From Pioneer to Head Coach at Young Innovators in Slovenia

© Photo by Ana Šuligoj | Panovec, January 2021 

In 2019, Slovenian pioneer Maja Vrčon completed her Pioneers placement in the Spanish EIT Climate-KIC office in Valencia. Following her positive Pioneers experience and encouragement by her mentor Marta Esteve, Maja decided to propose the Young Innovators programme to Slovenian partner Co.Not – they were accepted and invited Maja to become Head Coach, helping implement Young Innovators in Slovenia. Maja was also accepted into the Network of Climate Coaches in 2020.

I enjoyed every second of my time at Pioneers and the programme exceeded my expectations. The Valencian EIT Climate-KIC team was very welcoming, caring and open to helping. Moving into my role as Head Coach for the Young Innovators programme in Slovenia, I am happy to have become an integral part of a community I wanted to get more involved in.

Maja Vrčon, Pioneer 2019, Young Innovators Slovenia Head Coach 2020

Maja Vrčon was already familiar with EIT Climate-KIC before applying to the Pioneers programme in 2020. “I was involved in the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme (EIT RIS) with a Slovenian start-up and had participated in some interesting workshops in Frankfurt, as well as organising Climathon for two years in Slovenia. I heard about Pioneers from Slovenian partner Co.Not and decided to apply because I was keen to learn more about climate change innovation and develop my coaching skills in a new environment.” 

Maja completed a placement at the EIT Climate-KIC office in Valencia. She had already lived in Spain for the Erasmus and Free Mover programmes during her university years and had participated in the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme. Therefore, going to Valencia for Pioneers felt like “coming home” for Maja: “Climate-KIC is a great community to be a part of. One of my main motivations for participating in Pioneers was to work in a larger organisation as my previous professional experiences were in smaller organisations, start-ups and NGOs. I wanted to see how bigger organisations handled communications and other challenges.”

“During my placement I learned a lot about the benefits of strategic thinking and how communications are implemented in a big organisation,” adds Maja. “I also understood better how Climate-KIC is structured – it was an organised environment which offered many opportunities to Pioneers participants.”

For the Pioneers Group Project, Maja’s team used the Visual toolbox for system innovation to focus on how easily mobility data from the Slovenian city of Maribor could be accessed and combined in one place. “The tools helped us uncover how strongly stakeholders, challenge and context were interconnected and how many problems and opportunities could arise from this case. It was an extremely complex challenge which all cities face and each area has its own transport services and project stakeholders,” said Maja. “We analysed the solution provider market and suggested which tools would be better suited for Maribor. We wanted to try and make a new, user-friendly platform to enable Maribor municipality to predict which transport is most used and how to better combine mobility in the city,” she added. 

The networking opportunities offered by Pioneers were beneficial and Maja said her mentor Marta Esteve, “was especially supportive and the best Communications Manager I’ve worked with.” Marta also encouraged Maja to participate in different Climate-KIC programmes in Valencia, where Maja assisted different coaching and training sessions as observer so she could learn more. Another person who supported Maja during Pioneers was José Manuel Martín Corvillo from the EIT Climate-KIC Transition hub: “José Manuel definitely inspired me, he was always there to share his knowledge and expertise and help me with my next steps,” she adds.

After completing Pioneers, Maja decided to propose the Young Innovators programme to Co.Not. Aimed at 12-18 pupils, Young Innovators supports climate innovation by helping teachers, giving them tools to empower young people. The programme also organises Young Climathon, an intensive, workshop-like experience for participants to address barriers and discuss solutions for local climate change challenges. Maja had heard about the programme from her mentor Marta Esteve and thought Co.Not would be a good fit.

Co.Not was accepted into Young Innovators, invited Maja to become Head Coach and she is now helping implement the Young Innovators programme in Slovenia: “Before Pioneers, I was already coaching with NGOs, running workshops and other events. I didn’t know about Young Innovators until my mentor told me about the programme.” Maja adds: “I was delighted to become Head Coach for Young Innovators and while most of work was online this year, it felt natural. Before joining Pioneers, I already had my own company, so I am used to being a remote worker and was already familiar with many e-learning tools such as Miro.”

In 2020, Maja successfully applied to join the Network of Climate Coaches, which has provided her with new opportunities to connect with fellow Climate-KIC peers. Maja was also contracted as a Head Coach for the EIT Skills for Future programme, which is focused on spurring innovation and entrepreneurship to overcome some of Europe’s greatest challenges. Alongside coaching, Maja is also completing a Diploma of Specialization in Sustainability, Environmental Ethics and Environmental Education in a combined study between Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) and Universidad Autónoma Madrid (UAM).