New European Commission Focus on Competitiveness and Growth

United Europe of Research and Innovation:

Intercultural Cooperation in Practice

bridges vol. 29 April, 2011 / Feature Articles

By Sabine E. Herlitschka

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fp7facts_cov_s_small.jpgFor an easy-to-read introduction to FP7 in 21 languages, see the brochure, "FP7 - tomorrow's answers start today“.

With its Framework Programs (FP) for Research, Technological Development, and Demonstration, the European Union - back in the year 1984 - set up what have become the largest cooperative, as well as competitive, research and technology programs in the world.

Designed with the objective of strengthening European competitiveness, the Framework Programs have evolved into the flagship instrument contributing to the development of a European Research Area, a single European market to the world of science and technology - ensuring open and transparent "trade" in skills, ideas, and know-how, and creating a United Europe of research and innovation.

Having brought together approximately 400,000 teams of researchers, several of them repeatedly, from Europe and around the world in funded projects, the impact of the Framework Programs extends far beyond providing funding for these projects. Indeed, the key strength of the Framework Programs is that they have nurtured a culture of cooperation between the best universities, companies, and research organizations in Europe and beyond, bringing together different actors, sectors, cultures, genders, and nationalities. This capacity for intercultural cooperation is what Europe has developed and professionalized over the past 25 or more years. Today, this capacity provides European research communities with a key competitive asset and advantage: the ability to contribute to solving global challenges by international, thus, intercultural cooperation between the best "brains" in science, technology, and innovation.

Why is intercultural cooperation important? 

Intercultural cooperation is understood here as multifaceted cooperation across sectors, disciplines, actors, nations, cultures, and genders. Intercultural cooperation has become a key feature, requirement, and decisive competitive advantage, and is driven by factors such as globalization and the increasing complexity and speed of interactions in all areas, from economics to society to technology, to name only a few. In Thomas Friedman's words: "In the Cold War, the most frequently asked question was: ‘Whose side are you on?' In globalization, the most frequently asked question is: ‘To what extent are you connected to everyone?'"1
Intercultural challenges in wider political and economic terms can be summarized as follows2:

  • The recent growth of the European Union with a current membership of 27 nations with highly diverse histories and forms of governance, 23 different languages, and a number of different religions poses new intercultural challenges. Realizing the goals that led to formation of the European Union and maximizing its potential will depend on the ability to cope with the vast diversity within - and between - the European Union nation states.
  • The global economy with the recent acceleration in globalization has brought new regions into focus. Mumbai and other megacities in India are developing at an unprecedented rate. Shanghai and other Chinese commercial centers are booming. In today's world, economic success is to a large extent based on intercultural competencies.
  • The integration of immigrants is an intercultural opportunity and challenge in itself. Millions of migrants are currently scattered across the globe. While they contribute significantly to the economy of their host countries, they also support relatives back home and represent links between other cultures and nations and their home communities. In the host countries, the role of immigrants (beyond their obvious economic relevance) has become a major issue for discussion, particularly in Europe. Do they have to "integrate" themselves into the host countries' environments? What would "integration" mean and require? What kinds of values do the host countries nurture and represent vis-á-vis immigrants? What public policies and political messages do host countries need to convey in order to develop mature intercultural societies?
flc_small.jpgGlobal challenges require global approaches.

In science, technology, and innovation (STI), intercultural cooperation is highly required. The major challenges of today's societies are of a global nature, as illustrated by the most obvious ones such as climate change, energy supply and efficient energy use, global health issues, etc. STI are key factors and essential contributors to finding solutions to these challenges. International cooperation in STI has become imperative, as global challenges require global approaches to advance our collective knowledge, and no single nation or even region has the resources to respond adequately and effectively by itself.

The concept of Open Innovation summarizes another major development significantly related to intercultural cooperation: innovation processes representing a complex interaction and exchange of various actors, including companies, academia, markets, and users. Initially published by Henry Chesbrough in 2003, and based on his research into the innovation practices of large multinational companies, the concept of Open Innovation describes a new paradigm for the management of industrial innovation in the 21st century (click here for a 2007 bridges article on Open Innovation by Bill Gauster). In this paradigm, firms work with external partners to commercialize their internal innovations and to obtain a source of external innovations that can be commercialized3.

The bottom line in a globalized world - particularly in STI - with ever-increasing opportunities and challenges is the ability to build and expand a network of key partners and to identify the most suitable partners based on their expertise. This has become THE competitive advantage. Intercultural cooperation represents an essential component, and is the key to unlocking and effectively using this capability in developing cooperations across sectors, disciplines, nations, genders, and cultures.

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