Finnish President Alexander Stubb and Indian Ambassador Raveesh Kumar.

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As we bid farewell to Ambassador Raveesh Kumar, the esteemed Indian representative in Finland, we reflect on his impactful tenure that began amidst the challenging backdrop of the global pandemic. Ambassador Kumar has been known for his active engagement during his time here, working to strengthen the bond between India and Finland. In this interview, we have the privilege of gaining insights from Ambassador Kumar as he shares his experiences, achievements, and perspectives garnered during his engaging four-year term in Finland.

You arrived in Finland just as the pandemic began. How was it to commence your mission during such challenging times?

I arrived in Finland with my family in July 2020, in the middle of Covid pandemic. There were restrictions on movement, on meeting people. It felt like we were constantly navigating uncharted territory. Everything from remote work setups to health protocols kept changing, and it was a challenge to keep up.  It was a test of adaptability and resilience like never before. I was fortunate to present my credentials to then President Niinistö and continued with our outreach initiatives.  Even though it was a tough period, I think we all came out of it stronger in some way.  It’s all behind us now, thankfully.

You've been one of the most active ambassadors in Finland. Could you summarize your tenure here? Were you able to achieve your envisioned goals?

As diplomats, we all are expected to do some groundwork before proceeding on our assignment. But then, implementation depends on the ground realities. And here, I was quite fortunate to be around when our relations are looking up and have acquired a certain momentum. The backdrop of the evolving geopolitical order played its part too. We have Finland as a member of NATO, part of Nordic-BALTIC framework and an influential voice in the EU. India is an important voice for the global south, the 5th largest and fastest growing economy and a country shaping the global narrative. We have a far larger global footprint and are members of several multilateral organisations like I2U2, BRICS, SCO, and recently launched India-Middle East-Europe initiative, Global Biofuel Alliance, ISA, etc. So, despite our own preoccupations, it goes to the credit of both countries that our relations have acquired substance and character.

I had twin broad objectives in mind when I arrived here – present the new India with a rising geopolitical profile as a land of opportunities; and leverage the dynamism of the Indian community in Finland for strengthening our bilateral ties. The launch of DESI (Digitalisation, Education, Sustainability and Innovation) initiative, first-in person meeting between Prime Ministers, frequent Ministerial exchanges, opening of a new Finnish Consulate in Mumbai, record high trade figure of € 3 bn, growing investment by both sides, record participation at SLUSH and discussion on facilitating mobility are the highlights. We are working on creating a framework to cooperate in Quantum and in Sustainability. They all demonstrate the keen desire of both countries to engage in a concrete manner with each other in areas which are of interest and relevance to both countries as we celebrate 75 years of our diplomatic relations. 

On the Indian community, I am proud to represent a widely respected vibrant community. We managed to bring them together on a number of platforms like Friends of India and Finland (a platform representing 16 Indian community associations), India Business and Professionals Forum, connecting top Indian professionals and entrepreneurs and Finland India Network of Researchers and Academics. India Day, a festival celebrating friendship between both countries, is a proud product of the vibrant Indian community.

You introduced the Open Doors initiative, allowing any Indian citizen to visit you twice a month without an appointment. How successful was this initiative, and what insights did you gain into the Indian community in Finland?

The idea of Open House was to be accessible and transparent to the people. And to connect to the people who otherwise are outside the footprint of the Embassy. I managed to meet so many interesting people and learn from their own cumulative experiences in Finland.

With the rapid growth of the Indian community in Finland, particularly in skilled IT sectors, how has this impacted the embassy's operations? Are there concerns about brain drain from India?

The Indian community has emerged as a strong bridge connecting India and Finland. They are a well-placed and well-respected community in Finland. A community which contributes economically and socially to Finland. They are among the highest tax payers and well-integrated into the fabric of the Finnish society.  We are leveraging their presence for a stronger bilateral connection between both countries.  

Were there any significant cultural adjustments or "culture shocks" you experienced during your four years in Finland?

Well…’culture shock’ is too strong a word. Moving to Finland definitely involved some adjustments, especially related to weather, as with any international move. I found some aspects of Finnish culture different from what I was used to. I mean, where else can you enjoy sitting in a sauna at 90 degrees Celsius, and then jump into an ice-cold lake for fun? But once you absorb it with an open mind, it is not only a memorable experience, but also gives insights into the rich Finnish culture and tradition.

As you prepare to lead the Indian mission in Prague and your successor takes over in Helsinki, what advice have you given regarding Finland, and what insights has your colleague offered about the Czech Republic?

Well, I am in regular touch with my colleague and friend, Hemant, who is succeeding me as Ambassador and I take his place in Prague. We are discussing the upcoming agenda for both of us, as well as exchanging notes on the lighter side of things. On a lighter note, I am going to advise him to get a dog, to his your social circle in the neighbourhood!

If you could provide feedback to the Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs and your counterparts here, what would it entail?

I had an excellent working relationship with the Foreign Ministry and other Ministries in Finland. I was quite delighted that there was the same level of enthusiasm to expand our partnership. I would say that we need to work together to elevate the relationship into a different orbit.

Could you discuss the impact of your tenure on fostering collaborations, promoting cultural exchange, facilitating trade and investment, and engaging with the Indian diaspora in Finland?

It may not be appropriate for me to judge my own tenure. It is for others to assess. I can, however, say that I was fortunate to be in Finland when there is plenty of goodwill on both sides. I strived to play my part in encouraging collaborations, promoting cultural exchange and facilitating trade and investment. Additionally, engaging with the Indian diaspora in Finland has been a rewarding experience, as we have worked together to build a supportive and vibrant community that strengthens the ties between our countries. While there is always more work to be done, I am satisfied with the strides we have made so far.

Could you share any memorable experiences or anecdotes from your time as ambassador in Finland?

There are many that come to my mind. My recent meeting with President Stubb and former Prime Minister Sanna Marin. My trips to 14 towns outside Helsinki, Yoga at midnight at Oonasvara in Rovaniemi, being among the many thousands at Savonlinna Opera Festival and the sheer thrill and energy of Jyvaskyla car rally. I would also highlight the whole experience of organising India Day 2023 with a dedicated and selfless team of volunteers.  The warmth and enthusiasm of the community, combined with the participation of our Finnish friends, truly highlighted the beautiful blend of our cultures. India Day 2024 on 18 August at Meripuisto celebrating 75 years of diplomatic relations between India and Finland promises to be one big celebration. 

Alexis Kouros
Helsinki Times

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