Innovation as a Path to Peace

by Dimis Michaelides

Innovation as a Path to Peace

Can collaborative entrepreneurship facilitate a rapprochement in Cyprus?

How can innovation offer a path to peace?

This question was asked by two young entrepreneurs in Cyprus.

For readers unaware of the Cyprus problem, the island of Cyprus is physically divided into the Republic of Cyprus (a UN and EU member) inhabited principally by Cypriots of Greek origin and smaller ethnic minorities, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (recognized only by Turkey) inhabited principally by Cypriots of Turkish origin and Turks from Turkey. The division came after civil strife and war. UN troops and heavily armed barricades and borders still separate the two sides. Political efforts to reunite peacefully for the last fifty-five years have not succeeded while business and human relations are difficult to develop in practice.

It is in this context that Burak Doluay and Steven Stavrou, created CyprusInno a web-based platform for Cypriot innovators and entrepreneurs 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. This is a bold and resourceful approach in such adverse circumstances.

Encouraged by the success of the online platform CyprusInno is extending its reach to organizing 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 bi-communal initiative. Over the last 15 years various bi-communal projects have been funded by different countries, organizations and individuals and notably, for business people, by Sir Stelios Hadjioannou, the founder of EasyJet. Sir Stelios has donated nearly EUR 3 million through yearly Stelios Bi-communal Awards for collaboration 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 grass roots organization 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 as so 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 realization 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 is 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, all the people of Cyprus will be better off 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 also worth metnioning that

  • Last week Burak was named by the United Nations as 1 of 17 Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals.
  • CyprusInno is the only project from Cyprus and the only bi-communal project to make it to the finals of the European Youth Awards.

For more information see www.cyprusinno.com

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Simis MichaelidesDimis Michaelides, Managing Director at Performa Consulting, is global business consultant and keynote speaker on The Art of Innovation. His book, The Art of Innovation: Integrating Creativity in Organizations, was published in 2007.

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