Innovation is key to addressing societal needs

Written by Frédérique Ries on 14 June 2017 in Opinion

The EU must encourage innovation in order to address societal needs, writes Frédérique Ries.

Frédérique Ries | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

"When you have two alternatives the first thing you have to do is look for the third that doesn't exist yet", said former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres. This attitude has been adopted and encouraged in Israel to develop solutions for today's global challenges. Israel is promoting and encouraging its entrepreneurs to look beyond borders, beyond profits and to create an ecosystem from which humanity can benefit. 

The opportunity for Israel, Europe and forward-thinking countries is now to increase cross-border technology and innovation. The transfer of knowledge and skills, to support new developments which value human capital and ensure access for all to resources, will strengthen the rights and protection of citizens against those seeking to exploit the most vulnerable in society. The European Jewish Congress organised a debate titled, "Who is responsible for solving the problems?"

Irene Abezgauz , co-founder of Israeli cyber security company Cymmetria, highlights that the recent cyber security attack, which started in the UK and ended up being the world's largest infection, began when a few computers were infected in the UK and within 24 hours, 75,000 systems in 99 countries ended up being affected. The infection was only stopped because a 22 year old young man discovered the solution and found the 'kill switch' to turn off the threat. 

There are 365 cyber security companies in Israel; 65 were established in 2016; one in every $7 of venture capital technology investment is put into Israeli cyber security entrepreneurs. Abezgauz points out that, "All companies should assume they have been compromised, that their IT systems have been breached because there are no borders in computer systems. The battlefields are now online because everything we do is online and the enemy are unknown: Governments, organised crime, individuals could be our enemy."

According to Watergen's CEO, Arye Kohavi, "It's all about helping people. We are determined to do the right thing." 

Much of the world still lacks access to the most fundamental necessities, especially clean drinking water. According to the Centre for Disease Control, at least 780 million people worldwide lack access to adequate drinking water; the majority of which live in underprivileged and low-income areas, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and southern and eastern Asia.

Watergen has developed the world's most efficient water dehumidification device, pulling water directly from the air and transforming it into a clean, drinkable resource. Kohavi realised the need for transportable water solutions when he was a member of the Israeli Special Forces. 

His innovation is currently being installed in Delhi's central Connaught Place, where drinking water will be drawn from the air and provided to 10,000 people per day. The global implications of such innovations could be to enable everyone to have access to clean drinking water within months, not years. 

Both Aberzgauz and Kohavi pointed out that the philosophy of 'It's ok to fail' is a fundamental requirement to finding quick effective solutions. Success will depend on governments' and society's attitudes to innovation, entrepreneurship and towards empowering those with the can-do attitude.

Europe must encourage second chance entrepreneurs and promote the entrepreneurial mindset by promoting investment through its programmes such as Horizon 2020 to help European innovators play their role on the global stage addressing societal needs.


About the author

Frédérique Ries (ALDE, BE) is a member of Parliament's delegation for relations with Israel

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