Jesús Rojo, from madri+d: “Sustainability is going to be the economic engine of the next decade, whoever wants to work with the EU will have to focus on a green economic model”
Today, like many of the European entities, and of the world, madri+d faces the difficult job of maintaining its operations in the current scenario and at the same time collaborate with the challenge of finding and implementing solutions that help combat the pandemic. Among them, the international platform “Care & Industry together against CORONA”, of which the Business Foundation Eurochile is also part, with the aim of incorporating Chilean companies, organizations and enterprises into an international network based in the European Union for this task.
The Spanish foundation, madri+d is defined as a place for education, science and innovation, as key elements of competitiveness and the well-being of citizens. And to advance in this objective, it has been working with all the universities and public research organizations of the Community of Madrid for 16 years, as well as with technology-based companies and entrepreneurs to contribute to the articulation of an innovative ecosystem -efficient and integrated knowledge-based- in the European Union.
Today, like many of the European entities, and of the world, madri+d faces the difficult job of maintaining its operations in the current scenario and at the same time collaborate with the challenge of finding and implementing solutions that help combat the pandemic. Among them, the international platform “Care & Industry together against CORONA”, of which the Business Foundation Eurochile is also part with the aim of incorporating Chilean companies, organizations and enterprises into an international network based in the European Union for this task. .
To learn how they have dealt with this scenario, and learn from what has already been achieved in this area in Europe, we spoke with Jesús Rojo González, head of the Technology Transfer and European Programs Area of Fundación para el Conocimiento madri+d, who told us how they have done to maintain their operations even as more global and medium-term challenges are being addressed.
What steps have you taken as an organization to stay operational?
Several days before the State of Alarm was declared in Spain, measures for the implementation of remote work were already put in place by madri+d. First, the staff was provided with a fully functional laptop to connect from home. From management, computer screens and portable wifis were provided to all staff that needed it. All Foundation personnel have VPN access to the work servers. To execute an optimal work from home, from the first moment professional profiles of Microsoft Teams and Zoom were enabled so that all scheduled meetings and face-to-face activities could be carried out, but in a comfortable and virtual way.
Thanks to this, it has been possible to continue with the meeting plan, evaluation committees, plenary sessions, training programs, and business meetings, without the need to make major changes to the agendas.
What measures have been taken to guarantee the well-being of your workers?
As we have mentioned, the Foundation’s management has always been one step ahead, facilitating at all times those workers who are at higher risk or who have more problems complementing family and work life in this period of pandemic, all the flexibility necessary to guarantee optimal health. A few weeks ago, we proceeded to subsidize the antibody test to all personnel as a decision-making measure for the de-escalation plan when they can return to the office. The entire team has received specific training on occupational hazards in relation to COVID-19.
In addition, a video call is organized weekly with all the staff where the situation of each is shared, as well as the progress and news from the Foundation’s management. This makes all staff feel fully supported and with direct contact between us.
The Foundation is currently working to adapt our facilities to the new security measures decreed by the Government of Spain. This involves a large personal and financial effort that from madri+d is being taken, since the priority is to guarantee the health of all. Reorganization of spaces, new air filters, protective screens, availability of hydroalcoholic gels in all workplaces, and the continuity of remote work, are just some of the considerations that are already being put in place to guarantee a safe return to the new normal.
How have you maintained the relationship with your stakeholders and the progress of the projects you were developing? Do you go ahead with all of them?
Thanks to the implementation of remote work and the tools and measures put in place by madri+d, we have been able to continue with our work as normal. In fact, we have noticed that thanks to the virtual realization of events, in the case of business rounds, our clients are participating more in international events. When these same events were face-to-face, many times we did not get the necessary interest from our clients to travel to the fair in question, missing opportunities when reporting successes in our actions. Now, thanks to the savings in time and money that virtualization of conferences and business rounds entails, in some projects we are even noticing improvement in the results.
