Sharing best practices is key to create a more innovative Europe
CategoriesEU Project Innovation Policy

We invite you to get to know Anita Tregner-Mlinaric, one of META Group’s experts, as we discuss industry trends and her work as an innovation expert.

In this article, we invite you to get to know Anita Tregner-Mlinaric, one of META Group’s experts, as we discuss industry trends and her work as an innovation expert. Anita is a Senior Advisor and has been with the company for over 10 years. She has extensive professional experience across multiple sectors and the professional experience gained in the international environment (UNDP, OSCE, U.S. Embassy, USAID, META Group, European Commission).

Anita is originally from Croatia and is known within the team as a light-hearted, friendly, and supportive colleague. She is also a fitness addict who loves to dance and travel.

What does your professional journey look like, Anita? What led you to this profession and eventually to META Group?

Initially, I was supposed to venture into the tourism sector as this was supposed to be my professional vocation. Nonetheless, life took me in a different direction. After the war in Croatia, numerous international organizations started to appear in the region. I spent more than ten years working for several international organisations in Croatia and the rest of the Western Balkans. To some extent, our efforts were geared towards preparing Croatia for EU membership. We implemented various programs aimed at enhancing the country’s economic development and competitiveness. Among others, these programs included initiatives to uplift the SME sector and their skills through tailored-made certified training programs.

These experiences not only broadened my network but also allowed me to keep in touch with the institutions and stakeholders I previously worked with, which I am still exploring to identify opportunities for collaboration with META Group. This was a phenomenal journey, filled with diverse projects that allowed me to adapt swiftly to various sectors and programs. My professional role was always related to close collaboration with directors as their “right hand” to ensure the successful implementation of the programmes.

Sharing best practices between member states is key in creating a more unified and innovative Europe

What is your area of expertise and current responsibilities?

From the moment I arrived, I took responsibility of overseeing the implementation of various EU-funded programs that META Group was spearheading. Working alongside Andrea di Anselmo, who, like me, has extensive experience in policy development, we focused on initiatives that were primarily policy related. These were horizontal activities that built capacity across a wide range of fields and that were mostly related to cohesion policy and smart specialization.

We also focused on the capacity building of the newer member states to absorb EU funds in a more strategic manner, empowering them to build their own organizational capabilities and become more successful in utilizing these funds and programmes. While our other projects shared a similar scope, they mainly focused on smart specialization or investment initiatives, all of which were aligned with our mission to empower organizations and individuals to achieve their full potential.

How have innovation policies changed or evolved since the time you entered this sector?

Well, it’s been quite a journey. While some states have always been important players in the innovation space, we have seen some amazing progress in certain countries. EU 13 countries that were previously considered less developed, like Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic, Baltic countries, have really stepped up their game and made impressive strides in their innovation policies.

Of course, there are still some areas that need improvement, but the good news is that EU is taking notice and actively working to address these issues. We’re seeing a shift away from solely relying on structural funds and towards a focus on direct funds, which is a promising development. But there is still much work to be done, and sharing best practices between countries is a key part of achieving success. Ultimately, our goal is to bridge the gap between newer and older member states and create a more unified and innovative Europe.

At the moment, which projects are you currently involved in?

For the past two years, I was assigned as a senior expert and advisor to DG Regional Policy, focusing mainly on cohesion policy. My job has been to advise European regions that have been mobilised and engaged through S3 Partnerships under Thematic Smart Specialisation Platforms (TSSPs) of the European Commission on how to shape their investment projects and steer them towards a strategic approach to progress towards (and depending on) their maturity stage. It’s been a challenging and yet rewarding experience since many of the S3 Partnerships that I have supported have reached the set milestones and needless to say that I’ve learned so much along the way. I was supported along this journey with another expert, Cecilia Gañán de Molina, who was my “partner in crime” that became my close friend due to the intense work and time we have spent together.

This experience has also enabled me to specialize in new instruments and become one of a few consultants with knowledge and experience on the subject, such as ERDF Interregional Innovation Investments (I3) Instrument so I delivered a lot of presentations to inform the regions on this topic.

On the other hand, this also gave us the opportunity to participate in a consortia applying for this type of instrument. We are proud to have been awarded with the I3 project, named DEREMCO, which commenced at the beginning of this year and was among the first group of 11 projects being funded under this instrument

Which are the most challenging aspects of your role?

Finding the right partners to participate in projects may be challenging and it is a crucial aspect not only of receiving funding but also of effectively managing and implementing a project.

What is it like to work as a project manager

Very often you find yourself in a leadership position. What is it like in this field?

One of META Group’s key strengths is our collaborative approach to problem-solving. By working together as a team, we are able to quickly identify and address any issues that arise. It’s important to be proactive in this regard, as timely action can prevent minor challenges from escalating into major problems.

As project managers, we recognize that every project will encounter some level of difficulty or risk. However, our success depends on how effectively we respond to these challenges. By promptly communicating with our colleagues and management, we are able to devise solutions that minimize the impact on the project, its beneficiaries, clients, and stakeholders. Ultimately, this proactive approach helps us ensure that the project stays on track and meets its objectives.

Which is the part that you enjoy the most in your job?

Working with META Group has been an incredible learning experience for me, and I doubt that I would have become an expert of the European Commission if I didn’t have the chance to acquire all this knowledge and experience through the company. I am grateful for the open communication that allows me to seek guidance from my supervisors when needed. Moreover, I am encouraged to take on new challenges and to promote both myself and the company in the process.

As a senior adviser to the European Commission, I have gained valuable experience in evaluating EU-funded projects and providing project reviews. It is gratifying to know that my expertise has been recognized by these institutions, and that I am trusted to make important decisions regarding project funding. It helps to better understand certain processes or policies or to get closer to the policy makers, which in the end is also a pretty big achievement for the company itself. Overall, my time at META Group has enabled me to grow professionally, and I am grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me.

In general, how would you say that META Group helps clients and beneficiaries?

When it comes to clients and beneficiaries, I believe that sometimes being a smaller a medium-size company is a strength, because we can provide tailored services and solutions. We also pay a lot of attention to the quality of the delivery. This acts as a powerful reference so often our partners, clients or beneficiaries return.

Moreover, there is a sort of family feeling within the company that seems to be reflected outside, because we are highly motivated by our work, we appreciate the company and the people we work with, and this gets translated in the way we deliver our services.

For me, this kind of mentorship that I was given by my management and my colleagues is priceless. This helps you to grow professionally and it is something so rare to find in a work environment. I appreciate it a lot. I have been with META Group for over ten years, a testament to the company’s exceptional culture and family-like atmosphere.

What are the trends that you see in your sector right now?

The consultancy sector is constantly growing. But I think companies in this field are faced with a talent retention problem. They are not able to keep skilled people because bigger companies tend to put more pressure on employees. This is impacting the fluctuation of people. There are also cases in which the quality of the service delivery is not always the best due to high work volume and lack of agility. We see that the organisations we work with appreciate our company’s approach.

Could you share with us a nice META memory?

I would mention the way that the company has always been there for me, very receptive in personal issues that I dealt with at times. My mother was very sick fighting with cancer, and I had to go from Brussels, where I have been living, to Croatia and work from there for months while also taking care of her. There was always a lot of understanding for my personal situation, providing support without any prompting.

This kind of professional and private life balance that META Group helps a lot with being motivated and doing your best to be on top of the job. Also, the interaction with colleagues and management. When we have an opportunity to be together and socialize, we always have an amazing time, lots of laughing, while on the other hand, when we work, we are very professional and efficient. It’s a winning combination that makes for an enjoyable and productive work environment.

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