This month our mighty Public Affairs two-man team, Giovanni Colombo and Barbaros Corekoglu, give their views on their different roles and how Public Affairs (PA) is making a difference to EIT Food
Ok. Let’s start with the basics: what is ‘Public Affairs’ all about and what does it mean for EIT Food?
G: Public Affairs is about understanding the political context in which EIT Food operates, the European Union, and how it impacts the KICs. The EU brings funding but also challenges and opportunities which EIT Food needs to manage. In this respect, PA is also about understanding what might happen in the future and trying to anticipate what might be decided by the EU on a specific matter. At the moment one of our main concerns is Horizon Europe. What we do in PA for EIT Food is understanding what Horizon Europe will mean for us; seeing how we can influence how its priorities and budget is shaped and spotting opportunities to promote EIT Food’s interests within it.
That’s cleared that up, then. And could you tell us a bit about who you are and what led you to join EIT Food?
B: I’ve been working in EU Affairs for 10 years and for the last 8 of these I was representing the interests of agrifood businesses. I joined EIT Food as it is a future-shaping organisation which is really going places, whereas in previous roles it felt very hard to drive tangible change.
G: After ten years of consulting, I was looking for an organisation with a purpose in the food space where I thought my knowledge of the EU machinery would be valuable. I also thought EIT Food would be a great place to learn more about the connection between food, innovation and technology.
As you’re a double-act, can you explain what your roles are and how they join together?
G: As EIT Food is still young, we have a lot of opportunities and stakeholders that we need to cover, but we are broadly divided between key themes and policy areas. My focus is more on Research & Innovation, Education and funding-related policies, particularly at EU level.
B: And I focus more on agriculture, nutrition and health, whilst also reaching out to consumer organisations. I am also managing a project on behalf of EIT Food - Fit4Food2030 – which is defining areas for future EU support under Food2030, covering the themes of food innovation, nutrition, circularity and climate change.
Sounds complex! Why do you do what you do and what difference do you think it is making, both for EIT Food and for the future of food?
B. What we do is important because we are translating the mandate that has been given to us by the EU for us as an organisation and for our partners. With €400m worth of funding on offer, the EU is always going to be our largest shareholder and we need to understand the policy landscape so that we can guide and negotiate within it – it helps us stay an important part of this landscape.
G. I totally agree. It’s our responsibility to look at how we can do more business with this institution. EIT actually encourages us to build synergies with other EU programs to help us diversify our funding and help strengthen our financial sustainability. There are many opportunities. The question is which ones do we choose and how do we go about them.
Is there such a thing as an ‘average day’ for Public Affairs?
Both: Not at all! Broadly speaking we are always researching, talking to people and building connections with policy-makers, but also many important stakeholders. We are often attending events, or meetings in Brussels, representing EIT Food in many situations. We are also visiting other countries occasionally. It’s quite varied!
Do you think that your EU policy stakeholders are already taking note of our work at EIT Food?
B: I think they are super-interested in us. As the only ecosystem that connects all of the food system with available funding, EU stakeholders see EIT Food as a unique change agent, and they want to engage with us and make sure we address the right priorities.
G: I’d agree with that. European politicians realise that the challenges facing the food system are big and need urgent attention, so having an organisation like EIT Food is good news for them; though obviously we need to deliver on these expectations. We do have more challenges locally and regionally and we are keen to work with partners to engage more at this level going forwards.
Talking of challenges, what other obstacles do you see ahead for EIT Food from a Public Affairs perspective?
G: There are two big challenges for me. One is the increasing competition from other food initiatives for funding, support and recognition, so we need to stand out or perhaps convert some potential competitor ecosystems into opportunities for collaboration. The other is far more important in that we have to deliver impact and prove that we can transform the food system.
B: Totally agree. It is not a coincidence that EIT Food is given a mandate and funding at a time of increased international, European and national scrutiny on food production and consumption. We are a young organisation with ambitious objectives and we need to demonstrate our impact without risking our future being questioned.
What big things are you planning in 2019 to really showcase EIT Food to our political stakeholders?
G: We are planning a big event in Brussels on the Future of Food in the fall of 2019, which will build into a wider awareness-raising campaign on the issues we’re all facing. The future of our food system is on many people’s minds and it is a big source of concern. We all see the challenges and risks ahead of us, but few see also the concrete solutions which innovation and education can offer. So bringing our partners together with key policymakers will start a really important conversation on how to develop these solutions and what we need to deliver impact. We are now developing the programme of the event and will be sending more information to partners as we want them to be fully involved.
B: The event will also be a great way of taking all the amazing knowledge that we are acquiring through our research and connections and translating it into actionable solutions for the future.
Finally, would you like to nominate another employee to be interviewed for the next edition of the Partner Newsletter?
Both we’d like to nominate Lorena Savani as it would be great to learn more about the innovation work she is doing with Partners in the area of health and nutrition.
“As the only ecosystem that connects all of the food system with available funding, EU Stakeholders see EIT Food as a unique change agent, and they want to engage with us and help us secure our future.”
(Barbaros Corekoglu, Public Affairs Manager)