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  • Writer's pictureIan Mac Eochagáin

Promoting the advocates, or advocating the promoters

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Six years on the board of a trade-union body taught me one thing: the difference between edunvalvonta and vaikuttaminen. The first of these Finnish words comes from the two words “etu” (“advantage, benefit, interest”) and “valvonta” (“control, monitoring, oversight”). The second is the fourth infinitive of the verb “vaikuttaa” (“to affect, impact, make a difference”). At the time I served on that board, there was a discussion about how to talk about the work the association did on its members’ behalf. A tension arose between edunvalvonta, which was perceived as a hangover from the seventies, smoky backrooms and dealings with paper mill directors, and vaikuttaminen, which was seen as making a broader, more modern impact on society as a whole. But what do they mean in English?

I have translated the former, edunvalvonta, in the past as “advocacy”, but in more recent times I have moved on to translating it as “promotion of interests”. Neither is perfect. What it means is the actions a trade union takes to ensure its members get a better deal at work. That includes negotiating collective agreements and providing and training shop stewards. I have changed my translation of choice from “advocacy” to “promotion of interests” because “advocacy” to me sounds more like hiring a legal advocate. “Promotion of interests” is more honest and literal. Here are a couple of examples of how I’ve translated this word, and the related actor noun, edunvalvoja (“a promoter of interests”):

​Lisäksi edunvalvonnan tueksi teimme laajan tutkimuksen siitä, kuinka yritykset tahtoisivat yrityspalvelut tulevaisuudessa järjestettävän, jotta palvelut olisivat saatavissa sujuvasti.

​Lisäksi edunvalvonnan tueksi teimme laajan tutkimuksen siitä, kuinka yritykset tahtoisivat yrityspalvelut tulevaisuudessa järjestettävän, jotta palvelut olisivat saatavissa sujuvasti.

In addition, to support our advocacy we conducted a broad study on how businesses would like enterprise services to be provided in future to ensure smooth access to services.

​Liitto on Suomen johtava tutkitun tiedon puolustaja sekä tiedepolitiikan, tutkimustyön ja tieteentekemisen edunvalvoja.

The union is the leading defender of scientific knowledge in Finland as well as a guardian of the interest of science policy, research and academic work.

Edunvalvonnassamme yhdistyy kaksi puolta, jotka määrittävät sosiaalisen vastuumme.

Our promotion of interests consists of two halves which define our social responsibility.

As I wrote above, I’ve noted that edunvalvonta has become something of a dirty word in Finnish trade-union circles. It has overtones of the union monitoring benefits which it’s negotiated for its members — and which the mean employer is about to snatch away the second you take your eye off him. Nowadays, the preference is for vaikuttaminen. This is a harder word to give a catch-all translation for, as it’s a noun derived from a verb, but if I had to give one at gunpoint I’d say “influencing”. In translation practice, however, there are much better options. My client Suomen Yrittäjät, which is not a trade union but the Finnish SME association, publishes a document every year reporting on the previous year’s work. Here’s the title and my translation from earlier this year:

Näin vaikutimme yrittäjien puolesta vuonna 2021

Our action on behalf of entrepreneurs in 2021

Literally, the title means “How we influenced on behalf of entrepreneurs in 2021”, but I wanted the document to have a snappier name. (Note that the form of the verb here is the past tense, not the fourth infinitive. Both “vaikuttaminen” and “vaikutti” are forms of the same verb, “vaikuttaa”.) A few lines down, on the first page, was this:

Yrittäjät vaikutti kunkin kustannustuen kriteereihin ja osallistui kunkin kierroksen kehittämiseen.

Suomen Yrittäjät made an impact on the criteria for each kind of support and participated in developing each round.

Again, the literal meaning of the Finnish sentence is “Suomen Yrittäjät influenced the criteria”.

Another example from the same document:

Yrittäjän työmarkkinatuki oli Suomen Yrittäjien vaikuttamistyön tulosta.

​The labour market support for entrepreneurs was a result of advocacy by Suomen Yrittäjät.

Here, vaikuttaminen has been fused with työ (“work”) to make what would literally be “influencing work”. What actually happened was the association used its networks in government to pursue a particular form of support for its members: it advocated on their behalf. And I’m really shuffling the deck here, having written above that “advocacy” was a translation of edunvalvonta. Here’s that same compound word, literally “influencing work”, in another part of the same document:

​Yrittäjien vaikuttamistyön tuloksena yrittäjä voi jatkossa pitää vanhempainrahapäiviä joustavasti haluamallaan tavalla siihen saakka, kunnes lapsi täyttää kaksi vuotta.

Following lobbying by Suomen Yrittäjät, a business owner may in future continue to claim parental allowance flexibly in the way he or she chooses until the child turns two.

Same word, different translation: the association lobbied on its members’ behalf to get a result.

Both of these words are key to talking about how Finnish associations work for their members in the way they see best. I think it’s fascinating to see how the likes of my own union, Akavan Erityisalat, has a page called “Näin vaikutamme” (literally “How we influence”), the top of which has the word “edunvalvonta” (“promotion of interests”) in block capitals. The effort to move away from the seedy “promotion of interests” to the media-friendlier “making an impact” is a work in progress.

Note how varied my translations for the two words in this post are. A weaker translator would have just translated “edunvalvonta” as “promotion of interests” and “vaikuttaa”, “vaikuttaminen” and related words as “influencing” and called it a day. However, translation means choosing the right words in the target language that match the meaning and context of the source language. So many Finnish-English translations read so badly because the same words have been routinely translated, 1:1, to the same English words.

Don’t rely on your translator just knowing the words. Hire one who knows the context around them and meaning behind them.

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