Spanning Boundaries Agents Testimonials: Elona Karafili

A series of “Spanning Boundaries” Agents’ testimonials of Albanian professionals who, with the support of EU for Innovation, attended the 2nd cohort of SB Training Programme.


Elona Karafili’s Profile

Elona Karafili is a qualified professional in the field of urban economics. She is a lecturer and researcher at POLIS University, Tirana, Albania since 2007.  Her main topics of interest and expertise include regional economic development and territorial competitiveness, which she has explored through a number of projects that focus on place-based innovation.

She holds a PhD in Urban Planning from Ferrara University and Polis University.  Elona currently holds the position of the Deputy Rector of POLIS University. Since June 2021, she is also the Managing Director of Tirana Inc., the first multi-university incubation program for student start-ups in Albania.


What is your role as a Spanning Boundaries Agent in your institution?

I hold the position of the Deputy Rector for Research and Innovation at POLIS University. In this capacity, I continuously engage with a number of actors and collaborators, to push forward the research and innovation agenda of POLIS University, that strongly relies on interdisciplinarity and inter-sectorality. Effective university – industry cooperation models in Albania are scarce, yet POLIS has spearheaded many initiatives that focus in structuring such dialogue, be it in academic terms: through problem-based learning methods in many courses (with case studies from a number of companies), or in terms of research (through Horizon Europe and bilateral projects). I have been extensively involved in these initiatives and I am currently focusing to build the capacities of the Innovation Factory (an interdepartmental unit at POLIS University, equipped with digital fabrication and prototyping technology). Innovation Factory’s scope of work is to intensify the cooperation with businesses and start-ups and support the commercialization of research conducted at POLIS.

3 words that describe your job:
What was your motivation to join and what expectations did you have from the Spanning Boundaries Training?

Despite the experience, former trainings, and the motivation to play an active role as a Spanning Boundaries agent, I try to always keep myself teachable. I am also very aware of the importance of validation so the reasons for me to join the Spanning Boundaries training were:

Finally, the role as a Spanning Boundary agent can be very frustrating at times, so the joint program sessions felt also like a support group at times.

What are some incentives/ success factors for a fruitful cooperation between academia and industry, in your opinion? Any recommendations you might be willing to share on how to bridge the gap between academia and industry/ businesses in Albania?

It is a process. It is important that expectations are met properly by both sides. Over time this builds trust and fosters ulterior and more intensive cooperation.

For academia it should start with a clear mapping of the competences and a more proactive approach to communicate their value proposition to businesses (beyond equipping students with skills for employment). This calls for specific units or specific people within universities, that are not only mandated, but also trained to speak a language that industry would understand and maintain a continuous communication. Once businesses see value in this cooperation they will be much more responsive. The Alumni network can play an very positive role to facilitate this, so maintaining a close contact with the alumni community is another factor.

For the government, I would have two recommendations: (i) increase the budgetary support for university-industry cooperation activities, targeting either universities directly or facilitators such as incubators, accelerators, matchmakers, etc. (ii) ease the legal framework. A rigid framework, that constrains the autonomy of the actors and their ability to adapt quickly to an everchanging context, is detrimental to a conducive environment for cooperation.

Would you suggest that programmes such as “Spanning Boundaries” continue to be introduced to the Albanian actors; both in Academia and Industry?

Definitely. I found it a well-designed program and a valuable instrument to obtain very good insights not only by the mentors, but also by the fellow participants. The campfire talks were also inspiring. In order for mindsets to change we need the pool of Spanning Boundary agents to grow, so that a critical mass is built, and therefore, a much more significant impact in the ecosystem is achieved.

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