Because the world is not flat.

Category: Dissertation

From North-South- experiences of internationalization

In the spring of 2018, I knocked on the door of TSE, department of International Business (IB), with my doctoral research proposal. After approval, I was able to enter the IB community. Embarking on a Ph.D. is unique, and we all take up our own paths towards accomplishments. For me, though, having previously been working on various development cooperation projects, this is where I move from. The work I did involved traveling across continents mostly between the EU and the developing world. But I will narrate a bit more about my experiences and the valuable insights I gained from it. It is from here that I intend to explore further through acquiring scientific knowledge, and IB this the right place to be.
Since 2012, I have been part of international expert teams implementing and doing various development cooperation projects especially in developing countries. As you may know, project is tendered and bid for; thus, it is a game where you either win or lose. My main area of expertise is broadly in Private Sector Development tasks, that is, formulating strategies for economic growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. Perhaps before I continue narrating, it’s better that I describe in brief about the types of projects. Actually, the essence of development cooperation projects is to render support and complement efforts of developing countries to guarantee the provision of universal social basic needs of their citizens along and fundamental human rights. Development cooperation projects that are not profit-driven, but some try to seek a lower profit.
Perhaps, for now, let me share with you a couple of my experiences and field missions which are synonymous to data collection as in research, but this requires onsite presence. Field missions are performed in academic research or other and consultants, as for me. Normally, before the onset of a field mission, experts are selected to implement a project with timeline. So, about a couple of years ago, we won a tender where I was admitted to an international expert team. I was on a Global Environment Facility (GEF) project funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and UNDP, which was to be implemented in and around communities of Lake Tanganyika in Zambia. The primary purpose of the project was to provide a baseline scenario of Lake Tanganyika, livelihoods, socio-economic, and environmental situations. So, our tasks were to examine existing strategies and constraints faced by local communities living around the Lake in pursuit of economic activities for sustaining their livelihood and income opportunities
The journey to the field began early morning in order to cover 800km to Kasama town. It was indeed a long trip, tiresome but exciting as we drove through beautiful landscape, as you can see in the photograph below. I selected this photograph from my album because I find it meaningful. In the sense that our lives, careers, and just like research, are journeys with curiosity and where you can encounter the unknowns on the path to your future. But as we all know, at least I think so, staying focused on the road can guarantee a safe arrival to your destination, similarly for our undertakings. So, we arrived at our destination safely and we straight away went to doing our field activities with our first meeting in one community. While in village residents gathered, and we divided theme into groups by age and gender. As such our questionnaires had an open-ended question, for interactive discussion. Before we began the activities, we first had to pay courtesy to the village chief, for permission. Doing so is a standard protocol to get the right to interview people in the community, you may sort of call as data protection. But we needed to explain the purpose of our visit, study, why it’s needed, and the benefits it will bring to the people. Well, we managed to collect data and successfully prepared our findings with recommendations to be implemented. It was an exciting mission and our finding was that there was significant depletion of natural resources such as forests across the region. But the thing which baffled the most within our findings was that of all the communities we interviewed, about 95% of the people, had not heard about Climate Change, as of 2015. One of the main reasons was the poor outreach to rural areas and weaknesses in the institutions. In brief, our recommendation included strategies that focused on supporting conservation of natural resources, adoption of land management and support to SMEs, young men and women entrepreneurs in the fish value chain.

The Great North Road, Zambia (Photo taken by Ephraim Daka, 2015)

In June 2019, I embarked on a unique field mission to Mogadishu, Somalia , to perform a feasibility study on the Business Incubation ecosystem to be supported by the European Commission (EC) for international development cooperation or Europe-Aid. This was a unique mission because it was my very first time to travel to a country that is on the recovery from decades of civil war. I spent ten days in Mogadishu, and in safe hands. The next day, I was driven to the city of Mogadishu in an armored car with my security guard, to go and conduct my first interviews at an iRise Innovation Hub. Although I was uneasy during the whole mission, I was glad that the whole mission went well. What I find more interesting was that, despite of the global news about Somalia, it was business as usual and life looked normal. In brief, our report proposed capacity building from top to down of all key actors involved in entrepreneurship ecosystem based on the context of the country.
I will conclude with my recent visit to Berlin, where I attended the 18th Academy of Business in Society (ABIS) colloquium, where I presented a conceptual paper. The seminar was hosted by The European School of Management and Technology (ESMT-Berlin), the theme was Business in Society; Measuring and Creating Change. The event was exciting, with good vital speakers and panel discussions. There was a good representation from academia, corporate, and non-governmental organizations. The opening speech and panel discussion included Professor Yury Blagov, St Petersburg school of management, Dr. Ivo Matser, CEO for ABIS, Professor Tamer Boyaci ESMT Berlin, Associate Professor Lin Lerpold, Stockholm School of Economics and Katariina Stenholm, Senior Vice President, Danone Corporation among others. The debates and arguments hovered around the best practices on impact investing and mainly on the trade-off issues of social impact versus market-rate returns. In a nutshell, our homework as researchers is to investigate further how an investor can do good for society while doing well in business.
On this note, I will end here. Such have been my experiences in international business, and with these, that’s the path of my research. As such, most development cooperation programs embed the theory of Change, filling in the gaps of change initiatives.

