How can innovation offer a path to peace?
This question was asked by two young entrepreneurs in Cyprus, Burak Doluay and Steven Stavrou, who created CyprusInno, a web-based platform offering Cypriot innovators and entrepreneurs the chance to connect.
CyprusInno offers entrepreneurs access to potential partners, employees, advisors, investors, incubators, accelerators and more, as well as online training. At present, it is the largest database of startups and related services in Cyprus and the first to feature startups on either side of the island. Its startup mentorship programme pairs Turkish Cypriot mentors with Greek Cypriot startups and Greek Cypriot mentors with Turkish Cypriot startups.
Encouraged by the success of the online platform, CyprusInno is extending its reach to organising live events too. Its recent Inter-Communal Business Forum and Mixer, was the largest inter-communal gathering of Cypriot and Cyprus-based entrepreneurs and innovators in the island’s recent history.
It is not the first bicommunal initiative. Over the last 15 years, various bicommunal projects have been funded by different countries, organisations and individuals and notably, for business people, by Sir Stelios Hadjioannou, the founder of EasyJet. Sir Stelios has donated nearly three million euros through yearly Stelios Bicommunal Awards for collaborative projects involving people from both communities in Cyprus.
CyprusInno is the first inter-communal entrepreneurial ecosystem and in many ways a first of its kind. It is a grassroots organisation arising from the vision and actions of individuals from both sides. The founders are united in their belief for economic freedom and entrepreneurial capital as tools for peace and prosperity. They are also extending their reach from business ventures to challenges faced by the entire island, opening further the scope of exchange. Their ambition is to replicate this model to regions of conflict across the eastern Mediterranean.
A key question is how likely is CyprusInno to be successful in its quest to connect innovators and entrepreneurs?
In our times, with the spectacular growth of businesses based on non-physical assets and intellectual property, CyprusInno provides a contemporary peer-to-peer forum for networking and training on entrepreneurship. For services where borders don’t matter so much, this can be very precious. CyprusInno, judging by the numbers of ventures mapped and people engaged, is showing it can excite entrepreneurial minds and actions and provide useful resources and opportunities for their development
A second question is whether CyprusInno can contribute to peace in Cyprus?
Innovation is value-free but people are not. Obstinate or aggressive states and nationalist groups can be formidable barriers to overcome. I would wager that CyprusInno can be a positive contributor to the peace process in Cyprus.
I place my bets because CyprusInno is powered by a younger generation, less poisoned by the demons of the past and having a bigger stake in the future. Innovation is by definition forward-looking and value-adding. It thrives on the realisation of new value, not on sterile debates of sharing blames of the past. Innovation also thrives on imagination, the lack of which is blatantly obvious in our country’s politics. The emphasis on creative problem-solving and the open invitation for free and open blogging on key socio-economic issues might indeed make CyprusInno an actor in the peace process.
The main contribution of CyprusInno to peace is in the fact that it facilitates an alignment of financial and work interests of people and entities from both communities.
Whatever the outcome of the Cyprus problem, whatever the blueprint of the solution or non-solution, the people of Cyprus will be better when they build deep, long-lasting co-operative relations in all walks of life. CyprusInno is live proof of what people from Cyprus in business partnership can achieve together.
It is worth mentioning last week Burak was named by the United Nations as one of 17 Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals. CyprusInno is also the only project from Cyprus and the only bicommunal project to make it to the finals of the European Youth Awards.
For more information see www.cyprusinno.com