Cluj-Napoca is the second biggest city in Romania and the capital of Transylvania. In many ways it is a thriving city. It has a big innovation scene, a passionate and growing youth population, and it is a proud, culturally diverse city. But Cluj-Napoca is also facing emerging challenges. The city is rapidly expanding and inequalities risk deepening. While young people are increasingly included as efforts for more inclusive civic participation is gradually being enabled, this needs to be further, and meaningfully realised across sectors, including building real trust between people, organisations, and government.
These challenges could be applied to many fast-growing urban environments around the world. They are challenges that we at Fondation Botnar want to better understand and collectively solve with local collaborators toward ensuring cities provide a space where young people can thrive.
Earlier this month, members of the Fondation Botnar team spent a few days in Cluj-Napoca as we work to gain traction in our preparation to roll-out our long-term city engagement strategy in selected cities around the world. One important component of this is our ‘learning hub’ (still being named and branded) approach. The first cities have been selected: Cluj-Napoca in Romania and Tanga in Tanzania, where we are facilitating a process of building trust and stakeholder relations before the platforms are fully launched and exchanges between the selected cities seek to foster a global network of innovation and learnings. We envision at least eight such champion cities, which will function as a platform for youth organisations, public organisations, civil society organisations, companies, and people to collaborate, connect, and reflect on how they can make their cities a better place for young people.
To better understand the innovation ecosystem in the city we have together convened a series of workshops with different stakeholder and interest groups; on this occasion we wanted to gather perspectives on the branding and communications priorities as relevant to the local ecosystem. Further, we took the opportunity and to attend the annual Startup City event to listen to and participate in conversations around how innovation is currently being applied in different sectors in Cluj-Napoca and the region, and the opportunities for greater cross-sector collaboration. We learned that Cluj-Napoca has a higher percentage of startups than the national average, and that policy and concrete action are key to create systems that are working together.
The event created a vibrant platform for organisations, private sector, and municipalities to interact and share experiences around urban transformation and innovation. Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca, shared his aspirations for the future of Cluj-Napoca and Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, and Youth, encouraged local stakeholders to be courageous and continue to innovate to create positive social impact.
We see a great spirit among people in Cluj-Napoca to be innovative for social impact, and are excited for the next few months where we will further define our strategy and approach, and work more closely with Fondation Botnar’s partners in supported projects around the world to look at how we can catalyse the transformation of cities and work together to create thriving cities that prioritise wellbeing especially for young people living in rapidly growing urban environments.