Saila Kokkonen is a producer at Funzi, a social enterprise producing a mobile learning service for emerging markets. The gist? They take existing learning content and “funzify it” to create engaging and practical mobile courses, which can be used either as self-standing online learning or to enhance blended learning programmes for training, capacity-building and outreach.
Saila majored in international business at university, but also took minors in economics, geography and development studies – and later educational sciences. This is where her love for learning and her passion for the growth of individuals and communities came about. She tells Go Hustle about her journey…
Each journey will open new and exciting doors
Some doors simply won’t open for you, and that’s okay. “Initially, at university, I had thought I’d become a brilliant consultant, and was astonished no doors were opening for me upon graduation,” says Saila. It just means other doors are waiting… “I took a summer course in social entrepreneurship at the Amani Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, which spoke to deeper levels of me with its multidisciplinary and very practical approach.”
She had to find another way, and despite a brief detour at an IT company, was soon dabbling with social entrepreneurship: first as a hobby, then founding a cooperative with friends, then landing up at Funzi where she’s worked for four years now.
Funzi is a start-up that specialises in online learning for mobile devices. “I’ve worked with anything from communications, sales and project management to content curation and creation for our courses,” says Saila.
And she walks the talk…
“Don’t just assume you can teach others – be a curious lifelong learner yourself,” says Saila. “Your own curiosity, passion and attitude will be greater inspiration to anyone than anything factual you could try to teach them. Curiosity, passion and attitude, specifically a growth mindset, are key in start-ups as well.”
She says if you’re keen on join an organisation in its early stage, be prepared to take on a “janitor” role: a role where you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get anything done that needs to be done. That means you don’t ever get to say… “But that’s not in my job description.” Noted.
Wanna get networking?
“I’d recommend searching online and on social media for potential groups in your area,” advises Saila. “Also, if you’re curious about a certain industry, treat any social situation as a potential networking opportunity: tell your friends and acquaintances you meet about what you are trying to learn – who knows if they know someone who might know someone who could be of help,” she says.
Hardships Saila has experienced on her journey and how she’s overcome them…
Saila didn’t trust herself enough to commit to her passion, and took some detours because of that, doing things she didn’t enjoy as much. “I think I needed to, though, just to understand [how different kinds of] work actually feel and to know when I’m passionate and committed to it versus when I’m kind of just there for the paycheque,” she says.
Through experience, Saila started to trust her gut. “I knew how I felt when something about a potential opportunity was off, and when something was a ‘hell yes’! I started to make decisions accordingly. Nowadays I don’t really think in terms of ‘career’ – it’s more [about] living out my life mission, and I do that both through my work as well as other areas of my life,” she says.
Don’t assume things are so black and white, right or wrong
“I used to be very quick to criticise others, and seemed to land myself a string of incompetent bosses, which then fed my criticism. Nowadays, with more responsibility and having clashing pressures from multiple parties to do a certain thing or act a certain way, I find it easier to empathise with people in leadership positions,” she says.
We are human and all make mistakes, so judging someone based on one bad day they had, or one miscalculated thing they said makes no sense – at the end of the day, none of us can please everyone anyway, she adds.
“Working towards big goals takes collaboration with others, and we won’t ever find others who are perfect. It’s about finding a balance between drawing boundaries or voicing your opinion when you think something is not right, and being accepting of, and empathising with, others even if you don’t fully agree with them,” says Saila.
Words from the wise…
“Don’t be afraid to be your own type of female leader,” says Saila. “If you are afraid, do it anyway. People will feel more comfortable with you when you are yourself. I realise especially earlier on in my career, as one of the only women among a bunch of men, I succeeded by being a female in quite a masculine way. Being with the guys was easy when I made myself ‘one of the guys’. I was very practical, to the point, no-nonsense, trying my best to avoid feelings in the workplace. I still am, but I want to balance that out more with feminine qualities, like empathy and serving others,” says Saila.
A must-read book for every woman
“Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “The book is about the difference between temporary pleasure and sustainable happiness, and how we can engage with activities in the state of flow: when everything just seems to click together, we forget about time, ourselves and everything around us and whatever we are doing just, well, flows,” says Saila.
“It’s about having a goal, stretching ourselves to the edges of our comfort zone, creating something – and this is when we also feel true happiness,” she says. “Being in a state of flow allows us to succeed beyond what we ourselves thought possible, and that’s why I think it’s vital for everyone to understand how we can create the conditions for that state.”
Connect with Saila