By Harald Neidhardt, CEO & Curator, Futur/io Institute
For the past decades, Europe has been a leader in innovation, deep tech and many cross-border research projects, centres of academic excellence and a vibrant start-up culture.
I strongly believe that Europe is underselling its achievements, deserves more credit for ground-breaking research and must actively create a third way to be an active part of shaping our future society for the generations to come.
Europe is home to inventions like the MP3 music format; the WWW, created at CERN; Graphene, the ground-breaking next material for faster chips and nano-tech functionality unseen before; CRISPR/Cas9, the gene editing tool with roots in Spain, The Netherlands and Austria; artificial intelligence breakthroughs including AlphaGo by the team at DeepMind, London – now owned by Google – that outsmarted the best Go player; Green-Tech and Fin-Tech pioneers; Nobel laureates and ambitious young high potentials that start to clean the ocean before they turn 20.
Yet, on a global scale, there is much room to grow in recognition of the pioneers. Through financing to scale, by educating a new leadership of generation Z, and by promoting visionary leaders shaping a new narrative, to help us co-create a new Europe: a third way forward, in between ‘Make-America-great-again’ and a Chinese superpower with a 300-year plan: We need Moonshots for Europe.
We all experience the urgency of challenges we are facing today – from climate change to politics, from exponential technologies to ethics in AI. The incoming Anthropocene is clawing into our daily lives and already overtaking our real-time newsfeeds. It seems hard to switch off the noise of man-made bad news to find the signals of hope and lights at the end of a tunnel of narrow-mindedness to the left and far–right. But look beyond the surface and you will find it: the good news, the progress and the opportunities that are left to bring actionable steps to create a better tomorrow.
On a few golden October days – just a few weeks ago – about 100 leaders representing corporate innovation, academia, politics, culture, research and start-ups convened at H-Farm, the Medici House of the 21st century, just outside Venice, Italy. During the Futur/io CxO executive programme, a small spark was created to cross-pollinate European ideals, to value our open society, co-create Moonshots for Europe and enjoy the hospitality of a place fit for digital pioneers, embedded in tradition and beautiful countryside.
We learned, that we can think bigger, bolder and positively about the future. We learned how we can collaborate with diverse backgrounds, benefit from diversity, co-create a framework to apply moonshot thinking. We discovered a way to carry home a flame of appreciation and almost utopian excitement to our teams, cities, countries or better yet, our corner of an amazing European continent. We appreciated that a small group can make a difference and light a spark.
Kennedy declared a Moonshot by setting an unlikely, bold and audacious goal – “not because it is easy but because it is hard” – and a vision became a reality to unite powers and intellect for a giant step for mankind. In Barcelona, Telefónica Alpha opened the first European moonshot lab to tackle those big audacious goals.
Moonshots for Europe demand a leadership suited to the transformations that will define the decades ahead; anticipation of breakthrough technologies; benefits that are designed for wider society, and for the environment; and a clear purpose for people – not a focus merely on consumers and target groups, but in creating empowered citizens. We have a lot of the right people and ideas in Europe that we can connect and inspire, to build a common house that creates a bolder vision for a community of values and progress, characterised by a new definition of what a post-growth economy and open society looks like.
Moonshots for Europe will not be easy. There is doubt, there is ambiguity, there is indifference and there are voices that steer towards the known, the past and the rejection of diversity.
“Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling,” declared Bono shortly before the opening of the recent concert by U2 in Berlin. They waved a big European flag to be thought-provoking, edgy or as a symbol of hope. But waving a flag does not make Europe a love-brand … unfortunately, sometime mid-concert, Bono lost his voice. Any effort though, to help us support a cultural narrative, a feeling or a common narrative, can help make it easier for people to understand and value the benefits of Europe.
Let us be a voice, take action, and generate hope, for a flourishing part of the planet that shares common values, remains passionately curious and strives to enjoy growth responsibly, while respecting our place on this blue marble.