Maria Mäkynen is an active person involved in education, politics, different associations and academic research. She firmly believes that education is the most effective way to make world a better place, and hence she’s been systematically contributing to education for people at all ages. Equality – in terms of intersectional feminism taking into account all oppressed groups - is another guiding theme at almost everything Maria does. In her free-time Maria enjoys music, alternative urban culture and aerial yoga, and she would like to learn more about economy – recommending it especially also to other women who want to influence the society.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an active person involved in education, politics, different associations and academic research. Right now I’m on my way from the board meeting of Sport Institute foundation where my mission is to drive equal opportunities for sport as a hobby. I work as Director of Education and Training at Workers´ Educational Association WEA of Finland, while finishing my master’s degree in philosophy after having one in education sociology and politics. I’m also a member of the City Council of Lahti.
I’m passionate about education as I believe it’s the most effective and sustainable way to make the world a better place. Hence, since starting my studies I’ve systematically driven educational matters in various different forums. My first master’s thesis was about heritability of education, summarized as a report for the Ministry of Culture and Education in Research Foundation for Studies and Education Otus. I’m a member of the Education Council of Lahti City, and I also have first-hand experience from teaching at various schools.
My current work is all about providing education that helps adults cope with the rapidly changing work-life. The themes range from digitalization to basic meeting skills, critical media literacy, freelance employment, sustainability. Most of my clients are men in quite traditional professions, hence I believe it’s very important to continue developing education so that it motivates also boys.
Before my current job, I’ve also worked as a political assistant for several politicians like Sanna Marin, Ilmari Nurminen, Timo Harakka and Nasima Razmyar. One of my projects then was the so called ‘waste food initiative’, which brings up another topic close to my heart – environmental sustainability.
How about your free time?
I enjoy music and alternative urban culture. I go to lots of gigs, music festivals and in general listen to especially new Finnish music. I also want to develop the urban culture scene in my home city Lahti. I really embrace and enjoy diversity of culture. Ethical and ecological consumption is another important part of my lifestyle. I see it as a holistic way of living, which is joyful and positive – far from denial.
My circle of friends consists of many different kinds of people like musicians, which gives welcoming contrast to my work-life. My husband with whom I share a lot of interests and also similar work, lives in another city, so we have a happy remote marriage.
How would you describe yourself?
I’ve always been very active and in a way dutiful. I’m very motivated to work hard and act upon things that are important for me. I can’t stand idleness, it’s a frustrating state that I don’t want to dwell in. If I want to see something happen, I think it’s my duty to take action and not just expect others to do so. As a child this made me a bit restless. As an example, at the age of 12 I got really frustrated of one teacher who didn’t take any contact to us and hence nobody liked not listened to him. So, I walked in front of the class and told him that you can’t teach like that if you want us to listen to you – and showed him how to do it instead.
I’ve always tried to direct my energy in positive way, supported by my encouraging parents who also taught me appreciation for being different and unique.
What drives and brings meaning to your work?
My work has been mostly helping others or making world a better place. For instance I managed the youth campaign for Tuula Haatainen’s presidential campaign. That’s when I learnt that inspiring and gathering people to work on something meaningful together is very rewarding. And very ‘me’. I also enjoy the challenge of lighting the spark for something that people may be inherently resistant of – like studying at school. It was just great to help the students see the subject from completely new angles.
What does the word ‘equality’ mean to you?
Equality in every sense really drives me and it’s been a guiding theme at almost everything I’ve done.
I am definitely a feminist, but equal opportunities in all other ways is as important. Intersectional feminism takes into account all oppressed groups. I initiated a movement in the Social Democratic party that it should become the first feminist party in Finland. I found many people with similar thoughts and the idea resonated also among many men. As a result, we founded DemFem to promote feminism within the party, and I’m still the chairperson of it.
Since my student activist times, I’ve also driven equal opportunity for education, and now it’s expanded to equal opportunity also for hobbies. And in my current job I’m driving structural equality in worklife.
How do you balance your life and find time for everything?
Good question and I would also ask if I always have to? I feel insufficient and I acknowledge that. But yes, I try to prioritize. I’m actually quite systematic and like planning, ‘exceling’ and creating strategies. I love to read philosophy and do yoga. I aerial yoga also at home. We run and cook together with my husband. But at the same time work, politics and all the things in my life is what I enjoy.
At work, I put a lot of effort in preventing things from piling up in my organization. I try to create an atmosphere where it’s easy for people to ask for help and tell openly if they feel stressed. I noticed that in the beginning people were a bit confused and thought I’m snooping with my questions, but afterwards they’ve come and said how grateful they are about the caring.
What skill are you still going to learn?
I would like to learn some kind of preciseness. Tranquility to delve into things that I want to master. Patience to do things carefully. Letting myself be happy when I know I’ve done something as well as I can, and trusting that the intended results will follow.
Professionally I would like to learn more about economy. In politics things have changed so that almost anything needs to be argumented through economical implications. Take education as an example – in the 80’s the decisions were made mainly by education experts, now it’s increasingly economists who decide. As I’m a solution oriented persons, I’d rather develop my knowledge on economy than oppose that change.
Who or what inspires you?
I love living in this era, there are so many inspiring women rising. The book ‘Stories of girls’ (Tarinoita tytöistä) inspires me, as well as discussing history with my friend. Right now I’m maybe most inspired of Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher focusing on education, equality and economy. How it would be an important driver for equality that women started be more interested in economy. It’s interesting that we tend to think that economy is masculine and caring is feminine. It shouldn’t be that way – for everybody’s benefit.
What would you tell for the teenager Maria?
Have the courage to be yourself and question things; allow yourself also to be sensitive while trying to be strong. That’s how I kind of was, but still I let the traditional female role restrict myself a bit too much.
What is your relationship with fashion and style?
It’s definitely an important and meaningful part of my identity. I like expressing my overall lifestyle also with my clothing. Sustainability is very important, and hence I favour Finnish design and re-used, sustainably produces clothing. And I’m not shy to express that.
I like minimalistic style, but every now and then I also combine freely very different styles – which may be surprising for people who only now me from work. My husband also shares my interest in fashion and style, and he also occasionally buys me clothes: ‘this was so you’!