Marta Bonifert about the importance of international cooperation, the Global Energy Prize and the impact of the pandemic on business networking

Sergey Brilev: Hello, everyone and a very warm welcome to the subscribers of the Global Energy Association. Our chat today is about the global energy of optimism. It’s been a difficult year, but we in our International Award Committee have Marta Bonifert, who is joining us from Budapest. Are you in Budapest, Marta?

Marta Bonifert: I am in Budapest.

Sergey Brilev: (Marta is) someone who’s been surprising me all the time, because when people are pessimists, especially this year during lockdowns and self-isolation, Marta is always smiling, Marta is always pouring ideas and sharing thoughts. So, let’s talk to her. I should also add that Marta is… correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re also a board member of the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum. Am I right?

Marta Bonifert: I was a board member of the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum, even a founding member…but presently I’m involved as vice president of the Institute of Directors of Hungary. So, we have an institute that is focusing on collecting good ideas from business leaders and trying to motivate them for the betterment of our society.

But I’m also the vice president of the European Partners for the Environment, which is a European round table, using different methodologies. We are based also in Brussels, that’s our headquarters and we are trying to bring together businesses at European level, also building partnerships with different regions and using the digital world and the financial sector to build a more prosperous future.

Sergey Brilev: For those of you, who don’t know Marta, just look at her and listen to her, and you realise that even despite the pandemic or, rather, the pandemic does not impede a good sense of humour and this is a worldwide approach, not just a European approach. Has the pandemic changed your way of life as a public figure, now that we conclude the results of this year?

Marta Bonifert: You know I just looked into my calendar and I used to travel a lot, there were  times when I was more out of the country, than inside the country, because that’s the way my job was built up. But what is interesting this year – I was out in January in Austria and then I went to the Cleantech forum to Košice (Slovakia) and after that I was stranded. I didn’t go on holiday to Croatia, I didn’t go to the Korcula school (in Croatia), which was a fantastic event. I didn’t go to Krinitsa, I didn’t go to with you to Beijing or to Granada…

Sergey Brilev: Or Kaluga, where we held our online meeting of the International Award Committee.

Marta Bonifert: Yes, and last but not least, I didn’t end up two weeks ago in Tokyo with the Global Advisory Board. If you ask me, I was very busy, I did a lot of activities online, but I was stranded.

Sergey Brilev: But you’re not depressed, as I can see.

Marta Bonifert: No, no, no. There are a lot of things that you can do and actually I found a different space and if you ask me what will I keep from this for a post-pandemic, definitely, I will not travel that much. Because we decided that for a half-day board meeting, you don’t have to travel for two days. So economically and time-wise, we became much more conscious about our way of life and I think this is –you say, I’m positive. Yes, I’m positive. This is one of the positive effects of the pandemic lockdown.

Sergey Brilev: I can tell you the same about myself. Last year and the year before that, I had 75 flights a year. This year, I haven’t travelled a lot, as everyone hasn’t. I went to South Africa in the beginning of this year, I’ve been to a couple of Russian regions, but if you look at the results of Global Energy last year, we had 39 nominations. This year we had 78. Last year, we had a dozen countries, this year we had 20. So, finally enough, practically enough, the online philosophy has worked. I’m not going to be chained in my office for the rest of my life, but there are things which can be done in this modern way. And I think you and I can honestly, wholeheartedly recommend that people look around themselves and realise that in fact, despite the pandemic, you can still do things.

Marta Bonifert: Yes, that’s true, very true.

Sergey Brilev: My question was intentional, in fact, because the last thing I heard from you a couple of weeks ago was about Tokyo, which we already mentioned, an event organised by the University of Tokyo. You didn’t go, but I understand you’re full of reflections. What was it about? I understand that you are a member of the Global Advisory Board of the University, so what did you talk about?

Marta Bonifert: You know, it’s very interesting that the University gives a mandate to the President for six years, so when president Gonokami Makoto came in, he decided one of the first things to do was to set up a global advisory board. And I became a member since its formation in 2017.

