Thursday, September 24, 2009

INNOVATIVE YOUTH FOR THE TRANSITION TO AN INNOVATIVE SOCIETY

Creativity and its realisation in innovation are the key motivational factors for creating increased values of many sorts in the modern world, therefore we must activate, and energise all of our potential to ensure an awakening and transition to an innovative society, that is based on knowledge and wisdom.

Practice teaches us that effective development of society requires systematic and balanced approach by all the diverse participants in the innovation realm. One of the key protagonists of innovation should certainly be the school system that can educate and encourage new generations of creators and thinkers of radical concepts. Thus, it is important we build innovation awareness at all levels of pre-school, school and higher education systems, as well as among all those that are involved in shaping them.

This is an area of unique and immense opportunity for Slovenia, to ensure that sustainable innovation in society through a new and systematic approach to education of the younger generations engenders creative thinking and initiatives.

The first attempts at such activation of youth are already in place and are mostly of an entrepreneurial and civil nature.

One of the active projects currently invoked,include Vibacom's effort in the field of innovative communication is aimed specifically at enhancing the innovation potential of the younger generation. Below, you can read an interview with Mojca Štepic, InCo Jr. project leader, who has been actively promoting creativity and innovation among Slovenian primary and secondary school students and teachers.

INTERVIEW WITH MOJCA ŠTEPIC

Mojca Štepic is a member of the Vibacom Team where she independently manages projects in the fields of innovation and entrepreneurship. Her latest challenge is a combination of both of these fields as applied to the educational system, where she is encouraging students and teachers to look at existing and familiar subjects from a different perspective. She enjoys creative communication and working with people, which is not unusual for she is a natural mediator and a great listener. More about Mojca

Mojca Štepic (Source: MŠ)

EL: What sort of associations spring out to the phrase "innovation and youth"?

MŠ: They predominantly lean towards unexploited potential, an inexhaustible source of a different way of thinking, openness and to change (unlike most other folk in society) and persuant to this, the desire to express oneself and one's thinking.

EL: What drew you to working with young people in the field of innovation?

MŠ: It was mainly their need to express themselves in a different way within the educational system, to establish and affirm themselves among their peers through individuality and creative thinking, and also to learn of the vast potential of innovative thinking in their personal and professional development, and lives. Also, I did not want innovation projects to remain dormant or dead, forgotten statements within various strategic documents. I wanted to give them their full value in practice, in the field.

EL: How did the InCo Jr. project start, what did your initial work with young people involve?

MŠ: It stared four years ago with the so-called "Business Workshops" where we established that it was extremely worthwhile for young people to gain knowledge about tried-and-tested tools for bringing a product or service to life, but they also had some truly peculiar ideas about new and different approaches to the same, yet with even greater effect. They were uncertain whether they were acceptable, allowed or correct, to be able to have such non-conformist thought. The workshops within the InCo Jr. project offered them a means for self-expression and the results were astonishing.

Mojca among pupils at InCo Jr. workshop
(Source: Vibacom)
InCo Jr. is a programme for promoting innovation, innovation communication and journalism in educational systems. It is one of the key projects within the InCo movement aimed at an innovative breakthrough within Slovenia, coordinated by Vibacom and its partners. The mission of the project, is to promote the quality of communication and critical thinking on creativity and innovation among young people and teachers in Slovenian educational establishments of all levels. The project has been active since 2006 with over 100 workshops conpleted to date, involving more than 1100 students and over 1050 teachers and other professionals in the field of education. Data, and records show that the project is well-established in Slovenia and is already giving positive results which resonate even beyond our borders (in 2009, the project was presented at the Interface Innovation Conference in Brussels and at the 6th Innovation Journalism Conference at Stanford University, USA). Read more at: www.incogibanje.si/incojr.

EL: How do young people see innovation? Does it have any appeal for them?

MŠ: They basically see innovation as invention, that is to say something new and in the form of a product. They often think that creating innovation requires great levels funding, and that one needs to be a scientist or an artist to be able to achieve competence. Once they realise that anyone can be innovative in a variety of areas (e.g. products, services, work methods, relationships, models, etc.) they become more confident and open to cooperation, exchange of ideas and participation. They are motivated by the fact that no idea is ridiculed and and dismissed, and that mutual exchange and communication of ideas can produce the right results. We all know that young people have limitless imagination, which means that the ability to think about new and different subjects, in new and different ways, even within the educational system brings freshness to their thinking and actions.

EL: We know that one of the key tasks of the InCo Jr. project is to encourage young people to report on innovation. These reports are then evaluated within the InJo Awards programme. What do young people write about in their articles? Are there any flaws in the programme?

MŠ: They seek the topics for their articles everywhere - on their doorsteps, in their local communities and outside their everyday boundaries. The write about innovative products that are changing the society, innovative entrepreneurs and businesses, discuss the necessity of innovation and its influence on the future, the advantages and disadvantages of specific established innovations, areas where there is a significant lack of innovation, etc. They often cause great surprise with their contributions by revealing "unusual" areas where innovation is taking place - e.g. innovation among the disabled, innovation in control of emotions, etc. Among the articles received so far - 93 over the last three years - most deal with ecology and entrepreneurship, which is both encouraging and worthy of praise. As far as flaws are concerned, I would like to highlight the problem of replacing creativity with innovation without taking market manifestation into consideration.

The significance of training young people for quality reporting on innovation was also stressed at the 4th Regional Conference on Innovation Journalism, "Stanford After Stanford", organised on September 3rd 2009 by Vibacom in cooperation with the European Journalism Centre. The conference stressed that it was important to increase awareness of innovation and journalism, starting at the younger age, and teach them how to recognise it in order to learn, through later training, how to approach reporting on innovation professionally and with a critical eye, and simultaneously help them to grow into complete personalities who are able to write comprehensive stories.More about the conference

EL: What other ways are there for encouraging young people to report on innovation?

