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Knowledge valorisation puts research results to work for a greener, fairer society

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While knowledge itself is good, it’s even better when it’s applied to help solve the big challenges facing our societies. Many components must come together to ensure research has a lasting impact on society.

Science overflows with questions, but also brims with answers. For example, decades of meticulous research enabled multiple vaccines to be rolled out at an unprecedented pace during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Science also provided evidence as to which public behaviours and practical measures reduce the spread of the virus – such as good ventilation and and the design and use of face coverings to help reduce contagion factors.

In 2020, research and development spending in EU countries was €311 billion. Knowledge generated in Europe should benefit the people of Europe and beyond. While it is the job of scientists to generate such knowledge, others can assist in taking it out into society, notes Christophe Haunold, head of knowledge and technology transfer at the University of Luxembourg.

It is a question of how we use that knowledge. ‘This is valorisation,’ said Haunold.

Knowledge valorisation is defined as the process of creating value from knowledge by linking different areas and sectors. It transforms data and research results into sustainable products and solutions that benefit society. It improves economic prosperity, environmental benefits, social progress and policy making.

‘We want research results to create impact for society,’ said Jurgen Joossens, Head of the Valorisation Office (TTO) at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. His university focuses on valorisation in three areas: infectious diseases and environmental health, smart city and sustainable chemistry and materials.

The office has established links to the port of Antwerp, an important petrochemical site in Europe. Rather than researchers deciding how their results can be used by industry (a push approach), the Antwerp unit focuses also on what society wants – the so-called ‘flip approach’.

For example, in 2016, Professor Maarten Weyn developed a telemetric badge that could locate a person in a chemical plant and alert controllers if they fell or had an accident. But industry and unions foresaw privacy problems in tracking employees in this way.

Following a round of consultations with the chemical industry in Antwerp, Weyn redesigned the badge into a sensor that measures position, temperature and vibrations from valves within chemical plants.

A company – Aloxy – has taken the professor’s technology forward and issuing it in site trials in Europe, the US and the Middle East. ‘Because he was open and listening to their needs, he was able to reform the technology and solve a problem he wasn’t aware of,’ says Joossens.

EU Valorisation Week

Co-organised by the EU Member States and the European Commission, the EU Knowledge Valorisation Week will run from 29 March to 1 April, 2022. It will bring together and share expertise amongst experts and stakeholders from all over Europe. It will showcase best examples of policies and tools that improve investments, capacities and skills for rapid progress in the uptake of research-based solutions. Stakeholders have helped shape the programme by sharing their best practices.

Haunold will moderate a session that looks at how to fund inventions and business ideas during the proof-of-concept phase. This is after the research phase, but before something has been demonstrated to a level where a company is willing to get involved.

Transforming basic scientific discoveries into a product or service is frequently a major sticking point. Because scientists usually don’t have the skills or time to devote to this piece, as they are busy doing what they are best at – research.

‘What we expect from scientists is to be very good scientists,’ said Haunold. ‘But there can be a wide range of skills that they don’t have but which we can assist them with.’

This is when entrepreneurs and scientists can lean on the knowledge contained in the technology transfer offices (TTOs). These offices support the commercialisation of research work. Technology transfer offices help researchers communicate about their projects, file patents and assist in negotiations over technology transfer and the use of intellectual property.

Creating a new company to exploit an idea is not always feasible. Sometimes academic organisations will partner with commercial and public partners. The TTOs can help to arrange licensing for a discovery to existing companies. This can generate revenue from new products or services.

Intellectual property

‘If a researcher interacts with a company, they will not have to carry all the burden of negotiating with parts of that company, such as legal or intellectual property issues,’ said Haunold.

A success story from Luxembourg involves Dr Tahereh Pazouki, who created a mathematics educational tool for children when she was a PhD student. She was targeting a diverse linguistic community, one with several languages in daily use.

‘In Luxembourg, we have many languages and many cultures,’ said Haunold. ‘She developed a tool that allows children learn mathematics without the basic language.’ 

