Finland gives all its citizen's an equal start in life, and it starts with a Box
From the first time I visited Finland and started learning about their culture, I was captivated and realized there was so much we could learn from them. I also felt that they were different from other Europeans (in a good way).
Working at Nokia gave me an opportunity to interact with some amazing Finnish people and gave me a lot of access to Finland. Finnish history and culture kept amazing me. The first thing I learned about them was Sisu. There is no English term, but the closest translation, I guess, is Grit. It is said that because of Sisu, the Finns were able to stop Russia from invading Finland in the Winter War, which barely lasted for three months. The Finns gave the Russians a tough time.
Being a foreigner to their country, another thing that fascinated me about the Finns was their love for the outdoors and Motor Sports (I am a motorsports fanatic).
Being from South Asia, when we say, "let's go out," it is short for let's go eat. For the Finns going out means doing some outdoor activity/sport/exercise. Sports for my friends and me mean seeing who can down maximum slices of Pizza (A very Serious Sport conducted during Pizza Huts all you can eat campaigns).
We can learn so much from this country of 5.5 million people. My biggest surprise, which made me respect their State (Government), is that they give every Finn an equal start from birth.
What do I mean by an equal start from birth?
The State has provided every expecting mother for the last 90 odd years a Baby Starter Box. What's so great about this starter box? For starters, it has helped bring down Finland's Infant Mortality rate to one of the lowest in the world today. However, this was not always the case. The Infant Mortality Rate in Finland in the 1930s was one of the worst in Europe. See the diagram below.
Personally speaking, I don't know if it was a well thought out plan or if it just happened, but it worked, and so the Government has been running this program for the last 90 years, starting from the 1930s.
This Starter Box had several items needed for a newborn child, including clothes, sheets, and toys, but the thing that surprised me the most was that the Box also acts as the baby's first bed.
Every child starts from there irrespective of ethnicity, wealth, or creed; they all get their first bed and its contents. However, the mothers can opt for the Box or a cash amount of Euro 140 (Approx. USD 150). Surprisingly, according to government statistics, 95% of mothers opt for the Box, which only makes sense, especially for first-time mothers, as they may not know what would be needed once the baby arrives.
As mentioned above, whether it was well planned out or just by accident, the Box stayed, and along with it, the infant mortality rates in Finland dropped. This was done by Finland, encouraging mothers to visit doctors or Pre-Natal clinics. The Government made it a rule that a pregnant mother would need to see Doctors and Pre Natal Clinics before the 4th month of pregnancy to be eligible for the Box. Furthermore, this instilled the habit of mothers visiting doctors.
As you can see from the above diagram, the Government's plan to reduce the infant mortality rate worked. According to governmental statistical figures, Finland's Infant Mortality rate in 2022 is 1.479 deaths per 1000 live births1. That is a good 98% improvement in the mortality rate from the 1940s.
It was a win-win for the country and the mothers. On one side Infant Mortality is under control, and the mothers get a starter kit of all the things they would need for a newborn.
Here is a list of items found in the Box. By the way, I am sure there will be other nationality mommies who would be envious of this list
1. Box that doubles as a Crib
3. Body Suits
a. Body Suits
4. Outdoor Gear
c. Knitted hat
h. Light hooded suit
i. Knitted overalls
a. Sleeping Bag / Quilt / Reindeer Hide
c. Small mattress
d. Mattress Cover
f. Duvet Covers
6. Bathing Products
Being a father, and the first time seeing this list, I realized how essential each item on the list is. The items in the Box were well thought off. Each and every item comes in handy. If it were left to the individual, I am sure they would have skimmed on several items listed above.
Babies are expensive, and seeing the item on the list made me realize why 95% of mothers opt for the Box. I know many parents who keep their newborns in the same bed, which is highly hazardous for the child and is one of the components of Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Other countries have tried to start a similar program, but they did not stick in the long term or faced procurement issues, etc.
There are some NGOs who have also tried copying this program. In India, Barakat Bundle2 and South Africa, Thula Baba Project3 are two such NGOs.
This is one of the many positive programs started by the Finnish Government that is running to date. Yes, the items have changed through the years, but for the better. For example, moving from cloth diapers to disposable diapers.
There is also something very neat about the Box. People can identify each other's age from the items in the Box because things have changed (colour schemes etc) from year to year.
Nonetheless, this is one great idea that should be incorporated for every child worldwide. All countries should consider starting a similar program, and maybe UNICEF should consider introducing this concept in third world countries. I know UNICEF has a Children's Emergency kit4, but this is not the same.
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1. Finland Infant Mortality Rate 1950-2022 | MacroTrends
3. Thula Baba Project – Equipping Mothers. Changing Lives.
4. Pre-packed kits for emergencies and beyond | UNICEF Supply Division