A year ago, people I know well and I have great respect of asked me to stand as a judge in something called the European Social Innovation Competition. It is a European Commission initiative; an attempt to honor the memory of the late Diogo Vasconcelos, a dedicated champion of social innovation in Eurospace. I accepted, and learned much in the process. I am honored to announce I was asked to serve as a judge for the second edition, and again I accepted.
My take on this has not changed since last year. I choose to interpret my role as that of a supporter of radical, out-of-the-box-thinking ideas; and, even more so, of unexpected executors of those ideas. A social innovator does not need to fit into the Silicon Valley young genius “gonna change the world” stereotype. Whoever you are, wherever you are (non-EU citizens are also eligible in some cases), you will have my support as long as you have a great idea and are committed to carrying it to the end. I might be unable to wrap my head around your idea – and I certainly might be unable to convince the other ten judges to see it my way – but I promise I will not balk, no matter how disruptive and scary your project is.
You stand to win some money (three projects will be awarded with € 20K each); some mentoring; some recognition. Bring it on, my fellow Europeans: let’s rock the world with our vision and execution. I’ve got your back. Deadline December 11th.
Young Europeans are having trouble completing their transition towards full independence. The problem bites deeper here, because our social model is based on the status of full-time, long term employee, that unlocks important social and economic rights (in France, where I live now, if you don’t work you have no right to health care). This generates tensions, because it forces young people to fight for this status at all costs, even if it got very difficult to obtain and even if many of them would like to explore different roads. Result: 20% of 15-34 years old, in Europe, is not in employment, education or training. It is not even a matter of being young anymore: young people are in the line of fire, but citizens of all ages are losing autonomy.
The paradox is that the currently young generation is probably the most creative, generous, idealist, collaborative ever. Everywhere you look young people are creating, seemingly out of thin air, their own jobs in entirely new businesses like my friends at CriticalCity or the extraordinary twentysomethings at Blackshape Aircraft; they experiment new ways to share resources, from their couches to motor vehicles, or going out to live off the beaten track; others still are building new way to meaningful activism, making their voice heard and matter in an age of crisis of representative democracies. These people don’t know each other, and they act independently; and yet, one can’t help get the feeling that their projects are somehow coherent, as if they were pieces of the same emergent future. The OpenStreetMap 2008 video (above) is of course completely unrelated, but it makes for a great metaphor of this emergence; and it gives me the same feeling of elation and hope.
The Council of Europe has an idea: try to dig out all of these experiences; aggregate them; validate them through peer-to-peer assessment; and use them to propose to the European Commission and its own member states a new strategy. We might call it adaptive; in plain terms, it is about:
figuring out what the young people of Europe are already doing to build the world we will all inhabit in twenty years. The proof of the cake is in the eating: if they struggle so hard to build something, it means they really want it. So that gives you a goal for your policy.
if possible, help them with it, in the sense of creating the conditions for these strategies – that today require a lot of resourcefulness and self-sacrifice, and are de facto accessible only to a minority – become viable for the average young person.
if it’s not possible to help them, get out of their way, by refraining from projecting onto them the social and economic model of the 70s. It is the one most senior European decision makers grew up in, but that does not make it the best or the best suited to this day and age.
This will be done through a web project, characterized by fully open and constructive interaction. Its final result will be presented in a high profile conference, probably in May 2012. I have the honor of managing this project, and the good fortune of having been able to put together a stellar team (I will introduce them in a subsequent post). I need to credit the Social Cohesion Research and Development Division of the Council of Europe for believing in the project, and for the courage demonstrated in rolling out such an open initiative.
The project is called Edgeryders. The platform will launch in late October; for now we have put online a provisional blog to start the conversation. Come say hello, and, if you think we are credible, pass word around: we will need all the wisdom and all the help we can get. And you, and we too, that means all of us are the real experts on future building: we struggle with it every day.
On July 1st I started on a new job with the Council of Europe. There will be time to share just what I am doing here. The point I am trying to make at present is that I have become a migrant again (I spent a couple of years in London in the 90s), joining the growing host of my fellow Italians who decide to pursue their own development abroad. I’m renting an apartment in Strasbourg, on Quai des Bateliers: from my windows I see the cathedral, on the other side of the river.
Hanging out on the Italian side of blogs and social networks I got the idea that many Italians, when they move abroad, slam the door on their way out. I had a sort of tag cloud in my head, where expressions like “stagnating country”, “incompetent ruling class”, “talent is not recognized”, “innovation-averse” hang fluctuating, in large colored letters. But when I thought better about it, actually none of the Italians working abroad I know (and there are many) use these expressions. Sometimes I have noticed a hint of bitter irony in comparing their trajectories in London or Berlin with those of their previous lives in Cosenza or Sassuolo, but it is of course not really fair to compare London with Sassuolo. There are a few world cities, and qualified migrants tend to end up there. Italy has no city of this class, as is true of most European countries. The expressions of this particular tag cloud, I now think, are mostly used by people who have not left Italy, and who feel, right or wrong, underrecognized.
I certainly don’t feel that way. I have no reason to think my talents, if any, have not been recognized in my own country. I moved out firstly because my intellectual development brings me to seek closer interaction with smart people all over the world, and secondly because I am an European patriot; I think Italy makes sense in the context of Europe, and that Europe would be mutilated without Italy, the astounding traction of its civil society, its ability to make things happen without delegating everything to a nanny State, yet staying away from extreme individualism. Now that I have left Italy, I hope I can be even more useful and more present to my countrymen. I work in an international institution as an Italian, and I want to be an open channel between my country, my continent and the world.