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Creating sustainable change in the basque country and europe

Change is on the agenda like never before. In the short term, organisations must deal with the continuing uncertainties related to economic recession and inflation, security issues, the energy crisis, the constantly looming pandemic, and the rise of China. And for the long term, even more challenges are piling up.Two of the key long-term challenges are:

  1. The sustainability wave is transforming our It is no longer just a nice-to-have feature but a critical element that must be thought into all aspects of our lives, from how we treat the planet to how we manage our businesses and how we behave towards other people. The Basque Country is well-positioned to become a sustainability leader in Europe, already experienced in transforming its competitive model and now having to do it again. Technology, innovation, and entrepreneurs- hip will play significant roles along the way, along with the willingness to become front-runners.
  2. Talent attraction and inclusive growth. Attracting talents across all sectors of society are necessary, as is the goal of creating growth and inclusive work-life To ensure this, the rethinking of education and the adaptation of working culture to future generations’ needs will be essential. Sustainability will play an important part both in attracting purpose-driven talents and creating new jobs that support the sustainable transformation of society.


In 2021, the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies and BMASI led a scenario process initiated and sponsored by BBK. Part of this process was to identify the key battles the region must win to unleash its considerable potential, solve current societal challenges, and grasp some of the unique opportunities that come with being a region founded in high social cohesion, a strong welfare system, next-level innovation, and proud history of resilience and growth.

Over the last couple of decades, Bilbao has gone from having heavy industry crowding the riverbank, to become a culture and service-based modern metropolis. The city’s purpose has simply changed. But what will be defining and driving Bilbao, Bizkaia, and the Basque Country in the future? The scenarios, that was built with BBK, BMASI Strate- gy, and other stakeholders, were for the next five-ten years for the Basque Country and the core uncertainties identified were the political and macroeconomic climate coming out of the Covid-19 crisis and whether changes in the local society would be driven by bottom-up or be top-down initiatives.

One thing is certain: Incremental innovation is not enough moving forward – trans- formative, radical innovation is needed. Both in terms of reaching the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but also for moving the Basque Country further in the right direction. Talent –the attraction, retention, and education of such– is the unifying force that is going to push the Basque Country forward. A key success factor will be to strengthen the educational system to improve the foundation that the society will continue to be built on through striving for excellence and international refe- rence and to advance desired values, promote entrepreneurship, and lifelong learning.


However, the Basque Country is facing some challenges when it comes to these fields. While the country’s unemployment rate of about 8,3%1 in Q3-2022 is relatively good compared to Spain’s 12.67% (highest in the EU)2, it falls short on an EU scale, where the average is 6,0%3
. There are positive signs to track with regards to Basque youth unemployment (aged 16 to 29) decreasing from 23,9% in 2020 to 14,8% in 2022-Q24
. Definitely a move in the right direction, but it is something to keep a track to avoid a whole generation facing challenges in breaking into the job market and ultimately, generate value for the Basque economy. Since the transformation from an industrial to a service economy, job security has become more volatile, the impact exacerbated by Covid-19 and the increase in the number of people living in uncertain conditions is a cause for concern. There is a need for more inclusive education and talent attraction, not just from Spain, but from all the EU and the rest of the world, combined with new ways of teaching.

Some of the problems that needs to be addressed are: The current low job security and declining competitiveness of Basque universities, a Basque brain drain of talent fleeing the region, as well as apathy-induced lower professional ambition among parts of the younger generations. Ambition is the fuel of entrepreneurship, and a generation of purpose-driven, skilled talents might be lost in the futile attempt to maintain a pre-pandemic status quo. Going all-in on sustainability could both  be  beneficial  for the economy and for attracting Gen Z who is driven by purpose.

Putting markets and indeed all of society on a more sustainable path might be the key to unlocking the potential of young people. Not only to create new jobs but also to be seen as frontrunners internationally with regards to sustainability. Thus, the question is: Will we in the coming ten years see the Basque Country be part of the group of frontrunners, or will sustainability rather be seen as a hygiene factor (one amongst many others)?


Sustainable entrepreneurship starts with passionate people seeing opportunities, where others see problems. The market changes in a world aiming for a zero CO2-emission future should be seen as an enormous opportunity that will help spur innovation. The entrepreneurial spirit needs to be reenergized within society and this takes a strong ecosystem for financing, incubating, and growing new ventures. At the same time, the theoretical know-how that the educational system teaches will need to be complemented with more practical experience and an effort to adapt to the real new   needs of companies in a “sustainable future”. One way to achieve this is to create an education system with a more forward-looking curriculum that looks at skills that will be key in the future, such as tech literacy and soft skills. Lifelong learning will also be fundamental. You should not stop learning when you graduate, but rather be provided continuous upskilling and reskilling. Such a transformation will not just create a foundation for innovation and a green transition but will also make the region attractive both for local and international students.

The right talent is needed to drive this new transformation and talents can come from everywhere. What attracts people to the Basque Country is the possibility to live a good, healthy life with a wonderful culture and cuisine, beautiful nature, leading STEM expertise, and world-class welfare. But what is the future good life in the Basque Country? And what could make locals stay and attract outside talents? The workplace and working culture are good places to start. No one knows the best recipe for a good work-life and workspace in the future yet, but everything suggests that distance and hybrid work is here to stay (with ‘hybrid’ meaning a mix of working from home and at the office) along with the need for increased flexibility. Young people today would like to work for companies that are purpose-driven and  emphasize  sustainable  practices from supply chain to working culture5. The Basque society is in a good position to compete for talent, and it should therefore further invest in improving these conditions.


Partnerships across sectors will be key to unlocking future prosperity. But it will be necessary for everyone from the public sector and NGOs to academia and businesses to give something, without expecting “anything in return”. In this regard, trust is the key ingredient in making successful partnerships.

The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies together with BMASI has visited BBK Kuna, the new SDG-centre. As a social innovation space, it is working to connect different stakeholder groups around a common purpose and creating shared value for society at large, which is a step in the right direction. For the Basque Country, just as for Denmark, the ambition must be to move from merely talking about challenges to taking concrete actions to solve these challenges, seize opportunities and build better societies. While the task looks insurmountable in the middle of an upheaval, uncertain- ty, and complexity, the Basque Country has proven its resilience over centuries and transformed itself before. So why not do it again?

Written by:
Carsten Beck, Director of research at CIFS*
Mathias Behn Bjørnhof, Advisor & Futurist at CIFS*
Monika Volgyi, Junior Associate at CIFS*

(*) CIFS – Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies

(1) Unemployment in the Basque country. mous-communities/basque-country.
(2) Unemployment in Spain. 1248-q2-2022-10-27/
(3) EU unemployment rate. statistics
(4) Youth unemployment in the Basque Country. tory-the-youth-unemployment-rate-between-16-and-29-years-of-age-stabilizes-below-15/r57-portcont/en/

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