Innovation key to a stronger future

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Long-term global challenges like population control and climate change will require “huge transformations” in our economies and societies, wites Ann Mettler, executive director and co-founder of the Lisbon Council, in a July post on Blogactiv.

Change is urgently needed, but made all the more difficult by the current financial crisis. Increasing innovation is vital for Europe’s future success, says Mettler, lamenting the “unmovable bureaucracies” and “entrenched interests” that are hindering progress. 

Describing a recent visit to the SIX International Summer School on Social Innovation in Lisbon as a “fantastic experience”, Mettler was impressed by the programme’s social innovation project. The project, which helps people with mental illness to find work, is run by its founder Maria Teresa Duarte. 

Mettler was impressed by the organisers’ decision not to focus on deficits, disorders and problems, “but on skills, abilities, dreams and aspirations”. Inspired by their attitude, she believes the wider Europe should adopt this approach in its drive to innovate. The Lisbon Council chief believes the current financial crisis provides an opportunity for a more fundamental shift in social attitudes. 

Announcing “the end of easy credit,” Mettler claims that the basis for economic growth has been unsustainable consumption and must be replaced by a society which lives sustainably, concentrating on “the quality of the growth and how things are produced, organised and consumed”. 

For all the change that is promised, Mettler considers there to be a curious lack of inspirational theory about the future of society. She insists that ‘big government’ of old is not the answer, as “governments are sometimes almost helpless in the face of the tremendous challenges awaiting us”. Governments are under strain and there is pressure to deliver, but budgets are tight, so innovation will be a key factor, she asserts. 

Innovation will not be confined to the private sector, but will be an exciting opportunity in the public sector, Mettler concludes. 

Her living example is Christian Bason of Mindlab, a Danish government agency founded “to help three ministries to innovate and become more user-oriented”. He believes that the society of the future will be driven by user-led innovations, with government “co-producing solutions with citizens and social innovators”. 

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