The EIT Community is working to help enable a ‘green recovery’ to foster sustainable innovation in the region.
The circular economy concept is of crucial importance to COVID-recovery. The Western Balkans are currently performing below average in waste management and has a tendency to look at recycling rates instead of boosting the circular economy by considering the system as a whole.
The circular economy is also a pivotal tool for delivering part of the 2050 decarbonisation agenda in Europe, so EIT Climate-KIC has joined forces with EIT RawMaterials, EIT Health, EIT Food, EIT Manufacturing, EIT Digital and EIT Urban Mobility in a Joint EIT Community initiative aimed at bolstering collaboration and enhancing the circular economy approach in the region.
The seven Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs), covering the different societal challenges of climate, food, health, raw materials, digital, urban mobility, and manufacturing, each have different expertise that meets the major needs of the region.
Together, they will be exploring their learnings around a green and circular economy as an umbrella approach to boost the economy in a post-COVID world, but also enhance capacities and foster knowledge-sharing in the Western Balkans.
Systems thinking is at the heart of the circular economy concept. It is only by truly understanding the different actors in value chains, and their connections, that we will build up the capabilities required to transition towards a circular economy.
In order to establish a stronger presence in the region and truly understand local system needs, EIT Climate-KIC is leading the work on system and stakeholder mapping, together with supporting local partners who will run this activity.
The aim is to get a clear picture of what the current ecosystem looks like, and where, how and who is involved in specific value chains. We will also be exploring synergies and overlaps in interests, activities and stakeholders through a broader green, circular economy approach.
In parallel, EIT Climate-KIC will also explore strategic alliances and possible cooperation with national authorities, managing authorities, policy makers, as well as synergies with other international organisations and private actors active in the region at different levels.
However, it is citizens, through their daily choices, that make the foundation of a circular economy. In the interest of engaging with citizens in the Western Balkans and promoting responsible consumption, EIT Food will lead the organisation of co-creation sessions with consumers and local businesses.
The concept is to yield ideas of new products addressing specific requirements of consumers that will be subsequently introduced to the market by the local companies. EIT Food will be introducing a format successfully implemented in other countries. The sessions will explore new packaging concepts, adapting to the particular challenges of a circular economy approach in the Western Balkans.
Another initiative will be a cross-sectoral competition for local opinion leaders on citizen engagement activities promoting circular economy. There will be an open call for proposals on local activities to promote the circular economy and popularise novel solutions in KICs thematic areas and addressing relevant target groups in local communities.
The format of activities could be anything from scientific cafes, student discussion clubs, mobile exhibitions, social promotion campaigns, thematic school classes, awareness-raising workshops or city-based games. The best initiatives will receive subgrants and access to a network of relevant local institutions interested in running such projects.
Education and innovation
Both inside and outside lecture halls, higher education institutions need to promote the circular economy by inspiring new visions for our societies in terms of sustainability and circular growth.
EIT Raw Materials will be leading this action, organising an open call for universities from Western Balkans where they can describe their thematic relevance to the circular economy and their motivation for participating in the program. In addition, two Train the Trainer workshops will be organised for the selected universities, using the HEInnovate tool.
Start-ups are another essential pillar. To give a boost to innovators from the Western Balkan region and help them get the necessary support for turning ideas into a successful business, three pre-Jumpstarter trainings have already been carried out in Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, in cooperation with local partners. Coordinated by EIT Health, the idea behind the pre-Jumpstarters is to educate and upskill potential participants, so that they are more aware and better equipped to participate in the Jumpstarter Accelerator program.
The engagement of several KICs and this holistic, cross-stakeholder approach truly demonstrates the interest of the EIT and KICs to join forces and strengthen the innovation ecosystem in the Western Balkans.
Although EIT Climate-KIC is already active in the Western Balkans through the EIT Climate-KIC Serbia Hub and Regional Innovation projects, the cross-KIC Western Balkans project is the first effort pulling together different KICs at this scale in the region, and EIT Climate-KIC is glad to share this mission with partner KICs and contribute to the zero-carbon economy transition in the Western Balkans.