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“Working with third countries is challenging and fun in equal measure”

Third countries

Paola Votta leads the Third Country Knowledge Area, a growing department that keeps abreast of the latest innovation trends in international markets. In this interview, she discusses the importance of EU cooperation with other countries and also reveals which ones are making headway in driving projects forward.

Why is it in the EU’s interest to allocate so much funding to third countries?

In the interconnected world in which we live, if we want to overcome development challenges and meet the international commitments agreed in the SDGs, the 2030 Agenda, or the Paris agreement, the European Commission knows that we must help the countries that are furthest away from achieving it. And a very good way to do this is through its external cooperation instrument, Global Europe, with a budget of €79.5 billion for the period 2021-2027. This is the best way for the Commission to ensure sustainable development in all EU countries and their neighbours.

What funding modalities does the EU have for third countries?

It combines different types of instruments to support third countries by providing them with grant funding to develop projects or organisations to help them meet their objectives; by offering public procurement contracts, often in the form of tenders; and by providing budget support in specific sectors.

And what is Zabala Innovation’s role in this international scene?

We are experts and actively participate in many of these tenders that are published, and which of course have an innovation component. We have positioned ourselves as a benchmark in the sector, we have been working on European proposals for more than thirty years and we know the market perfectly well. Moreover, for the last five years, we have been applying the same methodologies and rigour in the presentation and implementation of international tenders. This positions us on the international scene as a key player in projects in third countries that require the support of solid companies with experience and flexible teams to achieve the objectives of each region.

Does the detection of market trends play an important role in your work?

Of course, we have to be there and be able to adapt to the demands of the market in a fast and sustainable way, without losing the rigour and quality of the work we have been doing all these years. Not only do we participate in international tenders, in many cases we lead them. This is only possible if you can detect what the market is going to need in advance and prepare yourself to be the best candidate to carry out these projects.

In third countries, which ones are doing well in terms of promoting projects?

The Global Europe instrument has three main pillars, one of which is the geographical pillar, which distributes funds for cooperation with third countries by region. Sub-Saharan Africa and neighbouring countries are at the top of the list, with 29.1 billion euros and 19.3 billion euros respectively. Because of the type of projects and the sector in which we specialise at Zabala Innovation, many of the projects we are involved in are in neighbouring countries, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. But there are also great opportunities in other countries such as Turkey and Uzbekistan that we are already working on.

Historically, Spain has had a closer relationship with Latin America. Is this union reflected in the collaboration projects?

We have a very close relationship with Latin America and our involvement in projects in the region is a priority. We are just now waiting to sign a contract to implement a project for the Inter-American Development Bank in Colombia to support INNPULSA Colombia, the entrepreneurship and innovation agency. The objective is to collect, synthesise and transfer good practices in the design, management, and evaluation of public instruments to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. We have worked a lot in Colombia in recent years and also in other Latin American countries such as Panama: Latin America is always a priority region for us.

Do you see many differences in these countries when it comes to incorporating innovation in their daily lives?

The beauty of implementing projects in other countries outside the EU is precisely that, learning to adapt the experience we have of working within the Union to the context of each country. We have to be flexible enough to make the solutions we bring feasible and sustainable in the different regions. Each country has a different rhythm and most countries are making a great effort to support actions that promote R&D, including that innovative component.

Is cooperation essential in this international scenario?

Without a doubt, cooperation is key, we learn from each other and complement each other to face the challenges we face together. It is the same in the world of international tenders, you must always cooperate with the best if you want to get the best result. Zabala Innovation’s commitment to international cooperation, inside and outside the EU, ensures that we continue to move forward, grow and learn in this global world.

Against this scenario, what has been the evolution of the company’s Third Country Knowledge Area?

The area has been growing in recent years, as has our participation in international projects with multilateral organisations. We now have a defined process for detecting tenders and a large team of professionals with a lot of experience in the implementation of projects in third countries. We are ensuring that the knowledge we have gained all these years working with the European Commission in strategic projects is now transferred to other countries and has a positive impact in each of the regions.

Finally, what achievement in the area are you most proud of?

I am very proud of the team, of their flexibility, which is essential to work on projects in other countries, and of the enthusiasm, they put into each of the projects in which we participate. In international tenders, the competition is very tough and you have to be constantly fighting with the best to get the projects. The involvement of the team and their good work is fundamental to the success of the projects. It’s a world that is challenging and fun in equal parts!

In this video, you can learn more about the work of the Third Countries Area of Zabala Innovation.

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