She received proof-of-concept funding, and the knowledge transfer office negotiated and provided all the intellectual property rights.

Her company, Magrid, now sells the tool all over the world. It is suited to migratory children not proficient in the language of instruction or children with special needs, such as those with autism, dyslexia or hearing or speech difficulties.

Advice on entrepreneurship will be shared during the session entitled ‘Translating the vision into action’. Ivan Štefanić, professor at Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek in Croatia, runs an educational programme called Be the Role Model which entrepreneurial researchers may find very useful. The session takes place on 30 March 2022.

Entrepreneurial skills

To encourage an entrepreneurial environment means fostering a culture and positive mindset, not just technical skills. ‘When you’re surrounded by people who complain about everything, you start complaining as well,’ said Štefanić.

‘If you see people taking changes, making bold moves, and achieving something,’ he said, ‘That could spark you on the right path.’

He himself set up a business development centre in Croatia in 2002, but instead of waiting for people to walk through the door, he developed the Be the Role Model programme.

Living lab

Sometimes, you need the input of citizens in real life situations to see if an innovation will work. In Finland, a living laboratory for food and sustainability has been set up on the campus of the Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK).

Mikael Lindell, who leads the FUSSILI project on urban food systems, reveals that this April, the university cafeteria will serve experimental recipes based on ingredients that benefit the planet. It follows the EAT-Lancet diet which targets healthy diets and sustainable food production.

The project aims to reduce meat content and include more local produce in its recipes. A large local food manufacturer is involved while, crucially, staff and students on campus will be able to give feedback on their sustainable lunch fare.

In the Netherlands, Dr Linda van de Burgwal is the director of a demonstrator lab at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She herself is a serial entrepreneur who has set up multiple companies. ‘We set up a risk free environment,’ she said. ‘We see it as learning-by-doing.’

Those who enrol must present a business idea and then work on it, with regular progress check-ins. Mentoring is an essential component.

‘After five years we have had 100 projects, and 20 have registered with the [local] chamber of commerce,’ said van de Burgwal.

Ideas have included breath sensors for early detection of livestock disease, a virtual human rights lawyer and more ergonomic furniture for children.

She stresses that entrepreneurship doesn’t just help when setting up your own business. It ‘gives a set of problem solving skills that is valuable in whatever role you have,’ she said. ‘Entrepreneurship is creating something that has value, and those skills are relevant across sectors,’ said van de Burgwal.

Valorisation does not always refer to turning knowledge into products and services. It also involves informing policy changes, improving processes or educating the general public. 

Teaming up

Knowledge transfer and validation requires many skills. ‘We need multidisciplinary teams,’ says Joossens, ‘Because sometimes it’s forgotten that it’s not only about the technology, but it’s also about implementation of the technology.’ This requires a complex milieu of expertise, to support knowledge creators and ensure impact.

‘There’s also society involved, there are processes, rules, laws, which are involved,’ he said.

Businesses can fail for financial reasons, and hard-nosed advice for would-be entrepreneurs is essential.

Štefanić says those setting up companies should create an intellectual property plan at an early stage. ‘Often entrepreneurs do it only when they unknowingly infringe someone’s intellectual property or someone copies them,’ he said. ‘That is a very reactive approach.’

Draw talent

He believes Europe can also draw in talent from the rest of the world by creating the right environment for entrepreneurs. ‘We can attract people from other locations and help them achieve what they couldn’t locally,’ he said. ‘So it is also about growing successful business and making Europe a desirable destination,’ he said.

The Knowledge Valorisation Week is an opportunity to raise awareness and take stock of the current work on upgrading EU guidance for better knowledge valorisation. There is an EU knowledge valorisation platform to share best practices, knowledge and expertise. It includes a repository of best practices, to which stakeholders can submit their examples any time.  

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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Unlocking the Triple Returns from Social, Tech and Green Jobs

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New insights and initiatives at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2022 seek to launch a jobs recovery to strengthen resilience and dynamism in economies, businesses and societies in the midst of a turbulent outlook.

