On 23rd September 2020 the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme held their first virtual annual conference.
The conference topic was “Innovation for smart and resilient communities”. Invited speakers and participants shared experiences and lessons learned that will help make the NPA communities better prepared to react to shocks, whether they come from economic or health crises, or whether they are caused by climate change.
After a virtual tour of "Innovation across borders - Working with your neighbours to make a difference” - the European Cooperation day (EC Day) and Interreg 30 exhibition organised together with Interreg NORD, Interreg Baltic Sea Region as well as ENI programmes Karelia CBC and Kolarctic CBC - the conference started on a sunny day in Oulu, Finland!
The plenary session offered perspectives from different actors contributing to building more resilient communities. University of Oulu Rector Arto Maaninen explained that “universities play an important role in regional development because they act as the glue between different parties”. In so doing they pool different competences which is the “only solution to succeed in global competition”.
In the NPA context, Head of Secretariat Ms Kirsti Mijnhijmer highlighted that innovation “in rural and remote areas is sometimes born out of necessity, having to be creative with limited means and limited human resources” but that “it is this combination of resourcefulness, innovation and community that brings meaningful solutions, and builds more resilient communities”.
Prof. Matti Muhos, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Micro-entrepreneurship at the Kerttu Saalasti institute, University of Oulu focused on this business category as key in the NPA regions as well as all across Europe. Micro-companies are both better placed and more threatened by disruption and his key message for their survival and success was that “the fastest learner wins”.
When a big company like NOKIA failed, the City of Oulu demonstrated how to convert a crisis into an opportunity. Mr Juha Ala-Mursula, Executive Director of Economic Development at BusinessOulu outlined the key programmes that led to significantly more new jobs being created, than redundancies caused by NOKIA exit from the business.
Testimonials from two NPA projects: EMERGREEN and SYMBIOMA, took the audience on a brief journey across the NPA area, showing ways in which communities are involved in the provision of green public services thanks to digital technology, and how food waste generates new value in a circular economy.
But how can regions work with resilience? Senior research Anna Lundgren from Nordregio suggested that resilience “is not about catastrophic thinking”, but “a healthy exercise for assessing the regions’ ability to cope with stress and react proactively” based on the risks identified, the factors enabling resilience and on what makes the region able to resist or to change its structure.
Four thematic breakout sessions followed the plenary:
1- Towards resilient communities: how can communities become more aware and better prepared to react to shocks such as those coming from climate change, economic or health crisis? Lessons from the current COVID-19 health crisis
2- Smart specialisation strategies: implementing smart specialisation across the NPA, from the Atlantic to the Arctic.
3- Innovation in the bio-based industry: NPA projects innovating in the use of biological resources, the cases of sea weed, barley and…food waste. What kind of innovation is desirable to increase business opportunities in the bio-based industry? What are the avenues to pursue increasing sustainable business ideas based on natural resources? What are the trends or where are potential markets opportunities for the NPA?
4- A greener NPA: what can transnational cooperation do for a greener NPA? Where can NPA projects impact the most and how?
The last part of the event was the occasion to launch the new NPA online map of results: a platform to discover the nearly 100 stories of people who benefitted from NPA projects.
Ms Kirsti Mijnhijmer, Head of Secretariat, presented the state of the art of the NPA 2021-2027 programming process. So far the Area analysis has been carried out, which allowed a preliminary selection of Policy Objectives and Interreg Specific Objectives. The next steps include designing the Priority Axes, in consultation with the regional stakeholders. Eventually the programme aims to have a 1st draft of the Cooperation programme ready in March 2021.
The NPA programme would like to thank all the speakers and the nearly 200 participants from 13 countries and across 6 time zones. The feedback received so far was positive and encouraging. Thank you for contributing to the success of this event!
The conference and thematic sessions are available on the Interreg NPA YouTube channel, whereas the slides can be downloaded below.