Bregu: Harnessing innovation will enable women economic empowerment RCC Reveals Winners of the 2023 Regional Butterfly Innovation Award

12 December 2023

Winners of the regional Butterfly Innovation Award 2023 with RCC Secretary General Majlinda Bregu and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria Mariya Gabriel, in Sofia on 12 December 2023 (Photo: Mario Tcvetkov)

Winners of the regional Butterfly Innovation Award 2023 with RCC Secretary General Majlinda Bregu and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria Mariya Gabriel, in Sofia on 12 December 2023 (Photo: Mario Tcvetkov)

RCC Secretary General Majlinda Bregu, and Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Mariya Gabriel present the awards to the winners  

Sofia – The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) revealed the winners of the 2023 Regional Butterfly Innovation Award, at a ceremony RCC organized with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, held in Sofia today. “Congratulations - we hope the Butterfly Innovation Award supports you in navigating challenging markets. Several of last year’s awardees have enhanced their solutions and consider expanding into new markets and I hope this Award will give a successful impetus to your innovative products as well,” said RCC Secretary General, Majlinda Bregu, on this occasion.  

The winners in six categories are: 

  • In category Industry Innovation Award: Team AgAR, from Serbia, for an autonomous agricultural robotic unmanned ground vehicle to redefine the landscape of farming. 
  • In category Women Innovation Award: Team Kungul, from Albania for a mobile app providing crucial information on potential carcinogens, allergens, and harmful chemicals in cosmetics and offering healthy alternatives.
  • In category Green Innovation Award: Team PowerWheel from North Macedonia, for power-wheels harnessing rolling motion of luggage, shopping carts, hospital beds, and baby strollers to power electronic devices. 
  • In category STEM innovation award: Montenegrin Team Flourish, for a digital coach focused on affordable emotional intelligence development, utilising interactive, personalised, and gamified exercises to enhance emotional intelligence. 
  • In category University Innovation Award: Kosovan team Robotic Hand for the robotic hand crucial for functional prosthetics
  • In category Youth: Team QManager from Bosnia and Herzegovina for a queue management system designed for increasing efficiency across various administrative offices, including banks, city administration centres, and service hubs. 

“Investment in research and Development (R&D) in our region remains quite low - less than 1% of the GDP while in EU the figure is 2.3%. To fulfil the promise of today’s smart machines, policies need to be smart too.  As part of the EU's new Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, a regional pre-accelerator focusing on deep-tech will be launched soon. We're delighted to see our efforts bearing fruit. We also aim for a segment of this initiative to support early-stage innovation teams beyond deep-tech,” added Bregu

Western Balkans have changed a lot in the last decades. The global competition on innovation and digital transformation is the new niche, but unfortunately, WB innovation performance is below 70% of the EU's. The Global Innovation Index 2023 ranks our economies between 53rd and 84th place. 

“On the other hand, the region is performing well when it comes to STEM. The share of women in STEM occupations is above 40%, and this is another reason, very close to my heart, why innovation is so important for ours societies. It leverages women strengths. Harnessing innovation will enable women to participate in the digital economy and gain access to digital services which is essential for economic empowerment. We just came to the end of the yearly campaign of 16 days of activism against the gender-based violence. There is one gold star truth in this story: economically independent women can escape the cycle of violence,” concluded Bregu. 

The RCC is set to unveil soon an online platform aimed at connecting accomplished women in STEM with aspiring young professionals – a pivotal step within RCC’s Regional Network of Women in STEM.

“The Butterfly Innovation Awards are a celebration of creativity, ingenuity and engagement towards innovation. They show how we can build an ecosystem where innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, young people and women innovators work together for the benefit of the region. I urge all participants to identify the strengths of their region so we can show that the Western Balkans can transform regional challenges into opportunities. Talents, investments, turning ideas into reality: this is Europe," said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria Mariya Gabriel.

Ms Gabriel thanked Ms Bregu for engagement and commitment leading to remarkable achievements we are celebrating today. 

The Regional Butterfly Innovation Award kicked started last year in the margins of the EU-WB Ministerial Meeting on Research, Innovation, Education, and Skills - hosted by Ms Gabriel, at that time in the capacity of the EU Commissioner. 

This year, we received 87 remarkable entries across six categories. Notably, the Industry category led with nearly one-third of submissions, closely followed by the Green and Women categories. Moreover, we observed a remarkable diversity in ideas, spanning from FoodTech to circular economy concepts, from molecular modeling to EdTech innovations. Markedly, nearly half of all submissions centered on digital solutions, signaling a promising trajectory towards a digital transition.

Bregu and Gabriel held a bilateral meeting earlier today discussing future cooperation not just in innovation but in other regional cooperation agendas, as Bulgaria is a staunch supporter of collaboration in South East Europe and one of the most active participants of the RCC.

The Butterfly Innovation Award is part of the “Regional Innovation Area” of the Common Regional Market Action Plan (2021-2024).  The initiative was established in 2021 to encourage and promote innovative, scalable, and market-based solutions from the Western Balkans. The purpose of the Butterfly Innovation Award is to promote innovation culture in the Western Balkans through showcasing successful innovative achievements and empowering sensitive groups such as youth and women. Ultimately, it aims to support the Western Balkans’ economic development by embracing digital transformation and fostering environmental sustainability. 

More info on the Award
Speech by RCC Secretary General