Investing in education, health and care jobs can yield a triple dividend – boosting economic activity, expanding employment opportunities and generating social mobility. New modelling of the United States economy suggests that investing $1 in social jobs would yield a $2.3 return. The model estimates that $1.3 trillion in the social jobs of tomorrow could unlock $3.1 trillion in GDP returns and create 11 million jobs by 2030.
 
These jobs include 4.2 million teaching jobs, 1.8 million jobs for personal care and service workers, and 900,000 jobs in healthcare. These are the key findings of the World Economic Forum’s new report Jobs of Tomorrow: The Triple Returns of Social Jobs in the Economic Recovery, published at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 today.
 
Developed in collaboration with Accenture, the report finds that the associated increases in productivity, increased GDP and tighter labour markets will lead to a parallel increase in real wages. Aided by technology and better skills, the jobs of tomorrow have the potential to lift living standards globally. After more than two years of turmoil in the global economy and a continued uncertain outlook, leaders need to support workers in pivoting towards a future which works for everyone. Higher wage, higher-quality, future-ready jobs are possible and benefit companies, workers and economies alike.

Good Work in the New Economy
 
As many employers and workers seek a “new normal” after the disruptions of the past few years, there is an opportunity to develop a new vision for the future of work, one that is ready for the new economy and society. Five key issues have emerged that need to be addressed to ensure better work for workers and employers alike: volatility in wages and the cost of living; divergence on the demand for flexibility; silent pandemic in well-being; an erosion of diversity, equity and inclusion gains; and the need for a reskilling revolution.
 
The Good Work Framework, a second report released at the Annual Meeting, drawing from the views of employers, unions and experts and developed in collaboration with Mercer, proposes enhancing job quality through five objectives and associated goals: promote fair pay and social justice; provide flexibility and protection; deliver on health and well-being; drive diversity, equity and inclusion; and foster employability and learning culture.
 
The Jobs Consortium
 
To support this broad agenda and to mobilize the required investments globally, the first meeting of the Jobs Consortium was held at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos. The initiative comprises CEOs and ministers championing productive employment, growth in the jobs of tomorrow, new standards in the workplace and better wages for all.
 
Underpinning the Jobs Consortium is a shared understanding of the need to expand opportunity and quality in the jobs of tomorrow, with a particular focus on social, green and tech jobs as the high-growth, job-creating sectors of the future. The initiative is supported by insight products, action frameworks and a collaboration platform, which develop expert knowledge to drive tangible change, and will work closely with initiatives on developing skills for the global workforce.
 
Refugee Employment and Employability
 
Refugees are a particularly vulnerable group, often excluded from the labour markets of host economies. Over 6 million refugees have left Ukraine since February 2022, adding to the estimated 31 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced across borders.
 
As businesses mobilize to assist refugees with integration into host communities and workforces, the World Economic Forum’s Chief Human Resources Officers community, drawn from over 140 organizations, has launched a Refugee Employment and Employability Initiative. The initiative will pilot its work with supporting learning and job opportunities for Ukrainian refugees in Europe in its first phase and draw best practices to build a methodology for supporting system-wide global support from employers for refugees.
 
“Our ambition is to lead with action and we know that refugees bring a broad set of skills, experience and perspectives that benefit societies and businesses. Helping people find work isn’t just a humanitarian effort, it’s also good for business,” said Jesper Brodin, CEO of Ingka Group.

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New Initiative to Strengthen Cross-Border Investment in the Digital Economy

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A pioneering effort to facilitate cross-border investment in the digital economy was launched this week at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022.

The new initiative on digital foreign direct investment, the Digital FDI initiative, will implement projects in several countries to help grow Digital FDI, as the reforms to attract such investment must take place at a country level. The first digital FDI project will take place in Nigeria.

Over the past few years, the Forum has worked to find the right partners to guide the work, develop principles published in the white paper launched in 2020 and share the potential for cooperation at the G20 and other platforms of corporation.

