From Hurricanes and Earthquakes to CV Tips for Babysitters

The Red Cross is one of the best-known brands in the world. During the past year, I have discovered how diverse associations it brings to mind for different people. Some think of alleviating human suffering in developing countries: starving children, natural catastrophes, and war. They are surprised to learn that the Red Cross has lots of domestic activities both in Finland and the US. For others, the Red Cross may be a synonym for blood collection or first aid training. They may not be at all familiar with the strong international link. The range of activities by national Red Cross societies is indeed very wide. In addition to humanitarian aid in armed conflicts and natural disasters, they have taken on additional humanitarian tasks that vary greatly by country.

This post summarizes the five “business areas” of the American Red Cross, and compares those to the activities of the Finnish Red Cross.

1) Disaster Relief: The American Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the US annually. The disasters range from home fires and traffic accidents to hurricanes and earthquakes. Working in close cooperation with government agencies, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, health and mental health services to help families and entire communities get back on their feet. Right now the American Red Cross is helping out in responding to the horrible Oso mudslide. The Finnish Red Cross provides similarly emergency assistance in domestic disasters and accidents.

2) Lifesaving Blood: Similarly to the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service, the American Red Cross collects, processes and distributes blood and blood products. 132,000 people donate blood through the Finnish Red Cross annually, and nearly 4 million through the American Red Cross. The Red Cross market share is 100% in Finland and about 40% in the US, making the American Red Cross the nation’s largest blood collection organization. The Finnish Red Cross Blood Service also maintains the Finnish Stem Cell Registry (previously Bone Marrow Donor Registry) that contains the details of people who have volunteered to donate blood stem cells to a patient needing them, like someone fighting leukemia. In the US, a similar registry is kept by a nonprofit called Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP). Nonetheless, also that program took off from an American Red Cross office in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the late 1980s.

Isn't It Wonderful?

3) Preparedness, Health and Safety: For many Finns, first aid training is one of the best-known activities of the Finnish Red Cross. The American Red Cross offers an even wider selection of educational programs on preparedness, health, and safety. Naturally first aid, CPR and AED classes are offered, and also pet first aid courses are available! Additionally, the American Red Cross trains for example lifeguards and babysitters. Babysitter training is taken care of by the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL) instead of the Finnish Red Cross. However, the origins of the Finnish Red Cross and MLL are actually intertwined. As a curiosity, I need to mention that the minimum age for MLL babysitters is 16 years, whereas the American Red Cross targets 11-15-year-olds. Here the babysitter training includes topics such as leadership skills and styles, as well as CV and business card tips! The American Red Cross puts a lot of effort also in the emergency preparedness of homes, schools and workplaces. This topic deserves a separate post in the near future.

4) Service to the Armed Forces: The Red Cross movement originated around the need to help wounded warriors. The American Red Cross continues to support military members, veterans and their family members by offering them communications services, comfort, and training how to prepare for, and deal with the challenges of military service. For example, in case of death or serious illness of a family member, or birth of a military member’s child, the Red Cross will deliver the military member a notification no matter where he or she is deployed. Fortunately there is currently no need for most of these services at the Finnish Defense Forces, but the Finnish Red Cross cooperates with the army in many ways. For example, the conscripts are an active blood donor group.

Saluting the Cyclists

5) International Services: The American Red Cross works with the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network to respond to disasters, and build safer communities globally. It deploys disaster experts to the field when necessary, mobilizes relief supplies, ranging from blankets to hygiene supplies, contributes financially to support the local purchase and delivery of relief supplies, and reconnects family members that have got separated by war or disaster. Educating the American public on international humanitarian law is also an integral part of the activities. The international relief and development programs of the Finnish Red Cross resemble a lot those of the American Red Cross.

The operations of the Finnish Red Cross cover also a few areas in which the American Red Cross is not involved. One of these areas close to my heart are the so-called volunteer friend visitors. The Finnish Red Cross acts as an intermediary between volunteers who want devote their time in visiting people who might otherwise feel lonely and those looking for additional human contact and support. The volunteers spend time with elderly people, youth, disabled persons, recovering mental health patients, immigrants, and inmates. Also my voluntary work at the Helsinki Mother and Child Home was a part of this program. Another additional major effort by the Finnish Red Cross is coordinating the Voluntary Rescue Service which is in a critical role in supporting authorities in search-and-rescue operations.

Rest assured that all this is still overwhelming even for me. Fortunately there is a wise guy to turn to only half a mile away from my office (and I do not refer to Obama this time).
The Einstein Memorial

Charity Hack of the Week?

Anyone who has ever worked in an open office knows that at times things can get a little crazy. Last week one of those super noisy days prompted me to finally order a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, potentially the best invention since the wheel. Ordering them was the first time when I had a chance to test AmazonSmile. That turned out to be very simple: American Red Cross was featured on the spotlight charity list, so selecting it to be supported by Amazon on behalf of me required just one click.


The difference between the regular Amazon ( and AmazonSmile ( is that when customers shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to a charitable organization selected by the customer. The assortment, pricing and look-and-feel are identical on both websites, so the only trick really is to remember to place the orders via the right link. Hence if you use Chrome as your browser, you might want to download the Smile Always extension that makes sure that you always remember to smile.

