this, the locals will see that we are not taking advantage of anything from their society. We build our community and strengthen the network little by little without focusing on getting the money. My motto is that you have to show your capability and value first by doing work for free, then you will gain trust and experience, that’s the biggest gain. Afterward, you know what you need to do, whom you should contact to get to the point you want to be – your end goal. The point is, don’t jump to do business first if you haven’t had anything. Starting with a non-profit for a good cause, it will help you build a good foundation for professional networks.

I set up my own company – Golden Dust in 2012. My inspiration was that there were many Thai people who are lack of high-professional skills and Finnish language struggle to adapt to the new life in Finland. Their background is quite disadvantaged: they are uneducated, they moved to Finland without speaking proper English. For them to get a job is almost a failed attempt. They are hopeless. I understand that people come here looking for better opportunities to earn a living and be able to take care of their family back home. I want to do something about this, so my company’s mission is to connect them with manual works that are available. I collected the information about job vacancies from the network I built with The Finnish Thai Association and my experience teaching and working with many other organizations.

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My husband and I are running a new consultant business (Liltech) where we help people to set up their new business from business ID registration, human resource to daily operation until they can control the business themselves. Another future project we are planning to conduct together is an event house. Currently, we are running the Absinthe Bar. We want to utilize the bar premises (karaoke room, dance floor, etc.) to be a place where people can reserve to organize a private party or event. We have lots of entertainers, my husband is a rock singer and he has two bands. They have been producing and playing music together.

365 days a year, I make 365 new friends

One of my biggest life mottos is every day I will find a new friend. That means 365 days a year I will make 365 connections. I go out, meet people and make friends with them. The “strategy” I always use is friendly smile and self-confidence. I was lucky to be given this “Asian look”, so sometimes people just come to me and ask where I’m from and we then have a good conversation about Thailand or traveling.

The point is, I don’t wait for them to come to me, I approach them. I have many topics in mind to talk with people. I feel like I have the sense to read people’s mind. I select what I think this person will be interested in talking about and go for it. If I feel like the person doesn’t want to talk, I won’t disturb them. I also smile a lot. Smile is a powerful tool to make a positive impression. When you see a person smiling, you automatically generate in your mind good feelings and positive assumptions about them. And when you smile, you look friendly and open, people will find it easier to approach or stay engaged in a conversation with you. I’m lucky that it was my nature to be open and friendly to everyone. When I was young, I practiced smiling a lot, it’s not that hard. Don’t be shy. Just go out, put on a smile and start the conversation. At least it’s good for you!

In Finnish, entrepreneurs are called Yrittäjät which means “try and try”

When coming here, I have no prior experience running my own business. so I just learned by doing. And I believe I’m not the only one who did it like this. People from countries especially in South East Asia, we are just used to the idea of starting our own business. So don’t be afraid of not having enough knowledge or experience. In Finland, there are so many freely available resources to learn new things. And experience can always be gained by trying, doing, and practicing.

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Being an entrepreneur means that you work for yourself. You are the master of yourself, you do what you think is good for you. You try, fail, and try again. That’s why in Finnish language entrepreneurs are called Yrittäjät which means “try and try”. I tried so many things, being an officer, a network connector, a teacher, an instructor, a consultant, I just want to gain as much experience as possible. And by doing that, you will find one thing that you feel most comfortable doing. And it can be a really surprising discovery. For example, I have never thought that I would work in the entertainment industry. Although I smile a lot, I don’t drink and sometimes I still find it a bit uncomfortable being behind the bar, selling alcohol.

You can find out which fields you are good at by trying as much as possible. The opportunities will come without any plan or expectation. Try to help and support other people as well, you will find yourself valuable. Be yourself, be happy, even if you fail, you should never quit your dream. I still have my biggest dream which is to build a big premise exclusively for Asians in Finland where people from The Asian background can work together and help each other. When you enter my dream place, you will find a great variety of companies and organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit.

Last but not least, you can start an entrepreneurial journey from any age. Like I started mine at the middle age. But my advice is to try to start your own business as early as possible because you will gain more experience. Remember to never let age and fear of failure stop you. You are never too old to start something you love to do.

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Vanitsri Tirkkonen is a Thai professional in business and culture consulting. She is the Founder of The Finnish Thai Association, Co-founder of Nordic-Asean Business Forum, CEO of Golden Dust and a team leader working closely with both Finnish and Thai groups who have specific skills in different fields. Besides her experience in teaching Thai language and culture over 15 years, she has been involved in organizing international congresses, global business ethics conferences, multicultural seminars, workshops, and exhibitions. Her outstanding work in promoting Thai tourism and culture by organizing large and small-scale promotional events in Finland, including the ASEAN+ Day festival and Nordic-ASEAN Business Conference.


Ha Nguyen
Ha Nguyen
Co-founder of EoF - Ha is a social entrepreneur & writer who cares about children, education, fairness, the environment, and sustainability. Connect with Ha here: https://linktr.ee/ha.nguyen

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