U-SOLVE: An open innovation process for tackling sustainable development goals’ challenges for urban areas in Cyprus and the Mediterranean Region


The achievement of sustainable urban development is becoming one of the top priorities for many counties around the globe as by 2050 more than two thirds of the planet’s population will be urban. Even though cities are associated with cultural and economic growth, innovation and job creation, they are also the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, the main culprit of climate change with devastating impacts for the wellbeing of societies and economies. Cities are major hubs of consumers of food chains, the main centres for the distribution of goods and services, producers of solid waste, the critical nodes of any water management system. At the same time, urban societies are hosting the main educational and research institutions, cultural hubs, and any kind of activity boosting creativity and social activism. As the medium-sized to large cities will continue to grow and rapid urbanization will result in creating megacities especially in emerging and developing countries, solutions to address the challenge of creating sustainable, environmentally and people friendly cities and societies that are just, fair and inclusive are of crucial importance. In this effort, the urban society must capitalise their endogenous creativity and innovation capacity.

For many countries, the road towards a better and sustainable future passes through the alignment of their sustainability strategy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) benchmarks. Cyprus, a member state of the EU, following a voluntary national review in 2017, has placed specific attention and focus to a number of SDG priority areas related to environmental issues, namely, addressing climate change, promoting green development, reducing GHG emissions, promoting technologies for affordable and clean energy, sustainable mobility, waste management and recycling as well as the creation of green jobs. All of the above priorities are of utmost importance for a small islandic economy in the Mediterranean region, with 70% of its population gathered in urban environments, which on the one side needs to take action to implement the EU policies for zero emissions and green economy and on the other side has already started to be impacted by the more frequent and intense adverse phenomena of prolonged heatwaves, droughts as well as increased incidences of storms and hurricanes, all negative consequences of climate change.

Apart from the environmental aspects of SDGs, the country still faces economic and social issues, almost eight years after the economic crisis of 2013 and following the recent Covid-19 pandemic.  Main challenges of social nature as also indicated by the Cyprus low ‘Leave No One behind Index’ (LNOB), include the relatively high unemployment rate especially amongst younger people (20.4%), the lower employment rate of women (69%) versus that of men (79%) and the related gender pay gaps (10.4% below that of men), a significant percentage of urban population living in deteriorating housing conditions, whereas challenges that hinder future economic prosperity relate mainly to the need for a sustainable consumption policy, the low contribution of the agriculture sector in the GDP and the need for digital transformation of its government, SME and industry sector.

To address challenges that affect the sustainable development of urban environments, one can utilize innovators and young entrepreneurs stemming from those niches of our socioeconomic ecosystems that support innovation and change (research, academia, laboratories, social movements etc). These enablers of change can exploit the opportunities arising from the disturbance on our current norms of economy and society, caused by external shocks such as climate change, biodiversity distortion and pandemics, to propose and implement solutions so that new more sustainable and socially inclusive norms are created.

A vehicle for mobilizing such a process is the project U-SOLVE (Urban sustainable development SOLutions Valuing Entrepreneurship), the aim of which is the shifting of the start-up creation process towards an entrepreneurial sustainable development strategy. U-SOLVE bridges policies for supporting entrepreneurship with the implementation of SDGs for sustainable urban development in six countries of the Mediterranean area. The project employs a co-design approach, according to the Quadruple Helix model, related to the creation of the innovative business models and procedures that will generate and manage sustainable innovation ecosystems by involving all four actors within the innovation ecosystem (government, academia/research, industry and society). Moreover, the innovative technologies and business models that will be exploited will resort to solutions that will lead to both socio-economic progress and environmental preservation, according to the principles of the doughnut economy. This model, introduced by the economist Kate Raworth, identifies a safe and just space in between the satisfaction of the essential social needs while respecting the planetary boundaries, which cannot be transgressed without catastrophic effects. The most urgent SDG challenges, related to urban sustainable community development in the Mediterranean region, will emerge through an innovation pipeline and allow the formation of coalitions of entrepreneurial agents of change. The proposed solutions will be based on ‘glocalization’ and place-based strategies to fit the needs of the region and the country where they will be implemented. The whole start up creation process addressed by U-SOLVE will result in qualified job creation, economic value while supporting the transition towards sustainable urban development in the country and the region. The project includes partners from Cyprus, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine all facing similar regional sustainability challenges. The outcomes of this project will be the creation of start-ups (approximately 20 mid-term businesses and contracts) that provide solutions for sustainable urban development while tackling the issue of employment of youth and women with the creation of approximately 40 job positions. During the process of scouting for and the selection of the final start-ups, 200 youths and women will also be trained and mentored on aspects of entrepreneurship and sustainable business development. The project will also result in the creation of a set of policies that will act as a toolbox for the implementation of an effective, SDGs-driven, open innovation process.

The Cyprus Institute, through its Innovation and Entrepreneurship Office will contribute horizontally towards the completion of all the tasks of the project with particular focus on the formation of the processes and policies needed for the scouting and creation of start-ups, as well as the training and mentoring of young entrepreneurs, who are addressing with disruptive solutions the more pressing SDG challenges. The Institute will both act in Cyprus, in tight collaboration with the University of Cyprus, and assisting the overall process of implementation of the U-SOLVE methodology.


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