Attracting Digital FDI requires creating digital-friendly investment climates through targeted and country-specific policies, regulations and measures. These investments involve new business models, often based on data and technology, and platform economies, as well as using non-traditional assets. The Digital FDI initiative will aim to identify and implement enabling reforms through public-private projects in emerging markets and developing countries.

“Global FDI is rebounding, following the COVID-19 pandemic, and investment in the digital economy could not come at a better time. These country projects will help grow FDI into the digital economy, which is key for long-term growth, competitiveness and sustainable development”, said Børge Brende, President, World Economic Forum.

The Digital FDI initiative will be delivered as a joint effort between the World Economic Forum and the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO), a new international organization that seeks to enable digital prosperity for all.

“As the first and only global multilateral focused on enabling digital prosperity for all, the DCO is partnering with the Forum on a Digital Foreign Direct Investment initiative to help countries develop digital FDI-friendly investment climates. We invite digital innovators with a commitment to economic development and inclusion to join us,” said Deemah Al Yahya, Secretary-General, DCO.

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Post-COVID, Latin American Leaders Say their Countries Are Open for Business

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Rising food and energy prices and a migration crisis are posing significant economic and social challenges in Latin America, according to several leaders from the region speaking on a presidential panel at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022. However, they remain confident that investing in their economies will remain attractive.

“We cannot be indifferent in front of this humanitarian tragedy,” said Colombian President Ivan Duque, referring to challenges linked to Venezuelan migration to his country, which has seen close to 2 million cross the border over the past several years after fleeing economic hardship. Duque announced that Colombia would issue over 1 million temporary status cards to Venezuelan migrants.

Rising food and energy prices also pose threats to Latin American populations. President Luis Rodolfo Abinader Corona of the Dominican Republic noted that his government would soon authorize subsidies for corn to offset rising food prices and the increasing cost of poultry. The nation has already implemented fertilizer subsidies and support for wheat prices would likely follow.

While the region has experienced economic growth in recent years, the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain and price shocks linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have raised questions about future growth for a range of countries. Despite the challenges, many Latin American countries continue to tout their economies and to encourage foreign business for investment and “near-shoring”.

“Not red tape, but red carpet,” said President Rodrigo Chaves Robles of Costa Rica, on his nation’s readiness to welcome foreign investors. “Costa Rica is open for business. I will break all bottlenecks…. I will open all doors.”

Likewise, Dina Ercilia Boluarte, Peru’s Vice-President and Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, stressed the nation’s readiness for outside investors. “We will welcome you with a stable economy and legal guarantees.”

The focus of many Latin American nations is now on climate and environmental sustainability. In tourism-intensive nations, such as the Dominican Republic, the sector constitutes an essential part of GDP and employs 20% of the population. Diversifying beyond “sun-and-beach” tourism could ensure the sector remains resilient even in the face of intensifying climate change.

In addition, the region can accelerate investments in climate mitigation and renewable energy. Chaves said: “We’re improving our electricity grid to more renewables even though we have over-invested in the power generation with fossil fuels.” Transitioning energy sources in a time of rising prices poses serious challenges, he added, so the nation will need to proceed with its reforms in a way that balances current growth with sustainability goals.

Educational reform is another way Latin American leaders are preparing for digital and green energy transformations. Colombia recently completed training for 100,000 programmers, and Costa Rica is working to improve the efficiency of its education spending. Currently, the country spends twice as much as Viet Nam to educate students. While Viet Nam ranks eighth in students’ math scores, Costa Rica ranks near the bottom in terms of students’ maths performance.

Peru is promoting social inclusion by transforming how the state delivers social services to rural communities. One programme involves putting state services – such as vaccines, health supplies and training materials to reduce violence against women – on boats so officials can reach hard-to-access communities in dense Peruvian forests and remote villages. “We are bringing services of the state to our brothers and sisters to improve their quality of life,” Boluarte said.

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