City innovation – lessons from Torino

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RAYMUND B. HABARADAS

RAYMUND B. HABARADAS

Last month, I talked about how the city of Solna became Sweden’s fastest growing city. It became a business-friendly city within 20 years, by lowering taxes on income, by focusing on key investors and developers, and by impressing upon its people that “this is the place to be.”

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Today, I will share with you the experience of Torino, an Italian city that underwent a neighborhood regeneration process started in 2009. It was one of the inspirational stories featured at the 13th ASIALICS International Conference in Bangkok. The Asian Association of Learning, innovation, and Coevolution Studies (ASIALICS), and the National Innovation Agency (NIA) of Thailand jointly organized this conference, which was held on October 3 and 4 with the theme: Area-based Innovation in Asia. Area-based innovation is an emerging concept that focuses on how space can induce innovation activities, taking into consideration mega-infrastructure, city development, and linkages with local communities.

Mr. Marco Riva, innovation manager of Open INCET-Innovation Center Torino, talked about how Torino became one of Europe’s most innovative cities. Torino, he said, was Italy’s first capital, and was the country’s industrial engine in the 20th century. After a period of industrial decline, Torino underwent “deep change” and transformed itself into “a pole of innovation, design, information technology, higher education, and culture”. Torino did this by investing aggressively in education, setting aside 200,000 square meters of new area for education. It now hosts about 100,000 university students in a city of 900,000 inhabitants. It also invested in culture and tourism. For a medium-sized city, it has 21.4 square kilometers of green areas and 55 museums, which attracted about six million visitors in 2015.

What made Torino click, though, was its ability to collect innovative ideas because of the strong concentration of highly educated people, competencies, resources, and networks. Recognizing this, the city developed the Torino Social Innovation (TSI), “a multi-stakeholder platform involving 40 public and private organizations that support and sustain bottom-up innovation processes”. One initiative of TSI is FaciliTO, a service supplied by the city to sustain entrepreneurial projects that seek to address social needs. FaciliTO, which provides both technical and financial support, generated 255 project submissions, of which 69 are already in the incubation phase, 45 of which received funding.

Another TSI initiative is Open INCET, which is located in an abandoned industrial area that used to house an electric cable factory in the 19th century. The center’s main mission is “to accelerate the local innovation ecosystem of the City of Turin by systematically applying an open innovation approach.” Open INCET drives innovation by engaging the quadruple helix of stakeholders (i.e. academia, industry, government, and civil society). Through the collaboration of these stakeholders, Turin is able to generate new products / services and new social practices that contribute to solving complex challenges.

According to Riva, Open INCET involves the local public administration and nine private organizations with complementary competences and networks, both local and international. It has a Living Lab, which allows stakeholders to co-create new products, services, business and technologies in real-life environment and virtual networks in multi-contextual spheres; a Public Lab, which strengthens the ability of public systems to design and deliver efficient public services to bridge the gap between how policies are designed and how they are implemented; a Corporate Lab, which offers advanced services specifically designed for the corporate world, including a set of capabilities, tools, and approaches to help companies innovate; and a Tech Lab, a 700 square-meter open space within Open INCET dedicated to temporary exhibitions, experimentations, test of manufacturing products, applications, and IOT (Internet of Things) solutions.

While listening to the story of Torino, I could not help but imagine how cities and municipalities like Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Iloilo, which are centers of higher education in the country, can serve as hubs for innovation, if their local officials encourage investments in education and find ways to mobilize their stakeholders the way the City of Turin did it in Italy. This will, of course, require political will on the part of the local governments and active participation of their citizens.

If Torino can do it, why can’t we?

The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

The author is an associate professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teaches management of organizations and management research. He also does research on SME development, corporate social initiatives and social enterprises. He welcomes comments at rbhabaradas@yahoo.com.

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