BRIDGE project – cross-border cooperation without crossing borders

Translated from: Rajat ylittävää yhteistyötä ilman rajojen ylittämistä, Lapin Kansa 14.8.2020

The pandemic situation has messed up the plans and hopes of millions of people around the world. The international BRIDGE project also faced challenges caused by Coronavirus pandemic which it successfully overcame.

But what is the BRIDGE project? And how has the exceptional situation in the world affected its operations?

The overall goal of the project is to support the employment of educated job-hunters by building a common training platform for universities and SMEs. It gives companies the opportunity to solve business problems as well as meet potential employees and allow students to meet potential employers and demonstrate their skills by producing innovative ideas and solutions.

The project involves five partners from three countries: the main coordinator is UiT – the Arctic University of Norway, and the other co-implementers are Lapland University of Applied Sciences, Murmansk Arctic State University, Petrozavodsk State University and ITMO University (St. Petersburg). Students and coaches from these educational institutions are organized into international teams in which they work on cases. Each project partner is responsible for one semester where new students and local commissioners are invited to join in to collaborate.

The project has so far carried out two innovation workshops: the first one was in Tornio and the second one in Vardø, Norway. The new spring semester 2020 started as usual: students were divided into teams, and they began to study the background of the given assignments. In early March, everyone was packing their suitcases excitedly waiting for a trip to attend a workshop at Murmansk Arctic State University, where preparations were in full swing.

The worsening of the Сoronavirus pandemic situation created obstacles: countries began to close their borders and set up travel restrictions, making travelling abroad impossible. These actions created a great uncertainty for the project about the implementation of the Murmansk workshop. Should the event be completely canceled or postponed? Is it possible to organize the semester in a different way? The answer was found nearby: why not organize workshop events and meetings entirely remotely? This is in keeping with the project objective which is to create a network platform for companies and university students from different countries. Therefore, in the future, the communication between stakeholders will be only online.

However, the Russian project partners pressed on to work in teams face-to-face being physically present in Murmansk, while the Lapland UAS’s students and coaches joined the meetings using various digital tools. Despite technical, social, intercultural, and other difficulties, the Murmansk session went smoothly. The team members got to know each other and their commissioners better, discussed tasks, controversial issues and plans, and defined follow-up actions. The project partners and organizers did their best, thus the organized events were implemented as planned.

In May, the student teams presented the business ideas and solutions they had developed. Positive feedback from commissioners, students, and coaches proved that the decision made in an exceptional situation was the right one. Everything turned for the best. The organizers and participants assured from their own experience that cross-border co-operation can be successful even without crossing the border.

In addition to the feedback from the participants, the successful implementation of the project event was greatly appreciated, as the project was awarded The project of the month by the financier Kolarctic Cross Border Cooperation (CBC) 2014–2020 program.

In the BRIDGE project, with a hope we are looking forward – to a future where the next similar semester awaits. In the fall, students will help representatives of the Petrozavodsk business. The workshop will be again held remotely, but this time the participants will no longer have any uncertainty. Now we know that everything is going to be fine.