The City of Helsinki will be granting Golden Helsinki Medals to ten people on 5 December 2020. Despite the challenges of the coronavirus crisis, this year’s recipients have benefited Helsinki in exemplary ways and made the city know through their international efforts.
The Golden Helsinki Medals are the highest recognition granted by the City, and the decision on the recipients is made by the City Board each year. Traditionally, the medals have been granted in conjunction with the Helsinki Day festivities on 12 June, but due to the extraordinary circumstances resulting from the coronavirus crisis, the award ceremony was postponed to take place later in the year.
“The most functional city in the world is created through the efforts of people in business, culture, sports, science, arts and communities. The recipients of the awards granted today are all wonderful examples of the courage to take action despite the prevalent crisis. They have demonstrated commitment to the community and joint efforts, which is invaluable in the battle against the coronavirus. Each one of the award recipients have, through their personal efforts, helped highlight Helsinki’s core characteristics of stability, responsibility and reliability, all the while staying rooted in our turbulent times and responding to the pressing demands,” Mayor Jan Vapaavuori says.
Recipients of the Golden Helsinki Medal in 2020
Journalist and civil activist Maryan Abdulkarim is one of the best-known advocates of anti-racism and feminism in Finland. Abdulkarim’s efforts and opinions have made Helsinki as a whole more aware of the changes required by the increasingly diverse city. Inclusivity and equality are essential preconditions for Helsinki to recover from the social effects of the coronavirus crisis.
New York City’s Commissioner for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena has engaged in long-term collaboration with the City of Helsinki with regard to reporting on sustainable development. Abeywardena has personally expedited the creation of a global network of responsible cities and increased the visibility Helsinki’s sustainable development efforts throughout the world. During the coronavirus crisis, international cooperation between cities has become more important than ever before.
Venture capitalist and founder of Summer Café Siili Jyri Engeström is one of the two founders of social networking service Jaiku. He has had a notable career working for technology companies in Silicon Valley. He also established the popular Summer Café Siili in the Käpylä district. Engeström works as an early-stage venture capitalist for the Yes VC investment firm in San Francisco. He has pushed Helsinki forward along the path to internationalisation, serving as one of the most prominent global ambassadors of our start-up community. In the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, Helsinki needs to restore confidence in growth, and the City’s start-up ecosystem has played a substantial role in this regard.
Helsinki Cup CEO Kirsi Kavanne organised the much-loved event in the summer of 2020, despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament organisation did a wonderful job ensuring the health and safety of players, audiences, staff members and other tournament participants. The organisers were well prepared to monitor the development of the coronavirus situation and react to it with the necessary precautions. Roughly a thousand teams joined the top-level tournament and enjoyed it wholeheartedly as the highlight of the summer season. Efforts to maintain normal activities help people push through the abnormal conditions. Helsinki Cup was a source of genuine joy after the difficult spring.
Pensioner Tarmo Kontunen has engaged in volunteer work for many years and selflessly helped his neighbours in the Hopeatie assisted living facility, Pohjois-Haaka service centre and the entire Pohjois-Haaga area during the coronavirus emergency. For example, he has borrowed a wheelchair from the City to take his neighbour grocery shopping. Kontunen’s volunteer activities are a shining example of the spirit of helping one another and pulling together in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
Film director Virpi Suutari is one of Finland’s most famous documentarians, who has also served as an artist professor and the executive director of the DocPoint film festival. In her films, Suutari has explored the many faces of Helsinki from social exclusion among young people to the legacy of the renowned architect Alvar Aalto. Culture and art play an important role in helping individuals and society as a whole recover from crisis. Suutari’s works grant us hope for the future and help us understand each other better than before.
Journalist Paavo Teittinen has worked for Helsingin Sanomat since 2014, specialising in writing extensive and carefully-crafted investigative articles. He has promoted the significance of quality journalism in a time when false information abounds. Together with his colleagues, Teittinen has, for example, shed light on the cult of personality in the theatre sector, investigated the wide-spread exploitation of workers at Nepalese restaurants, highlighted the working conditions in the cleaning industry, and written about honour-related control and violence in Finland.
Project Manager Heikki Turkka works actively for the Children of the Station association and has participated in the development of numerous new and innovative forms of youth work. Examples of such projects range from the Pasila project, which supports young people who turn to crime as a result of other issues, to street mediation, discovery-oriented youth work in public and semi-public spaces, Walkers activities, the Friends programme and the K–0 activities, which strive to resolve severe cases of school bullying. Turkka’s efforts serve to prevent the negative social impacts of the coronavirus crisis in Helsinki.
Entrepreneur Merja Valo has sold vegetables at Hakaniemi Market Hall for many years. In the spring, she set up a home delivery arrangement to serve not only her own, mostly at risk, customers but those of other vendors as well. The coronavirus crisis has struck Helsinki’s service sector hard, and Valo has served as an example by taking an open-minded approach in serving local customers in the challenging situation.
Professor Olli Vapalahti of the University of Helsinki is a specialist in clinical microbiology who has studied the genetic mutation of the coronavirus since the beginning of the epidemic. With his research group, Vapalahti has worked with the international research community to find new medications for the coronavirus. Vapalahti has provided a face for the scientific community, which has been forced make a quick transition from long-term basic research efforts to applied research. Alongside his research, Vapalahti works on viral diagnostics at the laboratory of the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa.
Watch a video (in Finnish) on the goals and motivations guiding the award recipients (duration 14:18)