And we had a meeting of the advisory Board every year and there were academicians, there were business people, they were from all parts of the world. What was extremely interesting is that they have reflected their vision and they asked for feedback for it. And out of it came very tangible results, like the Tokyo college, like the Tokyo forum, like the way you engage businesses and build up partnerships. For me one of the questions – I had two questions at the beginning to build the visibility of Tokyo university – was how they use their connections to the alumni.

This is what I also asked from your university MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations), because I think that one of the most important assets of any university is the alumni network and how much you are able to mobilise and involve them and interconnect. The second one is the business network. It came out that of all the prime ministers of Japan, there have been 15 alumni of the university. So you know you start to mobilise, you start to motivate.

And the third one is that young people, the young university students, the researchers, they started to give much more work to them. Now even in the forthcoming Tokyo forum, they have a special panel for youth and they are part of the global achievements and the global activities. I think that that these are very important. And last but not least, you know that I’m also coming from initiatives related to enable women to be much more present in activities and they decided to have 30 percent women in leadership in 2017.

This year, when we reviewed activities that were accomplished, the Tokyo forum is done, the Tokyo college is working, 30 percent gender in the leadership of the Tokyo university is done, but there is a lot to do about it, to enroll more students, to have more academicians and it’s in the pipeline now. And last but not least, you also have some of the new initiatives coming up and this year it was how to spread and increase the financing of the university. And one of the ideas that came up – and I think it’s a great idea for flexibility – is a bond, to issue a 40-year bond. And you know these are things that we discuss, we identify, we reflect, we talk about risk, we talk about opportunities, but it becomes something like a good cooking pot for the future and a little bit, very tangible results come out.

Sergey Brilev: It’s very important what you are saying, because our conversation may look like a chat of two fashionable personalities from Moscow and Budapest, talking about their trips to places like South Africa and Japan.

And now, I especially encourage our viewers in the developing world to listen to what Marta is saying, because thanks to online techniques, in fact, you cut your budgets, but you achieve so many more things on the international stage. And it’s tremendously important this year to be ending this year with a sense that we can do things and we can approach new challenges from totally new angles. Cutting budgets, saving money, but achieving more and more. It’s very important.

By the way, we are now contemplating at Global Energy also, because some of our members, the companies, have their youth programs. Typically, these are internal things and we want to interconnect them with the international science community, including yourself. Marta. I warn you that we’ll have to engage you. They identify their best youth and we could engage with this youth internationally. This is in fact a message to all of our viewers and if you share some of your ideas with the Global Energy Association, please check our new website and share your ideas, send in your emails.

Marta Bonifert: Just one more sentence here. During the recent closedown, I accepted to join the Board of Visegrad (group of four countries in central Europe) for youth SDG (Sustainable Development Goals). It’s a youth platform of the Visegrad countries for promoting sustainable development goals and they are hyperactive and it’s very refreshing to be part of…they have just come out of university or they are still university students from Poland, the Czech Republic,  Slovakia and Hungary. And they are very much interested, involved from different walks of life from policy-making to economy to civil society, but they want to do it together.

Sergey Brilev: To this I could add that within the framework of the Global Energy Association, we decided to also internationalise our Board of Trustees and I’ve been talking to people as different as Mr. (Abdel Didier) Tella from the (Africa Energy Forum) or the former president of Uruguay, Julio Maria Sanguinetti, for them to join our activities and I hope, that in the next year, we’ll have a series of events on the platform of Global Energy and different partners in these developing regions to engage more people to get nominated for global energy.

And also to exchange ideas, because otherwise again this is a unique moment in global history, where we could expand certain arrangements, like the Global Energy Association, which has been traditionally linked to Europe, Asia, the United States, to go beyond to places like Latin America and to Africa. Maybe not every candidate from an African country can immediately become a Global Energy winner, but they can participate in that process. We’ll be bringing expertise to their region and by doing so, will expand the network of the association and of the nominees.

 Marta Bonifert: You know what was very interesting, when I was doing a review recently, it came out that there are a lot of innovative ideas and start-ups in the field of energy in Africa and some of them are driven by women. Or (Latin America), Costa Rica, the Solar Mamas. It would be extremely interesting, because they might not be applied scientists, they might not be traditional researchers, but these are innovative techniques that are helping to have local solutions.

