ILCA: driving innovation and climate action in Ukraine

Interview with Anton Tkachenko, ILCA project

In this interview, Anton Tkachenko discusses the development of the Ukrainian Innovation Laboratory for Climate Actions (ILCA), a project aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainable practices. Read on to learn how ILCA has boosted innovation, entrepreneurship and deep tech in Ukrainian higher education, how the Russian invasion has impacted the project’s activities, and what’s next for the consortium.

Could you introduce yourself and the project you’re working on?

I am the Head of the Economics Department, PhD in Economics, and a senior scientist at the National Scientific Centre ‘Institute of Agriculture of NAAS’ in Kyiv, Ukraine. Together with my Ukrainian colleagues from various organisations, we are developing the Ukrainian Innovation Laboratory for Climate Actions (ILCA) as partners of the EIT HEI Initiative ILCA project. ILCA aims to create innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change, and promote sustainable practices.

Why did your institution decide to join the EIT HEI Initiative community?

When we learned about the EIT’s Ukraine Aid initiative to include Ukrainian organisations in ongoing projects, we saw it as a great opportunity to strengthen our European connections.

Initially, it was challenging. During our initial contacts with Savonia and EIT Climate-KIC, the military actions and their consequences were still very close to our institution, and the overall atmosphere was very depressing. The researchers were confused, and planning long-term projects was very difficult. An additional challenge was that we had no experience participating in such grant instruments. But with the help of our ILCA Coordinator, Savonia University of Applied Science, we integrated as equal partners and began working towards common goals.

It was an excellent decision by the EIT to offer this form of support during a critical time. Instead of a simple donation, they provided us with the chance to collaborate as equals on meaningful tasks and goals. For our team, it felt like a beacon of light during the dark early months of the Russian invasion, giving us much-needed motivation and a sense of solidarity.

Why is it important to boost innovation, entrepreneurship and deep tech in higher education in Ukraine?

Boosting innovation, entrepreneurship and deep tech in higher education in Ukraine has always been important, but it has become crucial in the context of the Russian invasion. It fosters resilience and self-reliance amid geopolitical instability. By developing a strong ecosystem of innovation and technology, Ukraine can drive economic growth, create high-value jobs, and reduce dependency on external sources for critical technologies. This strengthens the national economy and enhances the country’s strategic capabilities and defence infrastructure.

Additionally, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship empowers young Ukrainians to become problem-solvers and leaders, driving societal progress and reinforcing national unity. In a conflict-ridden environment, these advancements are vital for sustaining long-term development and maintaining Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

On the other hand, it is hard to express the full spectrum of problems brought about by the Russian invasion. We face issues such as electricity blackouts and constant air bombings and alerts, which affect productivity and mental health. There are also challenges like the inability to travel, difficulties in planning, government funding shortages, and personnel problems.

How has ILCA boosted innovation, entrepreneurship and deep tech in Ukrainian higher education institutions so far?

The Laboratory actively collaborates with industry companies, NGOs, and government agencies to support and implement innovative projects related to climate change. For example, a declaration was signed to create a business incubator between the Innovation Challenge business incubator of Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University and various stakeholders, including business representatives from the Chernivtsi region, financial institutions, the Chernivtsi Regional Employment Centre, and state and local authorities. This partnership aims to promote entrepreneurial and financial culture among young people, improve communication effectiveness in the education-science-business-government-civil society system, and create an ecosystem based on the Quadruple Helix of Innovation concept.

As a scientific organisation, we have engaged PhD students and academic staff in addressing climate challenges through innovative scientific ideas, fostering a collaborative bridge between academia and the business environment. Our institutional systemic change for climate actions focuses on identifying and nurturing active innovators among PhD students. These young scientists, mentored by ILCA and their academic supervisors, develop scientific ideas aligned with pressing climate and environmental challenges in line with the European Green Deal. We specifically target integrating doctoral research into practical solutions for the agricultural industrial complex.

What has been the added value of your institution’s involvement in the EIT HEI Initiative?

Our institution’s involvement in the EIT HEI Initiative has significantly enhanced our capacity to drive innovation within the European academic community. Through the initiative, we have gained access to a network of leading European universities and industry partners, facilitating valuable collaborations and knowledge exchange. This has enabled us to upgrade and implement educational programmes and research projects that align with the latest trends and advancements. As a result, we are now better equipped to transform our ideas into impactful solutions, contributing to Ukraine’s European integration strategy.

With the ILCA project finishing this summer, what is next for you?

Firstly, we are working on the ILCA post-project operation model to ensure the continuation of our work. Additionally, we are actively involved in submitting new project proposals within the ILCA partnership ecosystem. Climate-related challenges will not disappear, so we will continue to address them. Now, we have more capacity to do so.

Visit the ILCA project website to learn more about the project’s activities.

Share your experience with the EIT HEI Initiative and inspire higher education institutions across Europe to boost their innovation and entrepreneurship capacity.

Published on: 10 June 2024