Finns of the Bay Area
Finlandia Foundation San Francisco Bay Area Chapter introduces you to local Finnish people representing different arts, passions and interests.
All photos: Emilia's home archive

Emilia Lahti

Overcoming challenges with sisu
By Katja Kotala 12/14/2016
It is obvious that Emilia Lahti, a researcher, social activist, and a woman of sisu, embodies the message she is spreading. Full of warmth and empathy, combined with strength and fierce passion, she is bound to leave you inspired and ready to change the world.

Starting out from Seinäjoki, Finland, Emilia has come a long way to Palo Alto CA. She has worked at the Consulate General of Finland in New York and gotten Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. A couple of years ago Emilia found herself living the Silicon Valley life as a co-founder of a startup formed through her participation in the Global Solutions Program at the Singularity University located at NASA Ames in Mountain View.

Currently Emilia is working on her doctorate at the Aalto University in Finland, doing research on ‘sisu’ and how people can overcome trauma and thrive. Related to this she is organizing a campaign called Sisu not Silence, where she seeks to bring awareness to overcoming experiences of interpersonal violence. Sisu is a Finnish concept, linked to the nation’s history of overcoming insurmountable challenges.

“Sisu is about taking the next step, but specifically in a situation where you are taking that step into a void. The point is that there is more to us than we realize and we can most often keep on going even if we think we can’t. Sisu starts where perseverance ends.”
Emilia Lahti
People of Sisu
Through her own experiences, Emilia has come to know the importance love and support have for people overcoming trauma. Instead of silencing their stories of domestic abuse, Emilia promotes opening these narratives by creating safe spaces to talk and hear from others. “I hope to bring up an empowering narrative, so that people would see that you don’t have to let your experience define you, and you don’t have to carry shame that doesn’t even belong to you.”

For her dissertation, Emilia interviews individuals from support groups that she has brought together. “These people feel so much shame and I want them to feel like they are extraordinary. Often we concentrate on the suffering they have faced, which gives too much space for the perpetrator. Instead we should talk about what kind of strong and positively badass people these women and men have become by overcoming something so difficult. That makes it inspirational.”
Running to end the silence
Emilia still carries with her the distinct spirit of her roots in Etelä-Pohjanmaa, where people are known for their resilience and willingness to make even the craziest dreams come to life. She is even taking this a step further, or many more steps in fact, since in a year she is making a run across the length of New Zealand promoting Sisu not Silence. The run, consisting of over 2300 km (or approximately 1500 miles), averages over 50 ultra marathons in 50 days.

“It is kind of like working in a startup. You just have to keep on going even when it’s hard, even when it’s boring, even when there are uphills. You just have to take the next step and figure out what it is, in that moment, that makes you take it.” Running such a long distance will undoubtedly be a grueling effort and Emilia highlights the importance of doing hard things in a way that emanates from compassion. “Since I am running for non-violence, I should not violate my body while doing so. The key is to cultivate attunement with your body to know when to take it easy and when to push harder.” An advice, that can help build not only resilient runners but startup entrepreneurs as well.

You can read more about Emilia’s campaign at her crowdfunding site: bit.ly/sisunotsilence