In relation to our main stakeholders, such as the Community of Madrid, the European Office of the Ministry of Science and Innovation or the Center for Industrial Technological Development of the Ministry of Industry, all of them have opted for remote work and virtually rescheduling events that they had planned for the coming months. In many of them we participate giving presentations as a Foundation, either from the perspective of the National Point of Contact for the Marie Curie Programme, or as coordinators of the Enterprise Europe Network in Madrid.
At the European level, the trend has been the same. From the European Commission, all the actions and meetings scheduled for the entire year 2020 have been transferred to virtual format, and the number of training webinars has even increased. All this means that, in many of our areas, the workload has increased significantly as a consequence of this new situation.
In what areas has your work been redirected in recent months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to support the fight against the virus?
Our core activities remain constant, addressing a wide variety of topics such as the environment, sustainability, implementation of new materials, defense and space research, energy, and of course, health. It is in this last field where, logically, there has been a greater proliferation of new initiatives and where, since March, many of the Foundation`s resources have been dedicated. Specifically, we would like to highlight two initiatives: the regional hackathon #vencealvirus, and the international platform “Care & Industry together against Corona”, where we collaborate with Chile, among other countries.
The #vencealvirus hackathon, organized by the Community of Madrid, took place on April 4 and 5 and more than 8,000 researchers, businessmen, entrepreneurs and students participated to generate new ideas in the fight against COVID-19. Focused on three main challenges (health, community and work and industry), more than 750 projects were presented, of which more than 240 passed the first phase and 100 reached the second phase. Finally, 20 winning projects were selected and are already being supported by the Foundation so that they can start operating in the coming months. This hackathon is the beginning of the future Open Innovation Platform of the Community of Madrid that will be launched in early 2021. The objective of the platform is to create a space where the free exchange of ideas and knowledge is encouraged, integrating very different elements of the innovative Community of Madrid ecosystem who can find synergies based on shared challenges, and where they can pose challenges that act as catalysts for ideas, putting different teams to work around common goals.
In relation to the international platform “Care & Industry together against CORONA”, it is a space for exchange with the option of holding virtual meetings that will be open, for the time being, until the end of 2020. Companies, hospitals, nursing homes and others actors who are involved in the COVID-19 crisis can upload their demands or offers of services or products to this free platform. Currently there are 1,574 collaboration opportunities from 727 participants from 36 different countries. From the Community of Madrid we have already registered and validated 144 participants. From the Foundation we are the Spanish coordinators of this initiative and we are within the management team at the international level, directly in contact with the European Commission for coordinated management of activities.
What role will R&D have in this area, and why is collaboration between all actors important?
The great asset of the madri+d is networking, cooperating with all the agents of the regional system of education, science, technology and innovation. It is in our DNA to contribute to the progress and well-being of citizens through the promotion of these four disciplines, so for us the role of R+ D + i is, has been and will be the main pillar to overcome the adversities of this crisis and prepare for those that will come in the future. In the current situation caused by the coronavirus, it has been clearly reflected that in those countries where R + D + i already had a strong tissue, they have been able to give faster and more forceful responses to the virus. In addition, at both the national and international levels, extraordinary funds are being mobilized to directly investigate COVID-19. The conclusion is clear: the world is facing a health crisis that has led to a crisis on a social, economic, political, and environmental level. We must strengthen our R & D & i systems if we want to be competitive and leave early and with guarantees of success in all the dimensions that are being affected by the pandemic.
How are you working this at the Enterprise Europe Network level?
The work has increased thanks to the virtualization of events, meetings and conferences. The possibility of holding international meetings from your home is something that we are seeing as positive in all the international activities that we are co-organising. Events such as “Innovation in Environment & Energy & Circular Economy” where Madrid’s participation was not relevant, in this 2020 edition that took place in early May, we had the presence of more than 30 clients. And it is being the common denominator in any event of any theme. Furthermore, at the internal level of the network, the meetings of the sectoral groups, which are usually held twice a year, have increased their frequency, occurring once a month in many cases.
