ETF Director

Pilvi Torsti: my first 100 days as ETF director


After her first 100 days as the new director of the European Training Foundation (ETF), Dr Pilvi Torsti highlights the need for a long-term approach to supporting EU partner countries. Creating new opportunities in learning and skills is a win-win for Europe and millions worldwide.

Quoting Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Pilvi says: “If you are very strong, you must also be very kind.” 

"It’s a hard fact that if you want growth, if you want prosperity and stability through economic growth and jobs, then investment in learning and skills is the right way to go. Geopolitically, this has been a shocking two or three years. We had to reconsider our worldview. For decades cooperation, prosperity and peace were a common aspiration for all.  

But all that changed.  

The invasion of Ukraine started the day after I handed in my application to be the ETF director. And the geopolitical landscape is becoming even more complex, particularly in the countries that we are working with. These world challenges are worrying. They bring a new dimension to the work of the ETF. But this organisation is well-placed to deal with them.  

We have the necessary experience at an institutional level and also among our staff, many  of whom come from former and current partner countries. 

The ETF is already going in this direction. We have experience in catering for this emerging global environment where it’s not the usual suspects (or countries) taking the lead. The EU's ambitions to welcome new member countries bring new challenges and expectations, allowing us to tap into our long-term expertise in this field. We can provide formulas matching the supply and demand of education and labour market services to the training needs of those countries, particularly those with a youthful population wanting to find a future. 

This is not a first-world, elitist issue. It's felt in many countries. The next generation is demanding solutions. And the ETF has 30 years of experience in delivering them. 

You are really talking about life and death and humanity and solving the world's biggest issues. Just think of migration. We can all play our part in changing the world…but it needs knowledge, commitment and a long-term view. It often takes decades to see the impact and results of evidence-based reforms to employment and education policies. But I have seen that happening, that gives me hope and energy. "


New opportunities 

"Education has been my personal focus for 30 years. I first came to Italy as a Finnish country girl with a scholarship to attend the United World College of the Adriatic. We were encouraged to be active in civic involvement at a complex political time for Europe. The break-up wars in Yugoslavia were ongoing next door to us. And I was studying alongside young people of my age straight from the refugee camps. 

Those two years were decisive for me. I recognised my own privileges and my own history. I’m also part of a refugee family from after the Second World War. You live a normal life, a wealthy one in the context of the time: a happy home and similar holiday photos. Then suddenly, all that changes. Everything you've built your future on is not there anymore. I started to see education not so much as a system, but as an opportunity. It taught me that it matters if you take the initiative. That you can make a difference. If you feel that you are strong, it’s your responsibility and duty to do that." 

Europe as a world leader 

"The ETF has a lot to contribute globally as part of the EU and its mission. My first 100 days here have deepened my perceptions and expectations of what’s possible." 

"I see idealistic, committed colleagues with experience working at a grassroots level with our partners (everywhere) from Albania to Georgia, and Central Asia to the African Union. The ETF helps countries in transition achieve real, positive change. We mustn’t take this unique work for granted. The ETF has developed a spirit of trust and commitment with these countries through complex political periods in their history. It's not a little thing in this cynical world.  

It's not something you can measure like the number of participants in a conference. Bringing people together is important, but that's not all there is to it. The true impact of well-functioning education systems on society at large is measured over decades, by the number of people in adult training, or with the relevant skills, or being employed. 

The EU is the world’s biggest donor in education and training. But that great work is often unseen. This is the thematic world where the ETF supports partners outside the EU. As a director and a leader, it’s part of my role to make that work visible. It's often said that it’s a waste of energy to focus on things you can't influence. But I want to make people aware that there are plenty of things we can hugely influence. And we should take pride in that." 

"By working with  political decision-makers with aspirations beyond their next term, and making alliances with wide group of stakeholders we can help change the world. With stamina, we can make a difference."

Did you like this article? If you would like to be notified when new content like this is published, subscribe to receive our email alerts.