MŠ: Young people need diversity and the ability to choose. Not all of them like to write and express themselves with letters. Therefore, we will try to provide them with other communication channels within the InJo Award programme. In cooperation with the acclaimed photographer, mr. Bojan Brecelj, we are already drafting criteria for reporting on innovation through documentary photography. We will also promote expression through multimedia channels and are adding the possibilities for this through comics, computer presentations and interviews. The emphasis is on content, which means that practically any communication tool can be used. We try to adapt the possibilities to various talents and interests of young people and thus draw out their creative spirits.

Simultaneously with the InCo jr. project, the InCo Ba. Project is also being implemented, aimed at systematic education of university curriculum providers, and their students about the basic concepts and processes of innovation, innovative society, and about understanding the influence of innovation on added value and sustainable growth of a specific area. To this end we developed a special course (in partnership with the Ljubljana University Incubator) and a system of awards for the best student contributions on the topic of innovation within the InJo Awards 2009 project.


InJo Award 2009 ceremony at the InCo conference 2009
(Source: Vibacom)

EL: In addition to workshops for primary and secondary school students you also organise lectures on innovation for teachers. How do the latter view innovation?

MŠ: In addition to understanding that teachers must encourage creativity and innovation in young people, the lectures also focus on understanding and raising awareness about the importance of enhancing our own "innovativeness" and ensuring the environment and tools for others' (both students' and co-workers') innovative expression. We also emphasise personal growth, proactive participation of each school employee, and mutual cooperation, both within the school and with other participants, (parents, suppliers, other schools, representatives of local communities, etc.). Unfortunately, most school environments do not adequately realise the potential that innovation can bring. We often meet outdated work methods, resulting from old style education techniques, fear of standing out and conspicuousness, narrow thinking and the right-and-wrong or black-and-white concepts which do not permit the possibility of exploring the entire spectrum of possibility. Regardless of some teachers' awareness of the importance of promoting innovativeness, practice has shown that priority should lie in understanding and promoting innovativeness by school management and those responsible for educational policy.

EL: This year, you also introduced the project to kindergartens. What was your time with our youngest like?

MŠ: In the spirit of innovation, we decided to seek cooperation with the Trnovo kindergarten in Ljubljana which is very progressive in shaping and implementing innovative business models in pre-school education, and thus was a very suitable partner for the kindergarten part of our project. In cooperation with three members of the kindergarten staff and a star guest - the spacedoll Traja - we helped children make very special maps. Based on this cooperation, we also formed a very strong relationship between two Ljubljana and Maribor kindergartens which continue to exchange knowledge, experience and even children's visits.

EL: Are Slovenian companies aware that a creative and innovative youth is necessary for their long-term sustainable development?

MŠ: Absolutely. Many Companies and organisations have so far supported the InCo Jr. project, and within their local communities are fully aware that their own creativity requires supporting within the immediate environment. It is difficult to be innovative, and, simultaneously, create an environment that does not understand these concepts nor seek to implement them. Furthermore, companies that invest in the "innovativeness" of young people are also critically aware that these youngsters represent their future. Naturalčly, unlike young people, adults find it more difficult to develop values directed towards constant change, constant seeking of new solutions, creativity, individuality and boldness.

In its fourth year, the implementation of workshops was supported by the following organisations.
development centres(Center za razvoj Litija d.o.o.),
municipalities (Občina Hrpelje – Kozina),
schools (OŠ Danile Kumar, Ljubljana),
companies ( ETI Elektroelement d.d., Trimo d.d., Adria Mobil d.o.o., Kostak d.d., Elektro Maribor d.d., Vinakoper d.o.o.).

EL: What is the next step for the InCo Jr. project?

MŠ: An ongoing and systematic implementation of such workshops in specific schools; the active participation of parents in the project; participation of innovative individuals and companies from the locality in the workshops, and in the organisation of international camps where young people from different countries could meet and exchange their experiences of innovation based on concrete examples and experience.

Statements by InCo Jr. project participants

"It's good that somebody is stimulating us to think.The workshops enabled us to get to know our schoolmates' and friends' new ideas and their ways of thinking. It would be great if people would encourage us more in creating new ideas, perhaps even pay for education abroad, so that we could get to know new ideas and people." Maja Jug, 9.a, Gradec Primary School, Litija

"The workshop was interesting for it gave us an opportunity to share our opinions and beliefs, what we could do differently, change or make easier." Urška Pribožič, 4.b E, Brežice Secondary School of Trade and Commerce

"The lecture was interesting, informative and well-presented. The lecturer added graphic examples from practice to the lecture and applied them to everyday life. The importance of innovation and creativity as values is not sufficiently realised in the school environment. I believe this seminar clearly demonstrated to all participants how important it is to promote innovation at both levels, with education professionals and students. Innovativeness and innovations are often ascribed solely to the field of business where the products of creative thinking are readily noticeable. Concrete workshops on innovative communication would offer us clearer guidelines for encouraging innovativeness with our students." Polona Kralj Zupančič, Assistant Headmaster, OŠ Mokronog
Estera Lah and Mojca Štepic
during the interview (Source: Vibacom)

We hope that these, and similar stories will serve as a big incentive and encouragement for a more systematic approach to promoting creativity and innovation in the youth of Slovenian, in these autumn days when they are returning to kindergartens, schools and faculties. We hope our youth will become the driving force of an innovative society, to the betterment of Slovenia!

The interview with Mojca Štepic was conducted by Estera Lah on September 21st.


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