The Archives of INDAMarch 25, 2021
MarzamemiMarch 25, 2021
All Ph. credits - Impact Hub Siracusa
In Ortigia there is a place…
Via Vincenzo Mirabella is one of the old streets in the heart of Ortigia where the balconies, courtyards and crenellations camouflage small restaurants, bed & breakfasts, and institutional offices. The courtyard of number 29 at first glance looks like many others, though it is actually very different.
This courtyard, especially during the long Sicilian spring-summer period, welcomes special guests. Here, “digital nomads” from all over the world sit surrounded by prickly pears and aromatic herbs, with a computer on their laps, the wi-fi connection travelling around them, holding a glass of orange juice, as they work to earn a living, or experienced entrepreneurs undertake hackathons with young and not-so-young innovators or, furthermore, members of the local administration set up new inclusion services for immigrants, by working with volunteer associations.
The courtyard is the entrance hall to Impact Hub Siracusa, a coworking project that connects “Sicilian innovators”. Formerly a convent built at the end of the 1600s, the building has been transformed into a space for projects, meetings, where the guests can rent the area, even if only for a short time. The projects engage various Mediterranean countries, allow private individuals, public institutions and universities to cooperate, help those who are working on a start-up or who wanting to renew a stumbling project, as well as those who are experts in communication and social planning.
Every day in via Mirabella, for the past 10 years, we have experienced first-hand what social innovation is. “Lately, our work has been focused on HubMed - says the president of Impact Hub Siracusa, Rosario Sapienza - the new activity developed as part of the Enisie project, in turn part of the cross-border cooperation program Interreg Italia-Malta: its goal is to support micro, small and medium sized enterprises to create a Mediterranean network. Despite having to close the Hub due to the pandemic, the work continued online by working with changemakers from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Serbia and Kosovo. Interestingly enough, this digital segregation has helped us grow closer, and today we’re all equally close and distant, as never before, regardless of where we live. We discover ourselves to be different, but also alike, united by the great Mediterranean Sea and the urgent needs of its ecosystem. Above all, we are now, to all intents and purposes, a presence that’s both international and regional, whether online or in person.”
The Enisie Recovery Workshop is also one of the focuses of the task force: it is a free helpdesk for Sicilian companies that have suffered losses related to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic or that are facing new difficulties. In general, the biggest challenge for the team remains the regeneration of the social and economic fabric of Sicily, which it is facing by promoting social enterprise models through access to credit but also through corporate storytelling and by hunting around for - then carrying them out in daily practice - all those solutions that lead to business practises that respect the principles of sustainable development and social impact, and by activating shared participation processes from the bottom upwards.
The Hub is about innovation, of course, but it also wants to respect the variety of knowledge and experience its users bring. Maybe it is the sun that reflects on the white stone in Siracusa that allows this. Or maybe it is part of the "package", given that Impact Hub Siracusa is one of the eight Italian Impact Hubs, the others being Bari, Florence, Milan, Reggio Emilia, Rome, Turin and Trento, which in turn are part of the global network (100 IH spaces with a presence on all continents). The coworking space is another asset: via Mirabella is very close to the sea, and its goal is to make its guests “feel at home without giving up the comforts of the office”.
The Impact Hub team is made up of two founders, both with over twenty years of experience in international cooperation and business globalisation, Rosario Sapienza (the president) and Stena Paternò, and of the associates Totò Biazzo (vice president), Maria Clotilde Notarbartolo and Simone Piceno, who are experts in facilitation and project management, financial services and microcredit, respectively. Also part of the team are other highly skilled collaborators, some of whom are very young.
“To put it simply, Impact Hub Siracusa is “glocal”, simultaneously global and local - concludes Rosario Sapienza - and it has been since the beginning, though it is happening in a city that often tends to move quite slowly, stuck between its petrochemical sector, which is fading, and its potential as a tourist attraction which is yet to be fulfilled. Despite this we believe the city still has enormous potential, especially as it can count on a team of great talents, both on a national and international level. Siracusa was once the most magnificent of the cities in the Magna Graecia, and it could still be one of the best. This could be made possible if the city turns its gaze towards the Mediterranean, rather than in towards itself, and after that towards the world, which it belongs to. It is never too late.”