There are as many as almost one million charities to choose from, including my other favorites Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Grassroots Reconciliation Group, and The Mentor Foundation. For now, only charities that are U.S. based and qualified under Section 501(c)(3) are eligible program participants. Organizations that want to learn more about benefiting from AmazonSmile can find more information here.


Like one would expect, AmazonSmile has also faced a fare amount of critisism since it was launched last fall. To begin with, 0.5% is not very much: To get Amazon to donate $50, you would need to spend $10,000. Then again, as the donation comes from Amazon’s pocket, and Amazon also pays the operating costs of the AmazonSmile Foundation, it comes with no (direct) cost to the consumer or the charity. There may be indirect implications, though. Even if the prices are not higher on AmazonSmile compared to the regular Amazon, it is easy to claim that in the end customers pay the donations as a hidden markup in regular pricing.

For charities, a detrimental side effect may be that people feel so good about shopping though AmazonSmile that they are less likely to donate directly. The MIT students who developed the Smile Always extension share the concern and have a valid wish: “While we encourage everyone who shops at Amazon to use this extension, we hope you will also find other ways to contribute to charitable causes you care about by directly donating your dollars, skills, and time.”


Despite all the complexities related to charitable actions, there are lots of reasons to smile. Like spring, for example, that formally started yesterday. After yet another snow day on Monday, the temperature is forecasted to rise close to 20’C/70’F tomorrow. Have a great weekend, all, and smile like a cookie from Hanko!

Best of February

1. Fun for Free

Although living in DC is notoriously expensive, experiencing fun things for free is actually very easy. For example, the entry to all the Smithsonian museums is free. Still I had only visited one Smithsonian in November before I made it to the National Portrait Gallery. A guided tour (free, naturally) led by a volunteer was a great way to get an overview of the vast collection and learn a few funny anecdotes of U.S. presidents. The most memorable part of the visit were the life masks of Abraham Lincoln from 1860 and 1865. I certainly hope that my five years with Nokia did not take as great a toll on my health as the Civil War took on Lincoln’s.


There is a free performance at the Millenium Stage of the Kennedy Center every night at 6pm. My first millenium-staging was the Capital One Comedy Night. The stars of the evening were Sara Armour and Kurt Braunohler. Watching stand-up comedy in a foreign language is quite an acid test for language skills and cultural knowledge, but I had a great time. I was pleased to realize that I seemed to understand most of the jokes – probably equally many as in the case of Finnish stand-up comedy…


Other fun free things in February included free cupcakes and cookies at the AIA gift store, an “ahh-some” free yoga class, a free visit to a luxury gym, swimming for free, and danah boyd‘s book launch event.


2. Oysters, Tarts, and Buns

My birthday was in October, but I got to relive it in February when my sister was visiting DC. As a birthday present, my parents had authorized her to take me to a nice dinner. Accompanied with one of my foodie friends, we indeed had an excellent dinner at the table in Shaw. The 4-course tasting menu consisted of oysters dressed creatively (e.g. with grapefruit), beet carpaccio, trout, and a passion fruit dessert. So good! After the dinner we headed to a neighboring bar, A&D, to celebrate my sister’s name day. That was actually in December, and my present to her was to take her out for a drink in DC.


I was not the only one whose birthday was celebrated in DC in February. February 5th was the 210th birthday of J.L. Runeberg, the national poet of Finland. Why would we celebrate that? Some might say because Runeberg wrote the lyrics of our national anthem. Most Finns would admit, though, that the real reason why Finns still celebrate his birthday every year are Runeberg’s tarts. The poet had a sweet tooth. Once when the family was out of anything sweet, Runeberg’s wife Fredrika had to invent a pastry, the prototype of a tart that according to the legend the poet enjoyed for breakfast every day since then. I made a batch of Runeberg’s tarts for our Super Bowl Party, and as they were a big hit, another batch for the Red Cross colleagues.


In the end of the month, there was still time for another traditional Finnish baking project: Shrove buns. These buns are a premium version of the most typical Finnish pastry. They are filled with whipped cream and either almond paste or strawberry jam. The debate of which one is the correct filling is most likely never-ending. I opted for strawberry jam this time, for very pragmatic reasons: that was easier to find in the grocery store. A funny detail is that most of the buns had been eaten by the time I realized that Shrove Tuesday was actually only at the beginning of March this year, so I was accidentally a week early.


3. DC Independent Film Festival

One of the things that I missed from Helsinki during the beginning of the year was the brilliant documentary film festival DocPoint. Hence I was more than happy when I heard of the DC Independent Film Festival. The festival started with a feature-length documentary film Partners for Peace. The documentary follows a group of American and Canadian women on a trip to Israel and Palestine on a mission to learn about the decades-long conflict and to support local female peace activists. Among the audience were several members of the delegation, including writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jody Williams. They shared their thoughts, experiences, and frustration after the screening. I’m pretty sure this was the first time that I went to see a movie with a Nobel Laureate!


The second movie that I saw during the festival was 3 Mile Limit directed by Craig Newland from New Zealand. New Zealand Embassy sponsored the event by catering the audience with kiwi delicacies, such as savory pies and Moa beer. The film is based on an unbelievable true story of a young guy who is a huge fan of rock music and starts a pirate radio station to break the New Zealand Government’s monopoly on broadcasting in 1960s. After the film, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions from the director over a Skype connection. 3 Mile Limit was chosen as the best international film of the festival.