Ephraim Daka,

Ph.D. Student, International Business

Doctor in spe in spe: Schrödinger’s PhD and 3MT

In January this year, I became painfully aware of the strange limbo existence between finishing research and finishing my PhD. I had a clear vision of my ready thesis in my head, yet I had nothing concrete to show for it. In a way, my PhD seemed at the same time finished and nonexistent – kind of like Schrödinger’s fabled cat.

It is a uniquely stressful stage of the PhD journey, knowing that you are almost done, but at the same time facing possibly the biggest challenge along the way: convincing others that your work is worthwhile. Writing the actual dissertation is a rollercoaster ride on its own. The euphoria of finishing this chapter, that idea, the whole manuscript, is contrasted by the complete panic slowly setting in regarding whether your supervisors will reject your ideas, whether the pre-examiners will dismiss the whole as complete nonsense, and whether you have actually achieved anything in the past four years or so. Luckily for us in IB at TSE, we have an amazing support system. Our supervisors are brilliant, encouraging, and supportive, our colleagues are amazingly helpful, and our fellow doctoral candidates a constant source of peer support. It is the community around us that gives us hope in times of despair and lifts us even higher in times of triumph. And that support, in my experience, has become increasingly important in the final stages of the doctoral journey.

When I had just begun my research, I certainly thought about when I might finish up, when I might have my public defense, and how it might feel. But as these things creep closer, I am constantly finding new things to worry about, new steps along the way. From writing down four years’ worth of learning and ideas to handing the manuscript in, from how to type the manuscript to which printer to choose, the final stage of the doctoral journey is a mix of academia and bureaucracy. It is a blessing, if during that time there is also something else to occupy the excruciating times of waiting to hear the verdict.

For me, an exceptionally useful and pleasurable diversion was the Three Minute Thesis competition. I had thought about entering the year before but struggled to pinpoint what I wanted to tell the audience. And I was right to do so: I believe this exercise is most beneficial when you already have a grasp of what your findings are. During the 3MT coaching sessions I learned many useful tips on how to make your message compelling, be it at a pep rally or an academic conference. I quite like the idea that even as academics attending conferences where people presumably share our ideas and interests, we should aim to provide our viewpoint in a clear, concise, and engaging manner. Moreover, it is likely much easier and takes way less preparation for most academics to speak about their research for an hour than for three minutes. Therefore, I encourage everyone, doctoral candidate or professor, to try to fit your passion into three minutes of speech. I promise you there will be several benefits; really getting to know what the key points in your message are, understanding what you yourself are most excited about, and finding out your own strengths and weaknesses in speaking to large audiences.

I am happy to say that for me, 3MT was a success. In a competition designed to measure your skills in pitching, the audience voted my pitch their favorite. As the whole point of the competition is engaging the audience, I secretly (well, not so secretly anymore) kind of consider this the first prize, whatever the judges have to say. Check out my pitch below and stay tuned to see me sweat at my public defense in the autumn. Could this stage be called Doctor in spe in spe – in the hope of being in the hope of becoming a Doctor?

A news from UTU webpage of the final: Tiina Lehtiniemi voitti 3MT-kilpailun.

Riikka Harikkala-Laihinen

Doctoral Candidate

The roots of digitalization – and why should an IB scholar care about them?

The theme of the last summer’s AIB World conference was Digitalization, and as a scholar lodged somewhere in the nexus of international business, information systems and futures studies, I was thrilled. Finally a chance to reflect the international business implications of technological advances! Finally a chance to draw from the multidisciplinary heritage of IB to craft insights sorely needed in creating a wider view about the technology driven changes ongoing in the realm of global business!

