Meet the jury: Anneli Pauli

Dr Anneli Pauli works as the Conseiller Hors Classe for Innovation and Competitiveness at the Directorate-General for Climate Action at the European Commission.

She has had an extensive career in the fields of research, education and innovation both in the European Commission and in Finland. She has, for instance, worked as the Deputy Director General in the European Commission, Vice President (Research) of the Academy of Finland, the Director of the Finnish Science Centre Foundation Heureka and the President of Lappeenranta University of Technology.

1. Why did you join the Helsinki Challenge jury?

Helsinki Challenge demonstrates that research can contribute to solving grand societal challenges. I hope the solution-focused approach that reaches across the boundaries of science will spread further into Finnish universities. Many funders have already adopted this kind of thinking.The Academy of Finland also has the challenge-based mode of operation in its toolbox.

In our time, it often feels like facts don’t matter anymore. I hope that Helsinki Challenge can change the conversation in a positive way for the benefit of a fact-based world.

2. What kind of thinking do we need when solving the United Nation’s Agenda 2030 challenges?

Helsinki Challenge is an excellent way to implement and concretize the UN’s Agenda 2030 goals. Research teams have to be able to collaborate across the different scientific disciplines, and interact with key stakeholders. It is necessary to look at the whole world beyond our little nest, because the problems are truly global. But at the same time you have to be able to divide vast challenges into smaller parts which can be solved.

3. What would you most like to get out of Helsinki Challenge 2017?

I hope that Helsinki Challenge will give rise to new forms of thinking, where the solution-focused approach combines with a high standard of research. Education in universities is based on research and I would like to see Helsinki Challenge influence teaching, too, so that the new generations of researchers and experts will grow into a culture where science is used to solve societal challenges. But we have to remember that science also has its own value as a generator of new basic knowledge, without any immediate applications in the horizon.

4. Why does the academic world need Helsinki Challenge right now?

Now is the crucial time. If the grand challenges such as climate change cannot be curbed, the whole globe is in danger. A dead planet does not have any jobs either. We are living in a transitional period where the world is becoming connected at a high speed and we cannot afford to only look at our own plot. We have to look at the system as a whole. Everything affects everything. People and all living creatures around the world are dependent on each other. Human activity has reached such a scale where it can bring about both a lot of bad and good very quickly.

5. What is your piece of advice for the teams?

Approach the challenges with an open mind. Think how you could solve them with your expertise together with others. Do not just dress your old project in new clothes, but think how to make a difference. In some of the most difficult global challenges, Mother Earth herself is your customer. Form unholy alliances with people who you do not usually meet. Often something fruitful is then born.

6. Can you recall an example of successful cooperation between researchers and other actors of society?

The recently passed ecologist and evolutionary biologist, Ilkka Hanski, successfully collaborated with allergy researcher professor Tari Haahtela, among others. They studied how changes in nature’s biodiversity affect people’s allergic disposition. Answers to difficult problems are seldom found from just one side, instead combining different expertise is needed.

7. What is your piece of advice for the teams when they face a moment of weakness during the accelerator programme?

Take a break and head to the woods. Despair grows if you just keep trying and trying. Sometimes distance from the work can help and prevent the whole thing from turning sour.

8. What has been an encounter that has led to a change in your way of thinking?

I lived near the stinking lake Vanajavesi when I was young. The wastewater both from Valkeakoski’s pulp and paper factories and Hämeenlinna’s municipal and industrial sources was discharged there. Also the European year of the environment in 1970 and Stockholm’s 1972 conference on the environment made me realise that I want to study something, which includes the environmental perspective. I chose limnology because it was an interesting and interdisciplinary subject. It included physics, chemistry and biology, as well as an environmental perspective.

Later on, I studied the purification of forest industry wastewater in my doctoral thesis. I cooperated closely with pulp and paper mills, which I found very rewarding, and learned how important interaction with stakeholders is for challenge-based research. I realised that their problems cannot be solved if they are not involved from the beginning of the project.