Interview with WBC-RRI.NET representative of Skopje Region, North Macedonia

As the WBC-RRI.NET project is approaching its end, POLICY ANSWERS asked project partners what the main activities of their region were, what impacts these had and how they have contributed to the development of the region. They also shared their thoughts with us on how the overall impact and contribution of the RRI activities to the WB region could be further enhanced. Here are the answers of WBC-RRI.NET´s representative of Skopje Region, North Macedonia.

Name: Prof. Dr. Radmil Polenakovikj
Institution: National Center for Development of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Learning (NCDIEL)
Region: Skopje, North Macedonia

How do the activities conducted in your region contribute to the development of the Western Balkans?

The WBC-RRI.NET project has effectively addressed key challenges and requirements within the Skopje Planning Region by implementing strategic anchor initiatives, centering on two essential Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) elements: Science Education and Gender Equality. Overall, to bridge the digital skills gap successfully, it is imperative to enhance awareness of STEM/STE(A)M and foster increased participation of women and students from diverse societal backgrounds in STE(A)M activities. This required a concerted effort in capacity building, heightened awareness campaigns, and the establishment of stronger collaborative networks among various stakeholders. Collectively, the activities played a pivotal role in fostering inclusive education, narrowing gender gaps, and equipping individuals with the skills needed for the Western Balkans to thrive in an ever-evolving global context.

If possible, outline those main activities that have been performed in your region with the most significant impact.

A well-balanced educational system is the foundation of every society. To promote inclusivity, gender equality and shape future experts, it is essential to examine educational institutions. For that reason, two of our activities focused specifically on involving teachers in STEM/STE(A)M and gender balance initiatives. Recognizing the significant influence parents have in students’ lives and career choices, the anchor initiatives in the Skopje Planning Region additionally addressed the teacher-parent-student relationship within its scope.

In order to bring female students closer to the STEM disciplines, particularly towards ICT and industry, we had a campaign/training on the women’s inclusion in ICT and maintaining the leadership in the number of women researchers. Furthermore, via several workshops and national level competitions we tried to transfer messages for importance of RRI principles (with focus on Science Education and Gender Equality) to teachers and students for their professional career development.

Another aspect that we focused on throughout the whole project was building stronger links and collaboration between the mapped quadruple helix actors through active participation in workshops, meetings, conferences etc. The focus was on creating an environment to transform brain drain into brain gain and recirculation, involving stakeholders, students, and recent graduates in new employment opportunities that impact hometown development and the overall progress of the country.

Based on your experience within the project, could you please mention some approaches that might enhance the overall impact and contribution of the RRI activities to the WB region?

One crucial aspect is maintaining an ongoing dialogue and continuous engagement with key stakeholders, fostering a sense of ownership and involvement, which could not only ensure the alignment of RRI activities with the region’s specific needs but will also contribute to the long-term success of the anchor initiatives. Moreover, launching periodic public awareness campaigns could help to increase public awareness about the benefits of specific disciplines for the future of the young population. To ensure sustained funding for RRI initiatives, cultivating partnerships with both public and private entities is fundamental. These partnerships can provide the necessary financial support for the initiatives, contributing to their longevity and wider reach.

Additionally, advocating for policy changes that institutionalise the principles of the anchor initiatives within governmental frameworks is essential. One of the most valuable experiences for us was the opportunity to learn from our EU partners about RRI related topics. This not only enriched our knowledge in the field but also fostered stronger collaboration with these institutions. We believe that such collaboration should become a standard practice for all future endeavors, as it enhances mutual understanding and fosters ongoing cooperation.

In summary, a multifaceted approach encompassing continuous engagement, public awareness, professional development, strategic partnerships, and policy advocacy is key to enhancing the overall impact and contribution of RRI activities to the Western Balkans region.

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