Spotlight on Priority 1: interview with Project Advisor Isabella Leong

The first of the North Sea Region Programme’s four thematic objectives (or priorities) is ‘Thinking Growth.’ We also refer to it as ‘innovation.’ But what does that mean and why is this a priority in the North Sea Region?

We asked Project Advisor Isabella Leong to share her thoughts on Priority 1 projects.

What do you like about being a Priority 1 project advisor?

“I like the ideas presented in the proposals and the fact that they come from so many different places and approach problems from so many different angles. Priority 1 is about thinking outside the box.

I like that the projects are using the joint assets of the North Sea Region and improving on the things the region is really good at. For example, the North Sea Region is the European leader in the digital creative industries, and we have projects that want to capitalise on this asset.

This is exemplified by the project Create Converge. One of its beneficiaries is  Digital Dundee, a Scottish company at the forefront of computer games and mobile digital content. The gaming industry in Sweden is huge, too – you’ve heard of Minecraft, right? Swedish.  Skype and Bluetooth are brainchildren of the North Sea Region, too.”

A snapshot from createconverge.eu.

“Our projects are good at fostering collaboration between researchers and   industry actors and they help build the policy frameworks for this cooperation.

Northern Connections, for example, is a project for which the policy framework is at the core. The partners are looking at energy clusters that can work transnationally – across borders. Often clusters operate at the regional or even national level – but Northern Connections is taking them a step further to reach markets and opportunities in other countries/regions.”

Kick-off seminar of Northern Connections

How do you think the projects in Priority 1 affect the 60 million inhabitants of the North Sea Region?

“Greatly – through job creation and support for entrepreneurship, especially, but also in other ways. They support the specialisations of our region and help grow the region’s strengths. The projects absolutely address the end users. In For Care, for example, is about innovation in health care, while REFRAME is working in creating regional supply chains for food in the North Sea Region. And there are many others.

The In For Care project centres on the people who need health care at home, and the project partners are creating a framework through which informal care workers (volunteers, self-employed assistants, etc.) can communicate with one another via networks to solve problems.   The goal is to reduce the cost of health care whilst improving the work of the informal care workers by giving them a way to exchange their knowledge and experience. The principal means for this are apps and social media, which support networks of people the care workers can trust.

REFRAME also uses networks – but in a different way. They use them to bring farmers and their produce closer to the consumer. One great example of one of their pilot activities is the REKO rings. These are running in Sweden only, at the moment, and comprise 5-7 closed Facebook groups that inform people when and what farmers will bring fresh produce to a certain place. They are like a ‘flash farmers market’ for selling and buying fresh vegetables and fruit.”

Local food market
REFRAME builds networks to support local, short food supply chains.  The image shows an inspirational event in Sweden organised by Sötåsen Natural Resource School.  Photo: Paula Bäckman

“Create Converge is about getting visualisation and games technologies to work with one another and with other sectors. Encompassing animation, visualisation, visual effects, virtual reality and games, converging digital technology tools can be used to explore and present content. Beyond entertainment, they offer applications for all kinds of sectors and markets – medicine, industry, architecture – for training, service delivery and marketing.

Inn2Power works with cataloguing, clustering, and training the small companies and organisations that are integral to the success of the off-shore wind industry but are often not supported: sub-contractors and other SMEs that feed into the supply-demand chain. Creating wind power in the middle of the sea is not just about Siemens or Vestas or what have you – there are a lot of small organisations involved in their success, and Inn2Power is helping create the framework to support them.”

Wind turbines in the North Sea
Inn2Power creates frameworks to support supply chain companies of the off-shore wind industry

You have attended quite a few project kick-off meetings this autumn. What is your favorite part of participating in these meetings?

“I like meeting people. The meetings give me the opportunity to put faces on what, until then, is just an application. I get a good sense of how the partnership is interacting and a better idea of what the projects are actually about and what they are going to do.”

The VB North Sea Region Programme is at its mid-way point. What advice would you like to convey to potential applicants in Priority 1?

“I would tell applicants that they should be very committed to their project idea and ready to ‘sell it’ to us. It is not enough to look at the Cooperation Programme and find gaps to fill. Organisations should think about writing a project proposal because they really want to implement something and they are really invested in the core idea of it. They should also surround themselves with others that are equally committed. This will increase their chances of success and keep the project fun even when it comes to the tedious bits of implementation.”

Isabella Leong riding a white horse.
Isabella on horseback. Photo: Ryan Sprott

Isabella is from Corsica but has lived in Denmark for 12 years. She is married to a Dane, and they have three children. In her free time, she rides horseback, both Western and long-distance. (And that includes cowboy hat, boots, and chaps!) She is also an avid reader of fantasy novels; her favorite authors are Robin Hobb, Robin McKinley, and Brandon Sanderson.

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