INITIATE is a project that aims to empower higher education institutions to develop R&I through institution transformation. INITIATE, in its widening dimension, seeks to raise excellence in science and knowledge valorisation of Europe’s universities through cooperation and knowledge circulation. Through stakeholder inclusion and co-design approach, INITIATE will design an approach for institution transformation that will reflect on the current needs and resources of the institution, external elements such as policy barriers, good practices from other initiatives and identification of possible collaboration areas with other institutions including local ecosystems. Through iterative process and R&I Labs supported by online tools such as Knowledge Hub, INITIATE will generate policy recommendations for helping stimulate R&I development and scientific excellence in Widening countries, in addition to research outputs and creation of joint applications for other funding sources (e.g. Horizon Europe). The approach will be demonstrated in Croatia, Portugal and north Macedonia. This will finally result in a roadmap for long term uptake of R&I in Widening countries with identified replication cases and forming of the Alliance for green energy transition that will assure the long-term sustainability of INITIATE results. The action focuses on universities in Widening countries, in which the cases for the implementation of INITIATE approach will be conducted. Additionally, the project aims to achieve several outcomes, including the successful institutional reform and upgrade of higher education institutions in the R&I dimension, empowerment to be actors of change, and the mainstreaming of a culture of excellence in science and value creation amongst higher education institutions, particularly in less research-intensive institutions and countries. To achieve these outcomes, the project will engage universities as well as local ecosystems.