On April 12, 2023, an event titled "Smart Specialization Strategy (S3) - Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) for Smart Specialization in Albania" was held at the Marriott Hotel in Tirana.
The meeting was opened by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Energy, Ms. Belinda Balluku, who emphasized that the Smart Specialization Strategy would be a priority for the Albanian government and an important instrument for directing future investments in priority areas and for knowledge-based and innovative development. She highlighted the significance of this process for the country's economy, as well as its importance in the context of EU integration, particularly as part of Chapters 20 "Enterprises and Industrial Policies" and 25 "Science and Research," and as part of the EU agenda for the Western Balkans for Research, Innovation, Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports 2021-27, as well as the Western Balkans 2021-24 Action Plan within the Berlin Process.
Deputy Prime Minister Balluku emphasized that S3 adopts a new methodological approach and a new way of interaction (Bottom Up Approach), involving various actors from central and local government, business, academia, and civil society to set in motion this "fourfold helix" towards a faster and qualitatively new economic development for Albania. With this approach, representatives from the business sector, academia, civil society, and government are directly involved in identifying the areas or sub-areas of the Albanian economy where intelligent specialization is needed.
Ms. Balluku stressed that the Albanian government has wholeheartedly embraced this unique strategic and methodological approach, believing it offers the best solution for developing and specializing the Albanian economy intelligently and for fostering a new spirit of cooperation among various business, academia, and civil society actors. She highlighted the importance of continuing this long-term collaboration even after the approval of the Smart Specialization Strategy.
If we can properly identify, especially with the business sector and other stakeholders, such as the academic and research world, the areas where our economy can intelligently specialize, taking into account human and research capacity, we can say that we have won one of the important battles in the challenge to be competitive in the markets.
Ms. Balluku concluded her speech by expressing her belief that the current rapid technological developments, or what is beginning to be defined as the "fourth industrial revolution," with known and unknown challenges brought by robotics and artificial intelligence, are the right moment to make intelligent choices. She emphasized that this will be the challenge in the years ahead, facing both the green and digital transition as a necessity for change and improvement.
Mr. Alessandro Rainoldi, Director of the Unit, DG JRC, European Commission, delivered a welcoming speech, highlighting the importance of close cooperation between the government and representatives from all four helix sectors to finalize the Smart Specialization Strategy. He also expressed the importance of the Albanian government integrating S3 into national budgetary plans and national development plans to ensure not only effective implementation of the measures outlined in the strategy but also contributing to the sustainable development of the Albanian economy.
The discussion panel was moderated by journalist Aurora Sulce and included Prof. As. Linda Pustina, Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the National S3 Team, Ms. Elisa Gerussi, DG JRC, European Commission, Ms. Niki Naska, DG RTD, European Commission, Mr. Ilir Beqaj, Director of SASPAC, and Mr. Arben Shkodra, Secretary General of the Association of Albanian Producers.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Aulona Sulce, one of the event's moderators, emphasized the importance of the Smart Specialization Strategy in promoting innovation and competitiveness in Albania. She discussed the challenges of innovation, digitalization, and the role this instrument will play in promoting economic development in Albania by digitizing sectors with development potential.
Ms. Pustina emphasized the importance of the S3 process, the steps taken since its inception, the importance of involving all actors in the process, and the challenges faced. She also outlined the priorities identified during the mapping phase, including Tourism, Agriculture, Energy, Manufacturing, ICT, and BPO, as well as some cross-sectoral areas such as Blue Economy, Healthy Food, Renewable Energies, Expanded BPO, which will be further explored during the consultation phase with the four helix actors in the coming months. She added that during this process, a preliminary study of clusters was conducted with the support of the European Commission (EC), and the need for a study on market needs for skills and qualifications was identified. Additionally, the engagement of the Albanian diaspora as a human capital asset for the country and the tools that can be used for this purpose were identified. Areas to be explored and addressed further include clusters as a tool to close production chain cycles, human capital and skills as a sensitive issue identified in all priority areas through mapping analysis, and evidence-based policies as one of the issues to be considered based on experience during the mapping process. She emphasized that S3 will be finalized by June 2024, and the maximum engagement of all actors is crucial for achieving the objective. She also thanked the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, all Ministers, and members of the Inter-ministerial Committee for their attention to this process and commitment to this important consultation phase. Special thanks were also extended to international institutions that have supported the process, including the European Commission: DG JRC and DG Research and Innovation, for their support and other initiatives in the context of research and innovation that have been essential to the S3 process. JRC has also provided the necessary expertise and training throughout the process and guided the National S3 Team in the steps taken, considering that S3 is being developed for the first time by WB6 countries. Thanks were also given to the EU Delegation in Tirana and ZSI Austria for their support in the EDP phase. Special thanks were also directed to the experts of the National S3 Team, who with their tireless commitment have been invaluable supporters in this process despite the difficulties encountered.
