Dear State Secretaries Mr. Glunčić and Mr. Antičić,
It is a great pleasure and honor to be here today and share with all of you this joyous moment of awarding the grant agreements to these carefully selected, promising scientific projects.
This program is part of the decade-long support the World Bank has been providing to the research, development, and innovation sector in Croatia.
Globally, for the World Bank Group, boosting economic growth and shared prosperity is a top priority. Growth has enabled many countries to provide better access to health care, education, and employment, but only when countries themselves have focused on growth strategies that were inclusive.
To promote this inclusive growth, the World Bank works to facilitate the diffusion of knowledge and supports countries in investing in the productivity and skills of their people. In other words, we are helping countries invest in human capital, as human capital is, without a doubt, a driver of high-income growth, as well as the foundation of prosperity.
Similarly, more intense human capital investments and an increase in innovative capacity are preconditions for improved competitiveness and growth perspectives.
We have had a successful partnership with the Croatian government since 2005 in implementing two generations of Science and Technology Projects. These projects have demonstrated concrete ways of supporting research that is competitive at the international level and has assisted in creating new value for the Croatian economy.
In this context, allow me to mention why we value what the Unity Through Knowledge Fund (UKF) has been doing.
The UKF became an integral part of the innovation and research agenda in 2007, when the Ministry, help from the World Bank, developed this unique model of financing collaborative projects of Croatian scientists and scientists of Croatian origin working for international research institutions. In this process, particular attention was paid to the career development of young scientists and researchers.
The UKF model is an excellent example of the good practice of having an unbiased, transparent, and competitive selection process. The implementation of the projects financed to date has not only contributed to an increase in the skills of the researchers, but also helped them achieve good results in attracting EU and other international funding - all for the benefit of the Croatian innovation agenda.
The UKF model is the brand of Croatia in the area of research, something that Croatia is recognized for. This has been confirmed by awards from the European Regional Economic Forum (EREF), which chose UKF as an example of best practice on the topic of 'Developing human capital and managing migration for more competitive European regions,' and the International Labor Organization (ILO), choosing UKF as an example of good practice on the topic of 'Promoting the linkages between migration and development.'
Not only have we heard numerous times that Croatian scientists are satisfied with this program, but also that the UKF story has been told in many countries where the World Bank operates. The way this program has been set up, both organizationally and implementation-wise, needs to be particularly preserved and valued, so that the program will continue to achieve good results and promote scientific excellence in Croatia and abroad.
I would also like to use this opportunity to highlight the success of female applicants who were awarded seven out of ten grants.
Yet nothing strikes home more than a living example, so, in closing, let me tell you a story of a previous beneficiary, a brilliant young researcher who got his PhD abroad but decided to return to Croatia.
He was inspired by an accident that happened in one nuclear power plant in Japan, and got the idea to develop ultrasound probes that inspect the welding on the steam pipes in these power plants. So he started knocking on doors, talking to scientists in the country, and was told that he should probably go abroad to do such work. And just before being completely discouraged, he received funding from the UKF program. The funding was not a lot, 100k EUR, but enough to develop his idea. With this grant, he managed to obtain multimillion funding from the European Structural Funds, fully develop his product, and is now already selling to nuclear power plants around the globe.
In conclusion, I wish all the bright minds gathered here today successful work on their projects with a hope that in time they will be able to apply them and even commercialize them, thus contributing to the competitiveness of the economy.
We at the World Bank are proud to be associated with this type of human capital investments and are ready to continue providing such support in the future.
Good luck to all researchers and awardees, and thank you!