Empathy and technology for a better future

Published on Thursday, 11 July 2019

“Italy” is becoming an increasingly popular search word on Google. We are a country that has made excellence its speciality and lead both Europe and the world in many sectors from manufacturing to tourism. And yet Italians’ own perception of the country is not entirely positive.  

The 2019 “I.T.A.L.I.A. Geografie del nuovo Made in Italy” (I.T.A.L.I.A. Geographies of the new Made in Italy) report presented during the Fondazione Symbola’s 17th Summer Seminar on 5-6 July in Treia (Macerata) provided a snapshot of Italy’s production identity. The theme of this year’s Seminar, which is one of the top sustainability and development discussion events in Italy, was “Da soli non si può. Empatia e tecnologia per costruire il futuro (We can’t do it alone. Building the future with empathy and technology). An original perspective that sees no contradiction between empathy and technology, rather viewing them as having the potential to complement each other.  

There are plenty of signs of vitality in the Italian economy too. Unioncamera general secretary Giuseppe Tripoli reminded those present of exactly what those signs are using the ITALIA acronym from the title of this, the fourth such report (Industry, Tourism, Agro-food, Localism, Innovation, Art and Culture). Exports are growing steadily and we are the fifth largest manufacturing nation in the world as we also have a strong presence in sectors not normally associated with the Made in Italy tradition, such as pharmaceuticals and electronics. We are also second in Europe in terms of tourism from outside the continent, and the quality of our agriculture is achieving ever-higher quality levels. Five and a half million people are involved in the voluntary sector here, while Italian researchers are frequently quoted in international publications. Italy is also one of the top European nations in terms of the green economy and the circular economy as well as being one of the world capitals of art and culture with a record number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. “This is the Italy that makes Italy” is how Symbola Foundation president Ermete Realacci summed up the findings.  

And yet, as IPSOS chief executive Nando Pagnoncelli confirmed, a less than positive perception of the country continues to prevail at home: two out of three Italians feel that the negative take on Italy is deserved and have no faith in the future.  

The aforementioned empathy, which is defined as the ability to understand other people’s emotions and feel them as if they were one’s own, may hold the answer to this paradox. The Bishop of Macerata, Tolentino, Recanati, Cingoli and Treia Nazzareno Marconi explained that, “the ideological approach is the opposite to the empathic approach. Reality is more important than the idea and technology can be empathic if takes humans as its central focus.” President of the Marche Region Luca Ceriscioli cited the example of electric mobility “which creates a different relationship with the things around us, with the environment and our local area.”  

Our own Group’s CEO Francesco Starace spoke too, explaining the importance of empathy in the energy transition, a revolution in which technology is proving it can help improve the condition of the planet but, he added, must not leave anyone behind in that process. Inclusion is the other key word. “When we decided to repurpose 23 thermoelectric stations, we opened up to dialogue with everyone,” said Starace referring to the Futur-e project. Just a few days ago, in fact, we commenced the process that will transform the former Porto Tolle power station on the Po Delta into an innovative tourist hub that will create more than 400 jobs. The project came about as a result of dialogue with the local community because “we can’t do it alone”, concluded Starace quoting the title of the Symbola seminar.  

Empathy and technology underpin the circular economy process that has been launched in the North East of Italy declared Assindustria Venetocentro deputy president Maria Cristina Piovesana. Treviso has become one of the world’s leading provinces in terms of differentiated waste collection and its model is being studied across Europe. “Once upon a time, we used to throw everything into the water. Now we even recycle cellulose from children’s nappies,” she told her audience. This transformation has seen businesses become the protagonists because, as BNL Group BNP Paribas president Luigi Abete explained, our relationship with the environment has changed greatly. “Sustainability is no longer just a calling card you use to present yourself in society – it is a business prerequisite now: the market wants sustainable products and businesses have become the environmental revolution’s greatest allies.”  

The real challenge is to recreate trust in the country where the divides between different areas are getting wider with each passing day,” declared CNA general secretary Sergio Silvestrini. “The world wants Italy but sometimes Italy doesn’t want itself quite so much,” added Stefano Ciafani, national chairman of Legambiente, who concluded by saying: “We need more empathy and less anger.”  

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