Mr. Beqaj highlighted the need for the Smart Specialization Strategy in Albania to link with the RIS3 and macro-regional strategies, as well as the importance of support from development partners and the European Commission through dedicated funds, which should increase as challenges grow in the context of EU integration. Mr. Beqaj emphasized the importance of aligning with the strategic framework and identifying monitoring indicators, as well as addressing challenges that may threaten the process.
Ms. Gerussi presented the JRC methodology, which focuses mainly on three key areas:
1) Supporting countries in creating a proper governance strategy to be responsible for preparing the strategy;
2) Assisting in identifying the necessary policy instruments and processes for implementing this strategy; and
3) Building the necessary institutional capacity to prepare this strategy.
Ms. Gerussi also mentioned that the EDP process is currently being conducted in several Western Balkan countries and beyond, with Albania currently in the EDP phase, along with Kosovo and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ms. Naska emphasized the importance of innovation in reducing costs, improving product quality, meeting market demands, creating jobs, and promoting positive impacts in various areas, all of which contribute to the economic growth of Albania. She also stressed the critical role of the Smart Specialization Strategy in addressing existing innovation gaps within the country. According to her, this strategy is a key enabler for promoting sustainability in the face of rapidly changing technological developments. She also
discussed the importance of S3 in the context of the Western Balkans Agenda and other important initiatives in which Albania is involved.
Mr. Arben Shkodra discussed the role and importance of involving the business sector in this process and highlighted that, for the first time in Albania, a process involving all actors in the four-helix phase, starting from the drafting phase, is taking place. The shortage of qualified labor, which can be addressed not only by improving human resource capacity but also by promoting robotics and digitalization, was highlighted. Mr. Shkodra emphasized the need to create a common platform to inform Albanian businesses about various financing opportunities. The challenge of the lack of scientific research was highlighted, and the need for a research and scientific strategy and the establishment of research institutes in Albania, which are currently non-existent, was brought to light.
This event was attended by various authorities, including members of the Inter-Parliamentary Commission on Production Activities, members of the Inter-ministerial Committee for drafting and implementing S3: Ms. Mirela Kumbaro, Minister of Tourism and Environment; Ms. Frida Krifca, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; Ms. Elva Margariti, Minister of Culture; Ms. Milva Ekonomi, State Minister for Service Standards; Ms. Edona Bilali, State Minister for Entrepreneurship Protection; Ms. Elsa Dhuli, Director of INSTAT; Prof. Skënder Gjinushi, President of the Academy of Sciences; Prof. Artan Hoxha, President of the Conference of Rectors; Ms. Ines Mucostepa, Chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as members of the National S3 Team, representatives from public and private higher education institutions, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Municipality of Tirana, AIDA, regulatory agencies of various ministries, associations and business representatives, civil society, development partners, and domestic and foreign experts operating in the country. Ambassadors and representatives from neighboring country embassies and the EU Delegation in Tirana also attended the meeting.
The meeting was held in a hybrid format to allow remote participation by representatives from the European Commission, EU organizations, partner countries, experts, and representatives from institutions outside the country, diaspora representatives, and others.
A total of 155 participants attended the meeting, including 17 online participants.
The meeting served to inform all stakeholders about the S3 process, its importance to the Albanian government, and the interest of the four-helix actors in being part of this process. It also initiated a broad discussion and a new approach to collaboration between central and local government, business, academia, and civil society, setting a new standard for collaboration and consultation in the policymaking process.
Video of the Opening Event: link