How we can fulfil Europe’s innovative promise

In the midst of the enormous changes brought about by the current digital revolution, Europe urgently needs to foster innovation, support entrepreneurship and promote successful role models.

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In the midst of the enormous changes brought about by the current digital revolution, Europe urgently needs to foster innovation, support entrepreneurship and promote successful role models.

The speed of digital change means that these needs are not easily met. For too long the perception has been that Europe was not the place to launch a successful start-up. Over recent years we have seen too many of our innovators and entrepreneurs leaving to build their businesses elsewhere.

But it is not too late to change this situation. Indeed, change has already started.

True, many changes are still needed – in mindset, education, attitude to risk, the policy framework and infrastructure, to name a few. But Europe has a long history of setting standards in innovation and technology and we need to create the right environment for this to continue.

Europe as a whole needs a wake-up call

It is not only for policy-makers or politicians to make innovation and growth happen. This is a job for all businesses, schools and universities, and a lot still has to happen to make the digital agenda truly come alive.

Start-ups, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are crucial to Europe’s future growth and critical to providing employment opportunities, particularly among the young. Many initiatives have already been taken to leverage the power of big businesses to ensure the future success of Europe.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 saw the launch of the Startup Europe Partnership, a vision to connect start-ups, universities and corporations to work more closely together to support each other. The initiative will seek to produce concrete actions from participants to forge these connections.

A further initiative launched this year at Davos was the European Digital Forum, a policy network and think tank on digital innovation, “bringing together leading entrepreneurs, politicians and policy-makers for the purposes of establishing a common understanding and common set of goals in translating the Startup Manifesto into action.”

The launch of these collaborative efforts builds on the success of some Pan-European initiatives started in 2013 that are already making a significant impact.

The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, launched by the European Commission and supported by a number of big businesses, including Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Telefónica, is a great example of a project aimed at increasing the supply of digitally skilled professionals.

This is clear evidence that even if Europe has been missing the innovation wave, it is reversing this trend through a determined collective effort and with an open approach towards education, digital innovation and entrepreneurship.

Telefónica has been very active in these fields. Our Wayra programme, one of the world’s largest technology accelerators, is now active in six European countries. Telefónica has also made a priority of encouraging digital making and entrepreneurial attitudes in school-age children through its Pan-European Think Big initiative. A collaboration with Mozilla Foundation and a dozen NGOs, it this week announced that it had exceeded its pledge to provide digital training to 7,000 young people by an extra 1,300 participants.

We were here last year, we’ve committed, and we’ve delivered and even exceeded our targets. Reshaping Europe’s economy and its future can be done.

José María Álvarez-Pallete (@jmalvpal), Chief Operating Officer, Telefónica

This post was featured by the World Economic Forum and the Telefónica Digital Hub.

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