Production opportunities: Elena Militello, founder of South Working

THEIn Italy, there are more and more young people who leave their city or region of origin every year to migrate to destinations with more opportunities in terms of work and education. Is it always a free choice or do you grow up aware that there are no alternatives for those born in certain areas of Italy? We discussed it with Elena Militellofounder of South Working

At this time we have and are witnessing strikes called by students of various Italian universities, who are asking for lower rents and to be granted the right to access studies regardless of their starting point.

Elena Militello she is a visiting scholar at Harvard University and the president and founder of South Working, the non-profit association that aims to improve the economy of the regions of Southern Italy and with her we tried to understand if there is a way to guarantee the same opportunities for everyone, throughout the Italy.

When and how was the South Working project born?

The idea for South Working was born in March 2020, during the first lockdown. At the time I was working in Luxembourg as a researcher at the University, I then managed to return to Sicily, where I carried out the remainder of my contract remotely. During this time in Sicily, I had the intuition to draw something positive from this remote work experience and recommend remote work periods for the future as well. Many of my friends and family had to leave Sicily and then Southern Italy for better study and work opportunities.

The idea was born out of an awareness of the privilege that allowed me to leave and find better study and work opportunities. From this realization was born the desire to give something back

Through smart work I thought that there was no longer any reason to wait for the improvement of all the infrastructure and businesses of our home places to decide to stay. Right at the end of that trip, at the end of March, I started talking about it to a whole bunch of friends who I knew had started working remotely and had a lot to say about it. After the initial launch of the project, with the founding members we presented the Global Shapers Palermo project, a reality connected to the World Economic Forum for under-thirties engaged in local projects to achieve the ESG sustainability goals of the United Nations Agenda 2030. I have been part of it since 2019 and it is the only Global Shapers hub in Sicily. We started structuring ourselves and carrying out advocacy, raising awareness among institutions and citizens about why South Working is a mutually beneficial approach between employers, workers and regions.

This is a grassroots movement to get institutions to listen to the voice of these young professionals who represent very important human capital for the South

What is the difference between the southern worker and the digital nomad?

The category of digital nomads already existed, albeit in small numbers before the pandemic, and their philosophy is based on the idea of ​​enjoying life and looking for places with a lower cost of living. But it often happens that these groups do not integrate into the local society to which they decide to move for a while. For example, this happened in Indonesia, Bali and Portugal, where there were large movements against gentrification by local communities. The southern worker, on the other hand, works from wherever he wants, that is, he decides to find a place he discovered on a tourist visit or in which he imagines himself living for a more or less long time, but at the same time he comes into contact with the local society and contributes to its improvement and well-being. Then there is a category of second- and third-generation Southern workers, that is, people who have a familial, moral, and emotional connection to the places they choose to move to without having been born there. They were usually born in Northern Italy and have relatives in Southern Italy or inland, so they decide to reconnect with that region because they believe they have an identity connection. At first they return for short periods of time and then stop for longer periods.

What are community managers? And what does community mean to you?

We’ve always focused on creating gathering spaces, so shared workspaces, collaborative spaces that we’ve designated community centers precisely because they are not spaces designed exclusively for the individual remote worker who has minimal infrastructure needs, such as a good internet connection or a relatively fast connection to an airport or station. Starting from that group that we have designated as privileged, that can request answers from the municipal administrations, then all other groups benefit. In the long term we envision them open to the younger ones, so with the creation of local crèches or certainly close to the community center itself or activity centers for the elderly and libraries for students. We are talking about a cultural offering and services for the whole community with moments of gathering, networking and mentoring. One of the proposals was linked to the funding of co-working spaces for municipalities that did not have internal availability on a financial or personal level.

What do you recommend in the tutorial you developed for Harvard University?

I have developed a proposal for the whole of Southern Europe, which consists of urging governments to allocate funds from the PNRR Recovery Fund. The latter was initially measured based on territorial gaps and how to improve cohesion between European regions, but over time this original mission was lost a bit: some local administrations were not ready to manage the funds, and therefore go to largely in administrations that are already deployed and already had projects in the drawer. Furthermore, the regions of southern Italy, together with Greece, Spain and Portugal and the countries of Eastern Europe are the poorest and have the lowest GDP per capita in all of Europe. Italy, together with Greece, has one of the lowest employment rates and this is accompanied by a very high gender gap.

What is the situation regarding the youth unemployment rate in Italy? How hard is it to find a job?

In southern Italy, the situation is critical in terms of the youth unemployment rate. For example, Sicily has an unemployment rate of 40%.

The statistics I have gathered show that even with a degree it is difficult to find a job in Italy. The employment rate of graduates is 33%: only one in three finds a job within a year

All this is reflected in the brain drain from Italy abroad. The north-west is the one that loses the most people going abroad, because people often go even further away from Milan. Internal migration rates are also very high and show losses in much greater numbers than out-migration. Ours is a historic migration, which in the past started from the lower strata of the population and only in the last thirty years has it turned so massively to those who already have high levels of education and training. I prefer to talk about spiritual migrations, which is the academic term.

By studying the phenomenon through our research center we further realized the need to bring human capital to the regions. Its presence is linked to the possibility of innovation and cultural fermentation

It is not necessary for a person to live there twelve months a year, even just the constant presence of many people with different backgrounds can help bring new ideas to the local level to support young people above all. Having a community presence also means reactivating the cultural offer in the area.

What are some of the initiatives you have for the younger generations?

In Palermo we have a project called 4.0 with the regional school office to bring together southern workers and students from technical and vocational institutions to provide a range of digital skills. Our goal is to create projects like this in every place where there is a community presence. We are always open and available for thesis and internships of young people who want to participate in specific projects. One of the most recent projects is the one with Liminalan interdisciplinary network of young professionals committed to re-evaluating rural and hinterland areas.

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