Interviews - June 30, 2022
Our Experts are at the heart of the Solar Impulse Foundation, playing a vital role in assessing Solutions seeking the Efficient Solution Label. The Expert Community is made up of highly experienced people from science, engineering and business, with representation from over 50 countries.
Each month we recognise the hard work of an Expert who has gone above and beyond in their role. We are pleased to announce that the Expert of the Month for July is Paola Amato! Since she joined the Expert Community, Paola has really impressed with her high quality assessments and scrutiny of prospective Solutions.
In this article, we hear more about Paola's experiences and expertise.
Please share something about yourself!
I come from a very multicultural family that put education and culture at the centre of life. Although I still maintain a sound STEM background (I am an architect/engineer), as a kid/teen I was encouraged to learn several languages and to study with equal commitment several disciplines ranging from philosophy, literature, history, math. Even though it is unusual for an Italian of my generation, English was and remains my first language, as I learned it from the early age from my grandmother who was an interpreter of Russian, French and English languages and among the few women attending the Oriental Studies University in Naples in the 1920s. This kind of background has helped shape my professional life, facilitated by the fact that today I master English, Spanish, Japanese, French and understand Portuguese. It also helped me to take on different professional roles that would be important to become an expert and an evaluator for the EC and other international donors. I think the biggest endeavour that has helped me and still is an asset in my professional life is my Japanese experience: I acquired oral and nonverbal communication skills in a very tough and stimulating environment, working in Japan for a research institute (Building Research Institute) that fell under the Ministry of Construction. This institute, beyond promoting pure research, produced the technical norms approved by the Japanese Diet (Parliament). Being a scientist in Japan required steel nerves, patience but also immense diplomacy and competences in technical issues. We European researchers, selected by the EC via competitive calls for experts, were proudly called by the EC Delegation in Tokyo as the “EC ambassadors of Science in Japan”, which came as a big honour but also carried big responsibilities.
What is your area of expertise and profession?
Across my professional career, I have covered various positions: Programme officer, research auditor, expert in monitoring and evaluation, researcher, technical advisor for the Embassy of Japan in Italy, urban practitioner, project and financial expert of EU projects, civil servant. In such roles, I have worked in integrated urban sustainable development and governance, public management, state aid and financing structures in EU countries. I have also gained a solid experience in the drafting of comprehensive and sectorial urban/territorial plans and related regulatory frameworks/codes specifically in risk prevention and management, non-energy extractive industry planning, water planning/management, renewable energy sources planning and regulations, climate change planning, sustainable management/planning of coastal areas.
You have a MSc and professional licence in Architecture but seem to have also ventured in other disciplines. How did you develop your interest for sustainability-related topics?
I have gained a broader perspective on sustainability, not only on a technical point of view, but more importantly working on 2 other aspects that I deem relevant, and which are often overlooked by people with a STEM background. The first responds to the question: which are the legal implications of the legislation - be it national/international as the EU Acquis – its impact and concrete applications over governance, territories, and the local communities? The second implies to be able to communicate and make a point to help innovation be understood and adopted, which requires acquiring and constantly develop good communication skills.
Having said that, I have taken interest in sustainability very early on in my educational and professional life and this, as I still maintain, thanks to a multidisciplinary interest I have always nurtured, and which indeed represents an asset now being an expert and evaluator. Along with a MSc and professional licence as Architect, I took and completed in 2019 a 2-year Master at the School of Law of Rome2 Tor Vergata University in “Lobbying, EU and national legislation, anticorruption”. This master, in primis, has helped me understanding how EU policy originates and which are the pre-negotiation and post negotiation phases that bring a law to be concretely implemented on a given territory and a community.
More recently I have entered a PhD in Energy&Sustainability at the University of Perugia (CIRIAF Dept of Engineering), after passing an Italian national selection to access doctoral studies.
As a restless learner with a concrete interest in communication, last year I attended a course in “Rhetoric and the art of public speaking” promoted by Harvard University (edX Platform). In this course we studied speeches by the likes of Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, and many other personalities of opposed political views. It goes without saying that taking this course has increased my capacity to better communicate and champ off new ideas to specific audiences or to the large public, which I believe is essential today for an expert when dealing with complex issues such as sustainability. These are all skills that I am so enthusiast to share with Solar Impulse and specifically with the Innovators within the “Chatbox” that I found of extreme interest.
How did you start your journey as an Evaluator for the European Commission?
I have been an evaluator since many years now, starting from my early career as research auditor and Programme Officer for an Italian research institution. As researcher in Japan, I happened to assess some important urban plans located in decentralised remote cities which was such a rewarding task, as most plans had been designed by famous Arch-stars.
In the past years I have been evaluator for the European Commission in the frame of H2020 and Marie Curie, for the Eureka Association and for other international donors such as the UK National Commission for UNESCO; the latter was in the frame of the Newton Prize for excellent research with, among other, countries such as China, the Philippines but also Jordan and South Africa. Today I have other assignments with EU institutions in the frame of Horizon Europe which gives me a clear picture of how innovation and entrepreneurship are lively and soundly supported by the EU, despite unjust claims on the part of the most populistic fringes present these days in some Member states.
Since you joined the Expert Community you have completed quite a number of Assessments! Which Solutions among the ones that you have assessed impressed you for their impact?
Notwithstanding my specific preference for certain innovations proposing new RES (renewable energy sources) or increasing air quality, I have been in general impressed by the high quality of the solutions submitted by companies; a proof that there is both enormous commitment on the part of the Solar Impulse Foundation in identifying sustainable solutions with a high degree of innovation and in providing a true support to the applicant companies whose products represent a concrete benefit for our environment and societies.
I must say that Solar Impulse has a very interesting application process but also a way to productively connect the evaluator and the Innovator through a continuous dialogue via the chat box which is quite a plus. I found it extremely useful because it can clarify aspects that the evaluator deems important and which often has to do, as in my case, with compliance with certain policy/normative frameworks especially in the EU market and with making more explicit, on the part of the company, the potential long-term societal benefits/impacts that the innovation can generate.
I must also say that, for most part, I am particularly impressed by solutions proposed by European companies that take sustainability very seriously and that have invested quite a lot in human and financial resources. For one aspect you can tell that EU SMEs work in a good legal and normative framework, which reflect the clear synergy among EU and Member states in producing and maintaining a complex Acquis to support sustainable technologies and ideas. In addition, most of them have such a good ability to communicate their innovation, as also proof that they are used to get funding from EU and national sources, and so they know how to better present their innovation.
What are your hopes for the Labelled Solutions, and the Solar Impulse Foundation more widely?
I have joined the Solar Impulse community after carefully reading a call for experts published by the European Commission and listening to some presentations by Mr Bertrand Piccard on the challenging mission of the Foundation and the pressing needs to deliver concrete solutions for the environment. I have also noticed that the cooperation with the EC and its institutions have enriched the quality of the assessment and made a preferential access with some of EIC EU funding. I must also say that Solar Impulse remains unique in its evaluation, as of course it is not a public bid but an open process where all parties can gain benefits and enrich their own skills.
Anything else you would like to share?
I am particularly impressed by the Solar Impulse staff, all young and motivated and I wish an ever-closer cooperation with the EC and its institutions on reaching ambitious goals to continue supporting sustainable solutions.
Interested in becoming an Expert with the Solar Impulse Foundation? Find out more here.