The Saastamoinen Foundation is active in promoting science and art internationally

Social impact and support for young people is important to the Foundation
Saastamoisen säätiön edustajat
Petteri Karttunen (in the front), Marja Karttunen (left), Kalvin Karttunen and Saara Lappalainen

The Saastamoinen Foundation has anchored itself in Finnish society by promoting the work and networking of science and art actors both in Finland and internationally. The Foundation was established in 1968 as a general cultural foundation by Liisa and Osmo P. Karttunen, the parents of Petteri Karttunen, M.Sc. (Econ.), Chairman of the Board of Directors. The initial capital of the Foundation was a small art collection of about 100 works of art.

‘My parents' activities are a reflection of our society at that time in the 1960s and 70s. Three things come to mind when I think about where my parents got the idea to set up a cultural foundation. The first is the cultural background and the will to do good, which was certainly the main driving force. Cultural hobbies were very important, especially on my mother's side, but they also had a place in my father's side of the family. Both families also read a lot. The second stimulus was an international example. Foundations existed in Finland at that time, but they were not common. The history of the foundation dates back to the Saastamoinen Oy family business of Herman Saastamoinen, which started in the 1870s. Herman's three sons were very international. Among other things, they were involved in national politics in the 1910s and 1930s. The family business also played a key role for them.’

‘The third reason for setting up the foundation was entirely related to the era: it was indeed not more than fifty years ago when people in Finland were thinking about how heavy our taxation was, and how private private property was, or to whom it belonged. My parents must have thought that it was good to have money somewhere on the side. They decided to secure the money in a foundation, which would ensure that important things could continue to be supported.’ 

Active presence and participation

Foundations always have a social mission. The Saastamoinen Foundation currently distributes around €6.5 million a year. There are around 40 to 50 projects per year, with a duration of 2 to 5 years.

‘We actually operate a bit like start-ups. We get involved in projects of interest to the Foundation at an early stage, so we participate in discussions at a very early stage. For example, we thought it was smart to have a broad donor base for the School of Business's professorship in ownership, i.e. several families of owners, rather than just funding it alone or together with another foundation,’ says Petteri Karttunen.

‘Furthermore, we started supporting the professorship in Data Science because the management and use of existing data is really undervalued. Generally speaking, the more Aalto University communicates in a clearly structured way about all the things that are being researched at the university, the easier it is for us to find the relevant information and get involved in projects. I would be happy to look in a directory to see what kind of projects are going on. We live and breathe these projects,’ Petteri Karttunen continues.

Initially, the Saastamoinen Foundation's charter stated that its partners were the Helsinki School of Economics and the University of Kuopio. ‘Business education, entrepreneurship and ownership were already highly valued at the time. University of Kuopio came about because both my parents were co-founders of it,’ says Petteri. He himself is an alum of the School of Business from Töölö.

‘The university reform has allowed us to think more broadly and we have reformed our rules. Today, our main partners are Aalto University, the University of Eastern Finland, the University of the Arts and EMMA - Espoo Museum of Modern Art.’

Saastamoisen säätiö, suurlahjoittajataulu
The Saastamoinen Foundation at the Major Donors' Wall on the ground floor of the School of Business.

The Saastamoinen Foundation is particularly known for its art collection. ‘Today, the Foundation's collection contains around 2 900 works. We acquire art every year, and we are also active in supporting art education. We would like to raise the profile of Finnish art,’ says Marja Karttunen, M.Sc. (Econ.)/MBA, Member of the Foundation's Board.

Petteri Karttunen explains that the Saastamoinen Foundation is a very different investor from the average Finnish foundation. ‘We have 55%-60% alternative investments. We are very strong on the private equity / venture capital side, which does employ a bit more than the more traditional way of investing.’

Syvänniemi and other acts of internationality

When the Saastamoinen Foundation was established, internationality was mainly reflected in the scholarships the foundation awarded for studying abroad. ‘Today, we are truly international, we care about how our partners network internationally, and we bring international influence to Finland,’ says Petteri Karttunen.

At the turn of the year, the Saastamoinen Foundation bought the Karttunen family's place in Syvänniemi in North Savo. Syvänniemi will become a strongly international science and art residence. 

Saastamoisen säätiön Syvänniemi
Syvänniemi: the historic roller mill with its chimneys and the main factory building with its 1920s fence. In the background, a barge harbour and carefully stacked roll birch trees. On the right, the shipyard. Photo: ELKA

‘Internationality is very important to us, it is above all reciprocity. You have to have it to make it easier to be heard elsewhere. We invite international curators to Finland within the University of the Arts partnership, for example, and organize an inspiring three-day program for them, presenting the art scene in a broad way. We are involved in seven art residencies around the world and now we have a new project in the pipeline, this one in Syvänniemi,’ says Marja Karttunen. 

‘With Aalto EE, we are involved in the Business of Culture module, which provides management training for actors in the cultural scene. The need for this training is obvious, as business and management skills are needed in the arts sector worldwide. This training module is a good example of how we are involved as an active player. I expect the interest in the course to grow considerably,’ says Petteri Karttunen.

Anything but "rigid posturing"

Foundations are far from being stuck in a formulaic, passive existence. ‘We get to work with universities, build partnerships with them and get information about new research at a very early stage. We commit both the programs and ourselves for the longer term. Foundations' responsibility is to support future research. We are committed and active in contributing, and that brings impact,’ says Marja Karttunen.

‘In addition to supporting science and the arts, young people are a particular focus of our support. For example, we have been involved in supporting the Enterprise Village (Yrityskylä in Finnish) learning environment from the very beginning. 4H Club is another important area of support for activities for children and young people. In addition to these, we have supported activities such as Someturva and RARE Media.’

‘My brother Anton and I have been involved with the Foundation for 6 years, and at the beginning of this year I started in the operative work myself. It's great to be able to make a difference. We spent summers and Christmases in Syvänniemi as children, so now we are also feeling a bit of a let-up, but at the same time the new initiatives in Syvänniemi are very interesting,’ says Petteri and Marja Karttunen's older son IMBA Kalvin Karttunen.

Ownership and family are important to family Karttunen. Their foundation is a family foundation with a face. Petter's sister, FM Päivi Karttunen, Chair of the Art Committee, is also involved in the operational activities of the foundation. The day-to-day activities are supported by the Communications Coordinator, Saara Lappalainen, (M.Soc.Sc.), together with others.

‘Each of us has a different work background, which supports the whole. When a generational change comes at some point, I feel that we younger people are in a very good position to continue working towards making the world an even better place for science, art and society,’ says Kalvin Karttunen.


The School of Business thanks the Saastamoinen Foundation for many years of excellent cooperation and valuable support.


Interview: Helena Salminen ja Jonna Söderholm (03/2024)
Text: Terhi Ollikainen
Photos: (except the historical photo): Roope Kiviranta

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