For decades, the JPO program, funded by Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA), has been fostering collaboration and development expertise. This unique program sends young Finnish professionals on a two-year journey to the international work environment including to bilateral projects and United Nations. The JPO program is building bridges between Finland and partner countries and multilateral organizations.

The JPO program has demonstrably strengthened relationships, built development expertise and contributed to project success. Take COWASH IV, a vital water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project in Ethiopia. Under its predecessor, FinnWASH, and now COWASH, nearly ten JPOs have contributed their skills, strengthening the relationship between Finland and Ethiopia. But the JPO program’s impact goes far beyond individual projects. It’s a win-win for young professionals, projects, partner countries and Finland itself.

Launching the JPO Program in NIRAS

The program’s origins trace back to 1996, with the second phase of Rural Integrated Project Support (RIPS) program in Tanzania. Tor Lundstrom, a Senior Strategic Advisor at NIRAS International Consulting, was one of the founders of the program. “There was a lack of opportunities for young professionals to develop their careers in these joint projects,” explains Lundstrom, who was the team leader for RIPS at the time. He recognized this gap and proposed the idea of integrating JPOs into the RIPS program while drafting the project documents. With the support of Mrs. Riikka Laatu, then desk officer at the MFA, his vision became a reality. Teija Jalaskoski and Finland’s Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe, Ambassador Sini Paukkunen, were the first JPOs to participate in the RIPS program, marking the program’s debut within RIPS. This initial success proved to be a turning point. Since then, hundreds of JPOs have participated in projects led by NIRAS, demonstrating the program’s significant expansion.

Empowering Young Professionals

The JPO program offers a launchpad for young Finnish professionals like Sari Aroalho, who is currently working on COWASH IV as a Project Management and Development Advisor. “The program was an ideal entry point for me to gain valuable experience in the development sector,” Sari says.

Sari joined COWASH IV in June 2023 and has been supporting the CTA and the team across various project aspects. She finds this hands-on experience insightful, providing her valuable opportunities for development and deeper understanding of Finland’s development work.

Working in Ethiopia, a new country for her, has been particularly enlightening, Sari explains. COWASH IV’s operations across eight different Ethiopian regions have exposed her to diverse cultures, communities, and working cultures allowing her to witness their distinct approaches and practices. This experience has not only broadened her perspective but has also honed her ability to adapt and navigate multifaceted environments effectively, she explains.

The JPO program provides comprehensive support and a tailored capacity building plan for each participant. This plan leverages their strengths and interests while addressing the specific needs of their assigned project, explains Mikaela Kruskopf, Project Manager at NIRAS International Consulting. NIRAS Finland currently has JPOs working on MFA-funded projects in Ethiopia, Namibia, Nepal, and Zambia.

NIRAS’ commitment to empowering young professionals is also evident through its NIRAS young Professional Academy (NYPA) which began ten years ago. NYPA is a two-year, full-time training program specifically designed for development consulting. Funded and implemented entirely by NIRAS, the program offered a comprehensive curriculum encompassing all aspects of the field. The NYPA program equips young professionals with the necessary skills and knowledge, while the JPO program provides practical experience and project-specific expertise. This approach ensures a skilled and well-rounded generation of development professionals, both within NIRAS and beyond.

Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange

JPOs play a valuable role in promoting collaboration and knowledge exchange between Finland and partner countries. While primarily focused on providing valuable development experience for young Finnish professionals, the program also Promotes a two-way exchange of knowledge and expertise.

JPOs, coming from different backgrounds, bring fresh perspectives to projects, as noted by Tor Lundstrom. This facilitates knowledge exchange and collaboration with local experts, often leading to increased productivity and innovation.

The program also promotes strong person-to-person networks between Finnish JPOs and local experts. This collaboration lays the groundwork for successful development cooperation, which thrives on teamwork, cultural exchange, and relationship building.

Mikaela Kruskopf highlights that JPOs often fill gaps within project teams. Their diverse skillsets enrich the overall expertise, as demonstrated by Sari’s experience with COWASH IV. According to Neil Chadder, COWASH IV’s CTA, “Sari’s in-depth understanding of Finnish, culture, and philosophy has significantly contributed to ensuring a common understanding of the project’s objectives and approach.” This exemplifies how JPOs bridge communication gaps and strengthen collaboration within project teams.

Building Bridges for Finland

The JPO program goes beyond project success and empowering young professionals; it nurtures lasting relationships. “The fact that Finland has been sending JPOs for the last 30 years has created people-to-people connections with Ethiopia,” says Lundstrom. These connections strengthen bilateral relations and create a pool of Finnish development experts with firsthand experience.

The JPO Program plays a crucial role in cultivating a future generation of development practitioners that have actual practical experience from the field, and hence a better and realistic understanding of global development. The Program contributes to globalization in several ways. First and foremost, the program encourages teamwork across borders, breaking down barriers and promoting a collaborative approach to development challenges. JPOs also act as valuable links between Finland and partner countries, fostering understanding and strengthening bilateral relations.

But the benefits extend beyond immediate partnerships. The JPO program also cultivates a future generation of development experts. These young professionals gain invaluable on-the-ground experience, providing Finland and different multilateral international organizations like the United Nations, World Health Organization, and World Bank with talented development professionals. Upon returning, they enrich the country’s development efforts for years to come, their expertise contributing to impactful solutions across the globe.

The JPO program stands as a testament to Finland’s commitment to international development cooperation. It empowers young professionals, strengthens partnerships, and promotes innovative solutions. With its focus on building expertise and collaboration, the JPO program is sure to continue playing a vital role in shaping a more sustainable and equitable future.



Sari Aroalho at COWASH IV Core Planning meeting for 2017 Ethiopian Fiscal Year
Tor Lundstrom at COWASH IV Federal Technical Assistance Team quarterly meeting. April 2024
Mikaela Kruskopf at COWASH IV Federal Technical Assistance Team quarterly meeting.April 2024
Sari Aroalho at COWASH IV Tigray Region Steering Committee meeting.September 2023