EmpowerUs project launched to enable coastal communities to act for change


The European Union has launched an exciting new research project to empower coastal communities to transition towards more sustainable, inclusive and resilient coastal development.

EmpowerUs (Socio-economic Empowerment of coastal communities as users of the sea to ensure sustainable coastal development) is a €6 million project that launched under the EU Horizon Europe Programme on 1st October 2022 and will run for three years.

Atlantic Technological University (ATU) leads the development of the GIS-based digital empowerment solution and co-lead work package in relation to the use of nature-based solutions to empower communities towards social innovation.

EmpowerUs ATU Principal Investigator, Dr Salem Gharbia, the leader of the EmpowerUs GIS-based digital solution development said:

“Challenges facing the coastal communities and cities are massive and will severely impact societies if no adaptive empowerment mechanisms to be established and activated. The need to establish digital twining solutions is crucial to activate the collaboration and co-creation principles between all the communities to act together on climate challenge and enhance the social innovation”

Coastal communities face many challenges including extreme weather associated with climate change, rising sea levels, tourism pressures, changing fisheries and traditional industries and how to adapt to sustainable economic development. Recognising that these complex challenges require multiple, integrated solutions, EmpowerUs is a multidisciplinary, collaborative project that will support coastal communities in their transition to becoming more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

Working with local, regional, national and international stakeholders, EmpowerUs will cocreate, pilot and evaluate Tailored Empowerment Programmes to support coastal communities in their transformation towards becoming more sustainable.

The Programmes will include a portfolio of flexible, transdisciplinary tools to support social innovations that increase socio-economic resilience, well-being and job opportunities for a diverse range of community members, ensuring that nobody is left behind. In addition, practical guidance on implementing nature-based solutions to address environmental problems will enable communities to take ownership of their climate resilience.

The Programmes will be implemented across a network of six pilot sites located in Bulgaria (Burgas Province), Cyprus (Eastern Limassol Region), Finland (Åland Islands), Ireland (West Coast), Norway (North), and Spain (Northwestern Mediterranean). Tools from the Empowerment Programmes will be shared for free on a digital platform so that all coastal communities in Europe and beyond can adapt and apply the lessons learned to their own sites.

EmpowerUs project coordinator, Dr Maiken Bjørkan, Research Professor at Nordlandsforskning AS, said: “Living by the sea, I’ve witnessed first-hand the social, economic and environmental challenges faced by coastal communities. To solve these problems, we have to work together. Merging the multidisciplinary background of the EmpowerUs team together with the lived experience and expertise of community members will be a powerful combination. I’m excited to get the project underway!”

EmpowerUs is led by Nordlandsforskning AS (NRI), Norway, and brings together 16 partner organisations from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland Spain and the UK. The project will create European leadership in the socio-economic empowerment of users of the sea in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the EU Green Deal and Paris Agreement.

The inaugural EmpowerUs partner meeting was held in Barcelona on 4th and 5th October.