In relation to our training program, it has been maintained as scheduled and we have had no problems in transferring to virtual version the seminars that were scheduled in person.
The thought that comes to mind is the resilience that is so great that a network like the Enterprise Europe Network has, where more than 4,000 people from 65 countries have been able to adapt overnight to a unique situation, and improving the expected results.
In Chile, Eurochile is the exclusive representative of EEN for the region, and is convening different companies and organizations to the “Industry and Health together against the coronavirus” campaign. How has this worked in Spain, and how has the selection process of the companies worked?
The international coronavirus platform has a main focus of work at the Spanish level made up of members of the health sector group of our country: University of Alicante in the Valencian Community and Murcia; University of Navarra in the Foral de Navarra community; FICYT in Asturias; Acciò in Catalonia and the Madrid Science Park and the madri+d Foundation in our region. Other co-organizers from Castilla y León, Cantabria, the Basque Country and Extremadura join this working group. The terms of reference to which any member of the EEN must consider at the moment of selecting their companies, are published on the platform’s website. The two main issues to consider for a profile to be successful are that it has a clear relationship regarding its work with COVID-19, and that it reflects a specific service, product or collaboration in the Marketplace with clear objectives.
To facilitate this work and give support to all the co-organizers, who currently are more than 155, the “Extra Eyes” working group has been created, where 9 of the most active organizers double-check the validity of the profiles, to guarantee the maximum quality of the information that appears on the platform. The Foundation is part of this committee, supporting all of Spain as well as Italy, Portugal, Argentina and Chile.
What role will SMEs, entrepreneurship, play in this task?
The Enterprise Europe Network is the largest support network for SMEs with an international vocation. It is true that these SMEs must work together with the most academic and research aspect if they want to go far, so from Madrid we have always acted as a bridge between these two sectors. Clearly, from what we are seeing in recent months, the agility and versatility of SMEs in providing solutions quickly is admirable, which can make a difference from here and on. In addition, initiatives such as the #vencealvirus hackathon have brought to light many entrepreneurs with real solutions directly linked to solving problems derived from the coronavirus, which otherwise would have been hidden. Support in the form of financing and a service to these entrepreneurs and these SMEs is essential in a country like Spain, where 98% are small and medium-sized companies. It is true that we must not forget that the current situation has caused that many of these SMEs are facing serious subsistence problems right now, for which support measures are needed at the national level so that they can do R&D+ i as a priority again.
How do you see the scenario once the health crisis is over and the economic recovery begins?
This health crisis has revealed other underlying crises such as the environmental, economic and social crisis. There are lights and shadows in all these questions, since once we have been able to control the pandemic, a fact that is still on a distant horizon, we will have to see if, individually, at the level of society and of policies, we have learned something from this whole situation.
In relation to the environmental crisis, the planet is clearly better off without us. In other words, we cannot return to the way of consuming, of traveling, of exploiting the resources that we had been exercising before COVID. Sustainability is going to be the economic engine of the next decade, as stated by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, when she approved the European Green Deal in early 2020. Member States and anyone who wants to work with the EU will have to focus on a green and sustainable economic model. This is the main difference with previous policies, which only talked about mitigating the effects of climate change. Now we are talking about green growth, economically and socially.
Continuing with these masked crises, a return to normality will reveal a different society. We have seen first-hand the benefits of remote work at the level of conciliation and at the level of economic and environmental savings. It will be a matter of time before companies begin to choose between a mixed model of face-to-face work and remote work, which leads to a more economically and personally sustainable situation for all institutions and workers, as well as to rationalize costs and prioritize better.
Finally, all this is not possible without a policy that learns and supports those conclusions that have emerged from the pandemic era. Having the European Commission focused on a real change in the production model is something that will impact national economies, and we hope that it will serve to generate strategic frameworks where we can be prepared to give a firm response to all future crises that will come.