Featured Profiles

The Millennial Prime Minister Leading Finland

Sanna Marin is the Prime Minister of Finland and has been a member of the Parliament of Finland since 2015. After Antti Rinne left his post as Prime Minister, the Social Democratic Party of Finland selected Marin as their new candidate for the position of Prime Minister on December 8, 2019. Marin is currently the world’s youngest serving Prime Minister, Finland’s youngest-ever Prime Minister and Finland’s 3rd female Prime Minister.


Marin was born in the capital of Finland, Helsinki, but was raised in Pirkkala, where she graduated from her high school in 2004. Her parents separated when she was a mere kid, and she was raised by her mother and her mother’s female partner. She has constantly praised Finland’s tolerance but acknowledged that same-sex relationships were barely discussed during the 1990s, let alone recognized as equal under the law. “There was silence about it,” she said. “And I felt that silence. It didn’t feel good, growing up, that there was this silence.”


She described her family as a ‘rainbow family’, but they were under constant financial pressure. After her mother, who was an orphan, divorced her alcoholic husband and Marin’s father, she survived on benefits provided by the country.


However, there weren’t any early signs of Marin’s extraordinary potential. Pasi Kervinen, her teacher at Pirkkala High School, called her “an average student”, albeit one who always asked for extra homework at the age of 15 with the sole focus to improve her grades.


From a young age, Marin worked to decrease the financial burden on her family. She distributed magazines to earn pocket money during high school and also worked at a bakery. She then worked in retail alongside her university studies. Marin was the first member of her family to obtain a university degree. Talking about her early life, she says, “I have had first-hand experience of the challenges that people growing up in cash-strapped families face.”


However, what set Marin apart from other financially struggling families is the state’s role of a facilitator to address her suffering through social support and create opportunities that enabled her to make progress in life and define her career path. In many of her interviews right after she had taken office as the Prime Minister, she candidly expressed her gratitude to the country’s social welfare policy. She dwelled on the fact that she would not have risen from her humble roots to reach this stage in her life if it hadn’t been for social support.


Her political wake-up call came in her 20s when she started contemplating that it was possible to improve hers as well as the circumstances of others around her. Marin, who at the time worked as a cashier in a bakery, joined the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party in 2006, and just two years later she ran for a seat on the Tampere City Council. Although she failed that time, she persevered and ran again in 2012 and was elected. Marin was made the Council’s Chair the following year. She remained in that post after she ran successfully for Parliament in 2015. Due to her hard work, two years later, she was chosen as the first Deputy Leader of the Social Democrats and was re-elected to the city council.


However, Marin never let her career take centre stage in her life and gave equal importance to all aspects of her life. In 2018, she gave birth to her daughter, Emma, with her fiancee, Markus Räikkönen. Like many women, managing parenting and work, she said, “It was important for Markus and I to split our parental leave equally (each took six months off). So I could go back to work, and he could spend quality time with our daughter,” she explained. “They have such a good relationship now. I think it’s very important that fathers have the right to spend more time with their child because it’s such a unique phase in your life. Our children are only young once.”


She soon got back to work and effectively started serving the people in full swing. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, Marin retained her seat, and the leader of the Social Democrats, Antti Rinne, became Prime Minister. She was named the Minister of Transport and Communications.


However, after Rinne mishandled a pay dispute, he stepped down, and Marin replaced him as the Prime Minister on December 10, 2019. She made the global headlines that year when she was named the World’s Youngest Prime Minister at the age of 34. She took the helm of a five-party, all-female coalition and became an icon in Finnish politics. Her agenda focused on bolstering Finland’s social welfare program, focusing on social equality and tackling climate change issues.


Standing at the podium with her cabinet, she told a sea of journalists that she represented a younger generation, and she welcomed the international media attention. It was an opportunity to show the world “who we Finns are”.


Once in office, she got straight to work; and made plans to tackle the issue of climate change. Her government has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2035. If successful, Finland would be one of the first countries in the world to achieve net-zero emissions. Traffic emissions will be cut 50% by 2030, Marin said, through a mix of public transportation initiatives, subsidies for renewable fuels and the development of new technologies. “It will also create jobs and opportunities for Finland. I don’t think that fighting climate change means higher costs and a worse future. I think it’s the opposite,” she says.


Climate is the issue that brought Marin to politics at the young age of 20. “I think it was the frustration of noticing that the older generation didn’t realize realize how important it is. Climate change is the issue that everybody in my generation thinks about. It is the Berlin Wall for our generation and the younger generation than me.”


Another essential issue close to Marin’s heart is equality; the government’s Equality Programme includes policies to encourage parents to share responsibilities equally, close the gender pay gap, decrease domestic violence, and improve educational outcomes for children from poorer backgrounds and immigrant families.


However, despite her successes in handling the spread of the coronavirus in Finland, tackling equality and climate change, Marin said that she has dealt with the imposter syndrome; however, she adds, “Of course, I have also felt that maybe I’m not as good as people think. But when you spend more time in politics, doing your work, you realize that everybody is just a human being, and every job is the size of a person.”


In conclusion, she says, “I want to make sure that everyone can have a good life, no matter what their backgrounds are. That’s what I’m interested in: the issues and finding ways to solve them.”