Northern Macedonia offers relatively cheap but highly qualified staff in the field of computer science and engineering due to which the forecasts for the future are positive. Achievements in the field of technology are forthcoming, said Don Lewis, a member of the Investment Approval Committee at FITD, in an interview with MKD.mk.
The Innovation Fund and EVN organized an interactive and educational visit to the exhibition center where students from the primary schools “St. Kliment Ohridski” from Prilep and “Dedo Iljo Maleshevski” from Berovo, as well as Skopje high schools “EMUC 8 September” and “Orce Nikolov” had the opportunity to learn more details about the introduction of electricity in Northern Macedonia, as well as the use of different types of energy.
Don Lewis is one of five members of the Investment Approval Committee of the Macedonian Fund for Innovation and Technological Development.
He has been a member of the Mays Business School in the management department since 1999 and is a professor and executive director of the ,,Blackstone Launchpad TAMU”.
“The purpose of such initiatives and cooperation is to encourage creative and critical thinking among young people and to connect and involve domestic companies in support of the development of research and entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. Our commitment is to show young people that the state offers opportunities for their personal and professional development. FITD is at your disposal, provides and will provide support for the realization of your research ideas and initiatives. “This type of cooperation with domestic companies will also continue,” said Despotovski, director of FITD.
He bases his rich experience on numerous engagements in the field of locating problems in entrepreneurship education and small businesses as well as in international business.
As Lewis explains, the process of approving a particular project that arrives on FITD calls is as follows: each committee member independently reviews and evaluates all applications, based on criteria set out in the relevant evaluation instruments. Each member also gives their individual comments on each application. Once this is completed, a formal meeting votes on the appropriateness of financing individual projects. A majority of 3 votes is required for any funding approval and all votes are recorded.
What exactly is your task?
– In general, my role as one of the five members of the Committee is to review, evaluate and vote on the approval or rejection of project proposals submitted to the FITD. I also participate in all sessions and especially in the process of reviewing, discussing and making final decisions.
First, our committee is composed of five members, none of whom knew each other before being elected, none of us is from or lives in Macedonia and we all have different experiences in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Second, while the experience, expertise, and qualifications of each committee member are different, my vote is, from my perspective, a vision and is completely impartial. Furthermore, each committee member reaffirms its commitment that there is no conflict of interest or external influence with respect to any of the applications or applicants.
Thirdly, in relation to the process itself, each member of the commission independently reviews and evaluates all received applications, based on the criteria set out in the relevant evaluation instruments. Each member also provides individual comments for each application. Once this is done, as a committee, we formally convene a meeting and vote on the appropriateness of funding individual projects. A majority of 3 votes is required for any funding approval and all votes are recorded.
How is the project approval process going?
– As a member, I can not give a direct and solid answer. However, based on what I interpret, I would say at the moment the “process” is as good as one might expect. There are deadlines, ie time limits for all employees in the fund, after the announcement is made. Their workload is significant and I thoroughly admire the staff and their commitment to helping the Republic of Northern Macedonia. I doubt that anyone in the country knows the number of working hours that employees spend dedicated to this cause. Few people know the number of meetings outside of working hours and honestly, how long they are away from their families. They are the unsung heroes and they really are the ones who should be celebrated and rewarded for their commitment to revitalizing your country.
On what principles do you make the final decision which candidates and project proposals will be approved?
– In general, each call has a specific topic. There are many topics: innovation, SME assistance, innovative equipment, etc. Each topic requires its own criteria that vary from the goal to the amount of funds. Each call also has a specific rulebook that has assessment and evaluation tools.
Depending on the call, the appropriateness of the idea of the call and the quality of the application is carried out preliminary acceptance. This preliminary acceptance is carried out after the employees of the Fund confirm that all the necessary documents (summary, budgets, etc.) have been provided. Once the list of preliminary candidates has been accepted, applications are submitted to the committee.
Do you have an obligation to analyze the ownership of the capital of the applying companies, their financial condition and to assess their political eligibility?
– The use of the word obligation is interesting. As a committee, each of us is entrusted with a responsibility that makes us both legally and morally responsible for the proper use and payment of money Republic of Northern Macedonia / World Bank / FITD.
We are entrusted to use our expertise, assessment and most importantly the discretion on behalf of the fund and its agents. These expertises and assessments are of course also used in assessing ownership, financial stability and potential problems with “politically exposed persons”. This assessment is crucial to ensure that funds are allocated in a deserved and fair manner.
You have rich experience in different countries. How do you assess the atmosphere in the field of investments and technological development in the country?
– Northern Macedonia as a country through its people has many qualities that offer a fruitful basis for entrepreneurial activities. My involvement in this committee has opened my eyes to the many people and organizations that contribute to nurturing and supporting these community activities. This is especially noticeable in young people.
I have witnessed the selfless efforts of those who offer their time, wealth or talent and promote entrepreneurial activities. It is well known that there is a strong positive relationship between the rate of entrepreneurial activity and economic development in a country. As a result, the atmosphere in the field of investments and innovative activities in the Republic of Northern Macedonia is certainly positive and a bright future lies ahead.
In which segments of the innovation process is the country making the most progress?
– The purpose of innovation is to stimulate economic growth to create new jobs and to generate overall prosperity. Innovation is a “clash” of people and their ideas, combined with opportunities, where commercial criteria determine success. Conflict is ultimately a process of “creative destruction” of existing products and ways of doing business and replacing them with new ones. The country has a unique opportunity to take advantage of this “creative destruction” in the field of technology and the revolution that is currently taking place.
While technology is a broad field, few businesses will survive in the future without linking the economic benefits of new technologies to the functional areas of business related to their industries. The age, motivation and work ethic of the population in Macedonia, combined with the level of education, cheap labor market and overall security of the country offers a fertile basis for future prosperity. The segments would range from innovation in the supply chain to robotics… Northern Macedonia offers relatively cheap but highly qualified staff in the field of computer science and engineering due to which the forecasts for the future are positive in the upcoming achievements in the field of technology.
What can be predicted for the future of the country in terms of market, youth and innovation?
– Given the current situation, the world is facing a crisis that has not been seen, I will say that with every crisis there is always an equalizing force that brings us back to prosperity. Also, with every crisis comes opportunity. Although I think few have accepted our new reality, there are so many positive means in its favor that it can transform creative culture and move it towards prosperity. The “fuel” is in the youth, education, resourcefulness, determination… all that is needed is a spark and a little patience.
How do you assess the work of the Fund for Innovation and Technological Development?
– I am satisfied with the work of the committee so far in selecting the projects that have been given financial support through the Fund and the World Bank. Imagine the difference between offering incentive packages to government organizations that distribute funds based on political agendas versus strategically creating an organization (Fund) that rewards people with healthy business ideas. The process of getting financial aid by articulating and proving these sound business principles is a brilliant and creative way to secure the most deserving and highly qualified financial rewards. Through this process, I hope that the fruits of the investments and the methods used will be shown in abundance in the coming years.