11 February | International Day of Women in Science

11 February marks the International Day of Women (and girls) in Science. Science and innovation are vital for economic growth and tackling societal challenges. However, a significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world (source: UN Women).

Over the years, progress has been made in both countries towards increasing women’s participation in technical education and business. Based on the thought that diverse teams lead to faster innovation for all, the Technical University of Eindhoven launched their Irene Curie Fellowship – which aims to attract talented female scientists. In the UK, initiatives like Women in STEM are breaking stereotypes, with the ultimate goal being to close the gender gap. Furthermore, as of January 2022, European funding applications by researchers will only be considered if they submit a Gender Equality Plan. This applies to all calls within the Horizon Europe program.

The Dutch Embassy in the UK houses the Netherlands Innovation Network in the UK, aiming to foster bilateral science and innovation partnerships between our two countries. The network consists of two women, Marjolein Bouwers (Chief Innovation Advisor) and Lara Neervoort (Innovation Advisor). On the occasion of International Day of Women in Science, we would like to introduce the team.

Image: ©Netherlands Innovation Network UK / Netherlands Innovation Network UK

What are the objectives of the Netherlands Innovation Network UK?

"The Netherlands Innovation Network UK stimulates bilateral collaboration between Dutch and British companies, research institutes and public authorities in the field of innovation, technology and science. We are well connected to the Dutch and UK ecosystems for emerging technologies and are always looking to get in touch with new relevant players to actively broker collaboration. The UK and the Netherlands have complementary strengths when it comes to innovation. We organise targeted visits, e.g. in the field of Quantum, AI and hydrogen to connect Dutch and British stakeholders with potential innovation partners. Another important aspect of our work is to keep demonstrating the importance of the UK as a strategic innovation partner for the Netherlands at large and facilitate policy exchanges."

Could you give us an insight in your background, as well as your daily work as (Chief) Innovation Advisor?

Marjolein Bouwers (Chief Innovation Advisor): "An MA in Science & Technology Studies from Maastricht University, I have a keen interest in the development, dissemination and adoption of emerging technologies in a wider geopolitical context. I have worked on FP7 and Horizon2020 innovation projects and as Chief Representative of the Netherlands trade office in the UK. In my role as Innovation Attaché, I primarily focus on Quantum, semiconductors and policy topics such as economic resilience and the regulation of emerging tech."

Lara Neervoort (Innovation Advisor): "I have a strong interest in how emerging technologies and Big Tech firms impact our society and how to tackle climate change through sustainable innovation. I completed the MSc Digital Business at the University of Amsterdam and the MSc Psychology of Economic Life at the London School of Economics and after working in the City of London I joined the innovation team at the Embassy. In my daily work I mainly focus on sustainable innovation (hydrogen, carbon capture and storage) and how the Netherlands and the UK can work together in this field."

"We are well connected to the Dutch and UK ecosystems for emerging technologies and are always looking to get in touch with new relevant players to actively broker collaboration."

What makes Dutch-British collaboration in research and innovation unique?

"The Netherlands and the UK have been strong research and innovation partners for decades. The EU framework programmes such as Horizon2020 have been a great vehicle for close links between our universities and knowledge institutes. What is more, the UK and the Netherlands have similar mission driven innovation policies and have an excellent research and innovation infrastructure."

Life Sciences & Health

How does Brexit impact Dutch-British innovation collaboration?

"On an institutional level, there is a great desire to maintain strong ties that have been built over many years. We see an appetite on both sides to intensify collaboration between universities and knowledge institutes, but also to capitalise on each other’s strengths in emerging technology fields.

It is undeniably true that the ongoing uncertainties around the UK’s association with Horizon Europe press pause on new valuable research projects with UK partners. The framework programmes have to a large extent proved the funding and mechanisms that were needed to establish many connections. We are hopeful that the association process will soon be finalised."

Any thoughts on gender imbalance in innovation and how do you deal with this issue?

"It is quite a sensitive and complex discussion and we would not be able to do the issue justice with a few one-liners. We are mindful of actively inviting women on our panels and as speakers for events and we use our platform to share concrete initiatives we think can promote gender diversity in the technology & innovation sector. Quantum Delta NL, the Dutch organisation responsible for creating a thriving quantum ecosystem in the Netherlands, has recently introduced a quantum childcare pilot programme that enables women working in the Netherlands to find childcare solutions so they can attend quantum-related events. In the UK, the British Office for AI has just announced a funding of £23 million for AI & data science scholarships for underrepresented groups such as women, people of color and people with disabilities. We feel that these kind of initiatives can make a difference."

"What is more, the UK and the Netherlands have similar mission driven innovation policies and have an excellent research and innovation infrastructure."

What excites you about your job(s)?

"We are dealing with technologies such as AI, Photonics, CCUS and hydrogen that find themselves in stages of development and in some cases (early) adoption. In the case of Quantum, the challenge is even more about finding use cases and application areas. It is really exciting to be part of technologies that are being shaped and simultaneously shaping society. Not only do we look at technology development, but also at the wider regulatory changes, ethics and geopolitical impact.

Of course is it is always very rewarding when we bring over Dutch delegations to summits or for site visits and when you see actual exchanges happen. We are looking forward to organising more in-person meetings and events this year."

Netherlands Innovation Network

How do we stay up-to-date of your activities?

"Please follow our LinkedIn page Netherlands Innovation Network UK to receive weekly updates of the developments in the UK innovation landscape and to stay up to date of the events we are organising. Please also contact us directly via Marjolein.bouwers@minbuza.nl or lara.neervoort@minbuza.nl to discuss opportunities for collaboration."