Silvia Gaiani, an Italian senior researcher, has joined the Ruralia Institute in Seinäjoki, Finland in 2021. Gaiani is leading a long-term research project focused on food, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the transition towards sustainability in Finland.
In addition to her research, Gaiani is also actively involved in various sustainable food systems projects as a leader or partner at the EU, national, and regional levels. With her expertise and passion for sustainable food systems, Gaiani is a great addition to the Una Europa community.
Can you tell me how you became aware of Una Europa and what specifically caught your attention about the alliance?
I first learned about Una Europa from a colleague at the University of Helsinki. Upon visiting the Una Europa website, I was immediately struck by the alliance's impressive goals, which include promoting cross-disciplinary knowledge and societal interaction, and educating the next generation on important topics like sustainability.
While exploring the website, I also discovered a call for applications for the Seed Funding Programme, which piqued my interest. I decided to look for partners among Una Europa's member universities with the goal of creating a consortium. Two months later, we submitted a joint application.
Could you provide more information about the project that received funding through Una Europa's Seed Funding program? Which universities were involved and what was the project's focus?
Our project, titled "The Role of Academia in the Transition to Sustainable Food Systems," was led by the Ruralia Institute and involved the University of Bologna (Italy), Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain), University of Edinburgh (UK), and Freie Universität in Berlin (Germany). Each of these universities brought unique expertise to the project, and we searched for a topic that could bring us all together.
Our goal was to investigate the role of universities in promoting sustainable food systems, how to bridge the gap between research and practice, and how to foster closer collaboration between universities and public and private stakeholders such as institutions, companies, and policymakers.
The project resulted in three webinars, a LinkedIn page called Academia4SFS, and several articles. We also collected interesting data through polls conducted during the webinars, which involved the audience.
You are a member of the Self-Steering Committee of Sustainability. Could you briefly describe your work and the committee's objectives? What kinds of activities have you undertaken, and what are your future plans?
The Self-Steering Committee of Sustainability is responsible for ideating and implementing projects that tackle societal challenges with an entrepreneurial mindset. Each committee develops an interdisciplinary, challenge-based research strategy and creates a clear plan with actions based on joint formats for education and research, such as summer and winter schools, joint bachelor degrees, and more.
The University of Helsinki has three members in its Self-Steering Committee in Sustainability, including myself, Laura Riuttanen from the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR), and Juha Raitio, a professor of European Law and Vice Dean for Public Engagement and Communications. We are currently coordinating with all members of the Una Europa Self-Steering Committees of Sustainability to plan joint activities for the coming years. My objective is to establish successful, long-term educational activities focused on sustainability among Una Europa's member universities.
In your opinion, what has been the most rewarding aspect of participating in research collaboration with Una Europa? How has it benefited your work or the university as a whole?
Participating in research collaboration with Una Europa has been both rewarding and enriching. It has allowed me to meet colleagues from other prestigious universities, engage in a global debate on the role of universities in promoting sustainable food systems, participate in networking activities that also involved early-stage researchers, and deepen my appreciation for Una Europa as an alliance that actively promotes transnational collaboration.
Being part of Una Europa has broadened my horizons and knowledge, and I believe it is important for the University of Helsinki to be part of such an alliance to actively promote a European inter-university environment.