I think it’s quite important, especially like one of this year’s laureates, who was very much involved with the microgrid. Don’t ask me to pronounce his name, because his great name is this long. But the technology that he brought forward with the digital opportunities and microgrids, I think it can bring a lot of extremely important solutions in the developing part of the world, where this could be a good technique for getting the 2030 agenda, providing sustainable energy for all.

Sergey Brilev: I can reveal a little secret to you. I moderate the launch of the COP26 events here in Russia on behalf of the British and Italian governments with the participation of the advisor to the Russian president on the subject and they hope we, as Global Energy, will participate in it.

I should underline the fact that our laureates this year have been from, let’s say, more or less traditional countries – Greece, Italy and the United States –  but among the people who’ve been nominated for the first time ever we had Brazilians, we had Saudis, we have people from Qatar and South Africa, and I’m looking forward to expanding this network even further.

But lastly, because otherwise we’ll tie everyone by optimism and people will think that we’re being artificial. We’re not. But tell me something: We’re now editing a package on behalf of Global Energy with our laureates and members of the International Award Committee, promoting the prize and explaining to people out there why you must nominate your colleagues, why you must support innovations. Why?

Marta Bonifert: You know, for me, it is first of all that the prize is something that evolved during the past decades, because we can say almost two decades plus-minus two, but it became a very important prestigious prize of acknowledgement of work being done. That’s number one.

The second thing is that you become part of a network of scientists that enables you to promote the idea further and to meet people who are alike. That’s number two. The third is visibility and opportunity.

Last, but not least, please forgive me to say, Russia is still in some ways not always so clear about how energy issues are being addressed. And by bringing forward some of these innovative technologies related to solar, related to technologies, lithium batteries, it shows that the openness of the prize to all types of energy from traditional to non-traditional, to technologies and including management.

It brings together a very open platform, it gives visibility, it gives opportunity and last but not least, it connects scientists and enables them to use the techniques. And some of my colleagues from the Global Energy Prize International Committee have spent time, including former laureate Rodney Allam, he spent time with your researchers and to showcase how these technologies could be adapted to some of the areas of your interest. So, adaptability, opportunities of network, working together and, last but not least, it’s marketability, because most of these technologies are on the market and it provides a lot of opportunities for innovative scientists for the future

Sergey Brilev: Well, thank you, Marta. I should add to that, that, yes, I’m very proud that this year we’ve been able to support both the non-conventional, the fashionable non-conventional and conventional energy. It’s important we’re not losing a course on anything.

And, secondly, you’ve just said something which is very close to my heart and which typically produces rather uncomfortable situations, unfortunately, when I talk to a lot of scientists. A lot of scientists think about science – period. Their ambitions include a PhD, yet another book, yet another report, science.

But they don’t have within the list of ambitions, they don’t have an ambition to become an independent director of a company, which runs their science into business. I have to say that in the west this is more of an acceptable notion, but when you talk to scientists in the developing countries and in Russia in such terms, they typically look at you suspiciously, thinking that you are trying to engage them in something which is not theirs. It is theirs.

And what really encourages me, when I talk about the agenda of the Global Energy Association, it is first and foremost a scientific prize. It is about science absolutely, but it is also about creating that network of scientists and companies. When companies look at the scientific achievements and vice versa. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow our laureates will become independent directors of certain companies but it’s there especially for the youth. I think this is one of the most important goals of our activities.

In Hungarian, you say “Budapesht”, right?

Marta Bonifert: We say “Budapesht”, and we say Magyarország, not Hungary.

Sergey Brilev: Well,in Russia we have the advantage, because you know why Russia is called Russia? Because we’re in a constant rush.

Marta Bonifert: That’s good. Well, we are called Magyars because we come from that tribe. 

Sergey Brilev: Yes, it originated from beyond the Urals. I know that. thank you so much. I shouldn’t be saying, ‘let’s keep in touch’. We are in touch and let’s look forward optimistically towards next year.

Marta Bonifert: Yes I’m 100 % sure that with the right remedies and the right approaches we will meet in 2021 in person .Ciao, Do svidanyia. Spasibo bolshoye..

Sergey Brilev: Thank you.


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