Who hasn’t heard of Atlantis, the island-state mentioned in two of Plato’s works? It is said that Atlantis was a power unlike any other, harnessing technology that was far ahead of its time. Although there are doubts regarding whether this island was real or fictional, no one doubts the fact that the Atlantis idea in Plato’s allegories had a considerable impact on literature. Scientists, writers and readers are all mesmerized by the idea that such feats could be achieved in historic times, even though the story ends with an Atlantean demise.
It goes without saying, therefore, that when I was a child, I, like many others, dreamt of my home country of Malta following in Atlantean footsteps.
The current reality, however, is somewhat different. Our country has always spent a very low percentage of GDP on research and innovation. The fact that under a Labour administration, Malta’s economic growth excelled meant that even though R&I spending increased, spending as a percentage of GDP remained constant. That being said, the “victims of our own success” mantra, does not offer a full explanation to a problem that has been plaguing us for years. For a start, as a small island state, we are challenged by the fact that a certain “critical mass” must be reached in order for the commencement of true innovation.
Yet although there are challenges that affect us, there are also positive characteristics that we would do well to use in our favour. For a start, the fact that we are both an island, as well as a state, gives us an advantage over other cities that aim to be a hub of test-based solutions. It is my belief therefore that pilot projects can be tested out in Malta, with the ones that work then being taken up by much larger cities and countries.
Although positioning ourselves in this manner is ambitious, it is by no means an impossible task. Support for investments already exists on a European level, and the Horizon Europe research and innovation funding programme stands ready to be tapped into for the period 2021-2027. This programme has a budget of €95.5 billion for the next seven years, and it aims to tackle global solutions by making Europe more sustainable, competitive and fit for the urgent societal challenges of our age, such as the environmental and the digital transition, without forgetting the right to health.
Think of projects related to sustainable development, health, renewable energy, connectivity and digitalization that can be undertaken in Malta. In order to do this, however, the public and private sectors need to muster the energy together, making a collective effort that will enable our country to build on its uniqueness in order to use research to tackle the societal challenges ahead us. It is only by doing this that we stand a chance of becoming a 21st century Atlantis.