18 February 2022

Europe's largest flagship annual event, the EU Industry Days returned for its fifth edition, ran last week between February 8 and February 12. The virtual event was an opportunity for key industry players to join forces, bring forth commitment, and spark conversations about green and digital transitions. The Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) held a booth in the virtual exhibition where visitors could learn about the programme. Additionally, industrial frontrunners, officials and representatives came together to discuss proximity and social economy ecosystems.

Proximity and Social Economy Ecosystems Session (80-90 participants)

A dynamic discussion on the proximity and social economy ecosystems was hosted by 5 speakers who were moderated by Diana Dovgan, Secretary General of CECOP.

Anna Athanasopoulou, Head of Unit, Proximity Social Economy and Creative Industries at Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, emphasized that in order for this ecosystem to work, social purpose needs to be put over profit and  the focus must be on local and regional level. According to Ms Athanasopoulou, we can only combine social values and economic potential by working together. Ms Athanasopoulou also stressed the importance of the social economy business models in the green and digital transition. 

Mohammed Ridouani, Mayor of ICC city Leuven (Belgium), complemented Ms Athanasopoulou’s point by providing an inclusion example for achieving sustainability from his respectable city. Thanks to Leuven’s large mobility plan, emissions went down while this resulted in a 40% increase of bicycles. As a result, a bike rental and repair service corporation called Velo was set up, that offers low skilled people and migrants a chance to gain skills and a spot in the labour market. Mr Ridouani believes that success can only be seen as a real “win-win” if everyone can benefit from the progress. Mr Ridouani equally expressed the role of young people to become the entrepreneurs in the future and explained how cooperation between university, the city and surrounding business can boost this ability. For example the research institute IMEC, recently visited by Commissioner Breton for its chip research activities, is a great source for new economic activities driven by university research and young researchers.
Francesca Montalti, Head of Industrial Sector at Legacoop Produzione e Servizi, shifted the conversation to address the critical elements relating to the challenges that cooperatives and social economic organisations face. According to Ms Montalti, these actors lack visibility, suffer from fragmentation and have traditionally experienced more difficulties in accessing finance and capital. In order to solve these issues, it was proposed that common objectives and better financial instruments and approaches are developed. Ms Montalti is representative of the ecosystem in the EU industrial forum and explained her experience in this forum, which is enriching but also sometimes challenging given the different mentality, for example when it comes to social challenges and employee engagement in the business operations. 

Henric Barkman, Founder of Swedish sharing app Swinga, explained how his company is combatting the declining use time of capital goods and focusing on a circular economy that tackles the “buy and throw away” society model that he sees now. The app aims to reduce consumption of new items and encourage citizens to share resources (consumer goods) instead. His experience was very meaningful for this panel as he clearly expressed the digital potential for social economy: how they developed a collaborative business model through a platform. The platform was developed first locally and is now growing around the country. This is a typical example of a cooperative that grows through decentralised scaling and creates green progress through a digital business model. https://www.swinga.coop/ 
Finally, Maryline Filippi, Professor of Economics, Associate Researcher INRAE-AgroParisTech and Coordinator of RECMA, touched on digital transition. Professor Filippi extensively highlighted how digital technology is not only a tool or a project, but a deeper transformation on all ecosystems so carries some risks “It is a great opportunity, but it also increases the risk of inequality and exclusion.”  Proximity and Social Economy is a way to reconcile both the digital and green transitions. The professor highlighted the main needs for social economy in terms of green and digital transition, based upon her research experience.

ICC Exhibition Booth

Over the course of the five-day event, the ICC welcomed many participants to the booth dedicated to the ICC initiative. A short explainer video featuring the ICC cities of Patras (Greece), Alcoy (Spain), and Vratsa (Bulgaria) was showcased. The cities shared the achievements enabled through their ICC which included a Skills Academy in Patras, the opportunity for cities to exchange and Vratsa’s digitally integrated waste management system. EU Industry Day participants were also offered the chance to speak directly with ICC representatives.

Additional activities 

The EU Industry Days were accompanied by 80 regional and local events as well as a podcast series targeting different topics discussed at the main event. You can explore the highlights here or search the hashtag #EUIndustryDays on social media to catch up further. The ICC looks forward to the next edition!