SASK has multiplied its reach during its first 25 years of action
Helsinki (17.01.2012 - Juhani Artto) The Trade Union Solidarity Centre of
Finland SASK recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. I believe that it is
safe to say that the organization has far exceeded the expectations of
the some 40 union representatives who participated in the founding meeting
of SASK on 5 November 1986.
A short summary of SASK's development demonstrates why such a claim is
justified. Its work has significantly expanded and developed when measured
all essential criteria.
A new book on SASK, written by Oona Ilmolahti, divides the history of the
organization up into four stages. The years prior to its establishment tells
the story of
how the Finnish trade union movement gradually began to get more involved in
international activity, especially since the 1970s. Then the first
development projects and the solidarity action in support of Chile's trade
movement made it obvious that this kind of activity demands a lot of
administrative work, financial resources and specialized know-how. In turn
came the realisation that a new special organization for managing such
The years from 1986 to 1994 are called SASK's Learning Years, in the book.
They are followed by a period that is characterized by the way in which
SASK’s approach -the overall input and methods of working towards its goals-
was becoming more professional. That period lasted until 2003.
current stage from 2004 to 2011 is dealt with under the heading SASK As a
Projects in decisive role
"SASK's basic task is to implement, in developing countries, projects that
support a free and democratic trade union movement", is how SASK seeks to
define its strategy
for the next five years. This is to be brought about mainly by supporting
union training. Another basic task is to act as a tool for its member
organizations in the overall effort to influence development policy in
Over 80 per cent of its financial resources are devoted to projects. Per
project the annual expenditure is on average EUR 60,000. In the 2012 budget
almost EUR 5 million is targeted for project work.
The 2010 the total sum of expenditure was EUR 6.2 million. Over 80 per cent
of this money came from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Almost EUR
500,000 was collected from member organizations as their share of
project expenditure. And another, albeit minor, source of funding was
generated by charity
In nominal terms the budget is now over three times larger than ten years
ago. SASK's finances are sound and enviably secure as it is one of the few
development NGO's that has a multi-year framework agreement with the
Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The number of projects has gradually increased and has ranged between 70 and
90 per year in the past three years. In ten years the annual number of
ongoing projects has doubled. During the next three years’ period, SASK is
planning to decrease the number of projects and increase the average size of
projects to enhance the long-term impact of project work.
Focusing takes place geographically, as well. At the moment, the projects
are scattered among some 60 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin
America including the countries participating in regional activities.
Currently, a third of the projects are regional being run simultaneously in
several countries. In the future, SASK will concentrate most of its
project activities into approximately twenty main program countries. The
work in Europe is being phased out leaving just the post-evaluation of a
long-standing project in Kosovo included in the 2012 plan of action.
Employees also to the South
Several years ago an important qualitative step forward was the decision to
employ regional coordinators to the main project areas. The first of these,
Orlando Quesada, began working for SASK in August 2004. He is based in
Manila. His work covers all
the projects in South-East Asia and China.
Simião Simbine, based in Maputo, has worked as the regional coordinator for
Southern Africa since April 2006 and Vicente Carrera, based in Panamá,
covering the entire Latin America since September 2006.
KC Sharan, based in Kathmandu, has worked, since 2008, as the regional
for South Asia. The regional coordinator in Western Africa Marinna Nyamekye,
based in Accra, began her work in the service of SASK in June 2010.
Thirteen employees based in Helsinki
Currently there are thirteen permanent employees whose base is in Helsinki,
at the office of SASK. They are responsible for, for example, program
planning, communications and the organisation's finances. Many of them visit
partners in the South frequently for project planning and monitoring and
In 25 years SASK has had four executive directors. The post is now held by
Janne Ronkainen. His predecessors were Ilpo Manninen (1986-1989), David
Seligson (1989-1996) and Hannu Ohvo (1996-2010).
Larger base in Finland
SASK was set up by the union confederation SAK and all of its affiliated
unions. Later on another union confederation STTK and three of its
affiliated unions have joined SASK. From the union confederation Akava four
affiliated unions are now SASK members. Thus SASK has step by step made
progress towards the goal of being the solidarity centre of all Finnish
trade union organisations.
SASK has also local chapters of trade unions and individuals as its supporting members.
More partners around the world
SASK cooperates closely with a wide range of union organisations, from the
Global Union Federations, GUF's, and the International Trade Union
Confederation ITUC to dozens of national trade unions in the South and in
the North. SASK is in continuous dialogue with its sister organisations in
the other Nordic countries and in the Netherlands.
An important role in SASK's activity have also had research and training
centres, such as Dieese in Brazil and Labour Research Service in South
Not only project work
On top of project cooperation in the South, SASK is running campaigns,
development education and other information activities in Finland. Campaign
themes coincide with the Decent Work agenda and its main international
partners are the GUF’s, the Play Fair at the Olympics network, the Clean
Clothes Campaign and the Make IT Fair campaign network.
Making qualitative progress
Over the years SASK has paid a lot of attention to ensuring that the
objectives of individual projects are met, says Riitta Soveri, Programme
Manager of SASK. The results have been positive. Thousands of workers have
benefited from the successful implementation of individual projects.
"In recent years the focus has been shifted away from individual projects
and their beneficiaries to the overall impact a stronger and more capable
trade union movement can make on the conditions of workers in a particular
country. This longer-term programme approach helps SASK to be more strategic
and focused in its interventions and achieve more sustainable change",
"In a changing world we have to make new decisions on where we direct
our assistance. Resources of the Finnish trade union movement have to be
directed to countries where a positive impact is strongest", says Janne
Ronkainen, SASK's Executive Director. "Project work in some countries will
come to an end, and in some others it will be expanded or take its first
"For example, Brazil is on the way to becoming a donor country, and its
unions are changing over from being recipient organizations into donors."
have struggled fairly successfully also in several other South American
countries and in Asia", Ronkainen reminds us.
"In some countries, such as India and Namibia, economic growth has been
strong but most of workers have not benefited from this development. This
challenges us to focus, more than in the past, on income distribution
"In most of African countries trade unions struggle for their existence.
This presents us now and also in the future with a huge challenge."