Expert by experience brings the user’s voice to developing Vamos’ services


“I can’t help you, try asking there!” – the story of Viivi Ekebom, 27, is notoriously commonplace in the experiences of young people who come to the Deaconess Foundation’s Vamos youth service. Many young people are left isolated when seeking help and support for their situation. The wide range of services and projects for young people becomes all too familiar. In the end, Viivi did well and got the support she needed. Now she helps other young people by sharing her own experiences, while developing the Vamos Youth Service as an experience expert.

A woman beside a wall.

“When developing any service, you have to listen to the people who are affected by it”, says Viivi Ekebom, an expert by experience.


Viivi Ekebom knows that her story is all too familiar to many young people seeking their own way in life.

“I was living in Turku at the time,” she explains, “and I sought support from many places. But I was always thrown into the next hole. It felt really disgusting to tell my story over and over again. I was pretty much left alone, and no one asked me, for example, if I had already been to the next place I was referred to.”

“The good thing about Vamos is that here each young person has a designated worker who looks at the young person’s life situation as a whole. I could have used that myself,” she says.

Assisting coaches and support for young people

Ekebom joined Vamos in Espoo at the beginning of April 2022 as an experience specialist.

“I’m involved in Vamos’ group coaching sessions as a coach support and as a peer for the young people. The Vamos trainer has the knowledge gained through training, which I complement with my own perspective,” Ekebom explains.  In addition to his involvement in group activities, Ekebom is developing the use of experiential expertise in service development.

“I have a partner from Vamos in Helsinki, with whom we are developing the role of the expert by experience in Vamos and the Deaconess Foundation overall,” she says.

Experts by experience also contribute their views to the development of Vamos’ activities in general. Increasing their role and creating a network of experts by experience is part of the Deaconess Foundation’s sustainability programme.

“When developing any service, you have to listen to the person affected by it. I would like to see experiential learning used in the future for a wide range of things,” says Ekebom.

Development starts with young people’s needs

From the outset Vamos has been developed with young people’s needs in mind.

“The whole logic of Vamos is based on the fact that the need comes from young people. Whether it’s the life situation of an individual young person and finding their own path, or the development of the various forms of Vamos activities,” says Jenni Oliveira, Service Area Director for Vamos in Helsinki and Vantaa.

“From the point of view of developing Vamos, this means using studies, surveys and different kinds of outcome data, but also, for example, discussing with Vamos young people in groups and hiring experience experts for our teams.”

For years, Vamos has been doing determined and pioneering work to assess the impact of its activities and collect data. An impact assessment of Vamos, conducted by Itla, was completed in autumn 2021.

But at the heart of everything is always the young person and their life situation, with all its ups and downs,  says Oliveira.

“Listening to young people’s voices and using expertise is in our strategy and action plans, but we are humble about it. We need to constantly challenge ourselves on this: how best to provide places for young people to be involved as we develop our activities.”

Fortunately, this involves experts by experience and a large number of other young people in Vamos.

Read more about Vamos


Story and photo by Jenni Sarolahti, translator Mark Waller


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