Well, I did have a number of highly interesting discussions and downright debates about diverse digital phenomena and business implications, and overall enjoyed the  Minneapolis conference immensely. However, I couldn’t evade a nagging feeling that somehow most of the discussions missed something crucial. A passing thought in one of the very interesting Fellow’s Café morning sessions (warmly recommended if you’re planning to attend the AIB 2019 in Copenhagen, very good session concept) became a seed that, nourished by my doctoral research, subsequently blossomed into a metaphor I’ve since used extensively in articulating my specific vantage to the phenomenon labeled digitalization.

In my view, the phenomenon captured by the fuzzy label of digitalization can be understood as a tree. The familiar “things” like Facebook, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, Google, internet-of-things, Amazon, platform economy, to name but a few, constitute the leaves and branches of the tree. Scrutinizing them yields increasing understanding about the diverse representations, however the entity of the tree cannot be understood only through its foliage. The tree has a trunk and roots.

In my dissertation, which I defended in November, I identified three roots of digitalization: datafication, digitizing and connectivity. Each of the roots go back in time, but it is only with the recent technological advances that they have converged in the trunk of digital infrastructures, making it possible for the tree to sprout such growth as we know evidence in its thriving leaves.

Put simply, the root of datafication means that entities with another form are given a data form existence. What started with the innovation of writing has evolved to include the sophisticated sensor technology that enables the datafication of the physical attributes of everything (weight, movement, sound, constitution – the details of the tiniest microbes and the vastests of stars). In addition, datafication includes also the traces of human-machine interaction: when you stop to read a post on Facebook, that mere pause becomes data even when you don’t “like” the post.

The second root of digitizing simply means that the data gleaned from entities of diverse types is made uniform, into binary digits of 0 and 1. In theory this means that any digital data can be processed through any digital device – however in practice we’re not there yet. Combined with the third root of connectivity, dating back to signal fires and homing pigeons, exponentially evolved with the invention of Internet and the advances in communication technologies, this means that again in theory, it could be possible to create a zone of convergence where all that is uniform data can be accessed through one entry point, by one or a number of agents. Currently we are seeing pockets of convergence, more familiarly referred to for example as the Apple or Google ecosystem, where everything that is happening within, is to an extent visible to certain agents orchestrating the ecosystem. In the near future, the battles between the expansions of these (overlapping) pockets of convergence are possibly some of the most prominent features in the realm of business.

But when we look at the trunk of digital infrastructures, it is no longer only the realm of business that is affected by digitalization. Like any infrastructures, the more they develop, the more dependent on them we become, and the more invisible they become. Few of us think that “now I am using a phone”, instead we’re just talking to a friend, checking the news, liking a comment or booking a ride. However, unlike the older infrastructures like electricity or plumbing, we don’t only use the digital infrastructures, but actively contribute to creating them with all our datafied, digitized and connected interactions with the digital devices and sensors. Our intentional and unintentional actions become the building blocks of the subsequent developments of the digital infrastructure – for better or for worse.

Just like the diffusion of electricity, digitalization is not dependent on any singular technological breakthrough – or the fate of any of its leaves or even branches. Once the humanity learned to harness electricity, no obstacles, technological or socio-political, could stand in the way of the development that led us to the electricity-dependent society we now live in. While I do not claim to be a prophet, it is immensely likely that digitalization will follow a similar path.

The nagging sentiment I was struggling with in the summer was that I felt that in IB, we are still seeing only the already grown branches and leaves, but do not yet conceive the depth of the potential changes emerging from the infrastructural level changes driven by datafication, digitizing and connectivity. Of course, the future is more (or less – or else) than a continuance of the past trajectories, and as such, always shrouded in mystery. However, as the possible impact of full convergence has the potential to transform not only our lay existence, or the realm of economics, but the very structures of our society on par with such game changers as the agricultural or industrial revolutions, taking a moment to envision a future where the current trajectories continue might not be a wasted effort even to the IB scholars.


D.Sc. Milla Wirén

Link to Milla’s thesis:

Strategizing in the new normal : implications of digitalization for strategizing and uncertainty : philosophical and managerial considerations

What should we take for granted?

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”

– Alfred Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics, 1911

It is one of the more undisputed facts of human and social sciences that we humans make most of our decisions unwittingly.  First of all, we make decisions we don’t even acknowledge as such – like which foot to put forward first, when walking towards the door. Secondly, even when we do bracket out a moment of our existence and identify ourselves as making a Decision, we are swayed by biases, heuristics, emotions, intuitions to a degree where the instant of deciding is more or less just retrospectively justifying to ourselves the outcome we had already reached. Continue reading