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One of the key dimensions of the success of the Innovation Union will be the sustained participation of young innovators and potential innovators. To discuss this issue, we invited Kumardev Chatterjee, President of the European Young Innovators Forum, to present their vision.
On the 13th of April at the European Parliament, EYIF will present its ’Transforming Ideas to Actions, Roadmap 2011 – 2012′ event hosted by the Youth Intergroup, where it will outline its recommendation for the shared-risk collaborative approach between Europe and its youth to build and sustain Europe’s ‘Innovation Capacity’, by empowering young innovators to engage in a significant, transformative role in Europe’s innovation renewal. Full details are available on www.eyif.eu
The role of Youth in addressing Europe’s innovation emergency (by Kumardev Chatterjee)
Young Europeans need to have access to and participate in initiatives that enable them to turn ideas into the growth and social progress which will build European renewal. However, there are significant challenges, both societal and structural restricting their participation. These challenges in combination, serve as a potent ‘cocktail of barriers to European innovation’.
Societally, Europeans have grown increasingly risk-averse in the last 30 years…
Young people find that risk taking, innovating and following one’s dreams are neither encouraged, nor appreciated or supported. Parents, teachers, peers encourage and sustain a culture that favours professional achievements over ‘playing with ideas’, paycheck security over ‘dynamic work’. Young Europeans are encouraged to eschew risks and follow well-trodden, ‘safe’ paths to jobs, security and prosperity. These cultural and societal aspects have led to a whole generation of risk-averse young people, who though full of ideas, shelve them in the pursuit of secure and ‘socially respected’ career highways. Innovation is left behind on the nondescript side-roads.
Structurally, Europe has been slow to encourage and reward risk-taking. ..
Regional, national and European programmes are more often than not structured on similar top-down approaches, i.e. supporting ‘institutionalised innovation’ in research laboratories, networks and industrial innovation platforms. These top-down approaches are slow to adapt to both fast changing trends in the digital world and the hyper-connected, creative, community world, young people live in. Equally, by their very nature they are tailored to support specific ‘thematics’ and entail significant overheads. Young people who simply have an innovative idea are consequently excluded due to the complexity, and limited accessibility of these instruments.
On the legal-regulatory side, European frameworks, specific legislation and general practice in a variety of fields from start-up taxation to IPR are counterproductive for innovation as they significantly hinder both the ability and the morale of young innovators to develop their ideas into concrete products and services.
The way forward
At the very outset, it is necessary to recognise that meeting the European challenge of engaging young people into a renewed culture of innovation, requires uniquely European solutions.
This vision imposes certain criteria, requiring potential solutions to :
- reflect an European outlook in form and content – solutions and practices that work elsewhere cannot be simply adopted frame-by-frame, instead the whole canvas of solutions need to be specifically tailored to European contexts and perspectives;
- be designed and driven by young people themselves – achieving credibility amongst youth and consequently gaining traction within young people’s communities requires youth to be engaged from the start in framing the solutions;
- be flexible, elastic and responsive to both the dynamism of youth communities and their changing needs and contexts – today’s ‘innovation hot topics’ are easily outdated tomorrow
At the European Young Innovators Forum, we believe the vision for solutions should be a uniquely European pact on shared risk taking, where both society and citizens converge. This vision encompasses two distinct and converging perspectives:
- European Societal Commitment to Innovation : EU coordinated action to encourage citizens engagement via reduction of barriers and improvement of access, facilities, platform and funding;
- Citizens Engagement in EU Innovation : Societal coordinated action to change attitudes to innovation, entrepreneurship i.e. encourage an European Innovation Attitude, Lifestyle, career
We believe that solutions aiming to fulfil this vision need to address four specific areas:
- Improve Access to Innovation, particularly for citizen innovators through adequate communication of innovation narratives, success stories, programmes and possibilities, using bottom-up approaches.
- Increase Facilities for Innovation by fostering collaborative, community driven, online environments for ideas, facilities, demonstrators and funding. In short, ‘Digital Innovation Democracy or DID’.
- Reduce Barriers to innovation take-up, particularly the shake-up of existing policy, legal and regulatory frameworks to make them ‘Innovation friendly’ and communicating the changes to young people to motivate them. Equally, increase funding opportunities for innovation by encouraging a better risk-taking attitude from funding sources. Funding bodies need to embrace risk as reward.
- Enhance Participation of citizen innovators and encourage take-up of Innovation by challenging traditional cultural and societal aversions to risk-taking and entrepreneurship. This aspect necessitates the facilitation of citizen to citizen community building, mobility and mentorship.