#crowdfunding #disaster #recovery in #Italy

A rainy day, a poke from an online friend, a visit to a profile… and here is my first post after the announce yesterday that I would shift toward more social/political and less business posting.

Background information: with my Facebook and Linkedin connection Mauro Magnani we had exchanges in the past, as I have been involved in politics since the late 1970s (since the early 1980s also abroad, i.e. European, not just in Italy), and also if shifted to business since 1986, I never ceased to consider that “citizenship” (in Europe, dual citizenship Italy+EU) means more than having a passport- and I proved it when I was invited to be a PM+BA for some projects within Government organizations, in 2004, and continued until 2008 in various forms.

From 2008 it was just blogging and sharing ideas, including discussing with Mauro and others online on the potential developments of direct democracy (or “extreme democracy”, a movement that, along with “creative commons” I had been introduced to few years before by Joichi Ito in Milan at an IBTS in a very “liquid” evening).

I “lurked” around both “extreme democracy” and “creative commons” websites and mailing lists for a while, but eventually did not join in a structural way: I might like the ideas, but when I see good ideas turned into petty bureaucracies for wannabe “Lord of the Flies” who would not survive a day in business, I see enough ruffians to turn into one- and move on, maybe remaining sympathetic to them, but certainly not “organic” (in Italy we have a long tradition of “intellettuali organici”- nominally indipendent, but acting as a conveyor belt with society for the political party or organization they are routinely considered close to).

And in mid-1990s I discovered that also the post-WWII founder of one of two organizations I repeatedly took my membership card from had a similar “itinerary”, leaving and returning to his own organization more than once; actually, it was even funnier: the Italian branch had decided to send to long-standing members a certificate (I have been on/off a member since 1989), and they sent me a “certificate” (it is in Brussels, somewhere) along with a cover letter stating that they had a tough time adding up, with all my in/out, but I went anyway past their threshold, so here it was my certificate.

With Mauro, we discussed also the “Grillini” (now M5S) before it entered the Italian Parliament and since then, but also if some considered me close to them, since mid-2000s (when I first started observing them and others, while working in Rome first, then also in Brussels), I might share some of their stated purposes, but most often I share neither their rationale nor their means, to say nothing about the ludicrous mutation from the entity that collected votes (“ruled by citizens”) to the “liderazgo” where in effect anybody covering positions that include or might include power is appointed by a ruler that then at most uses a “plebiscite” approach to get a tiny minority of its own voters to rubber-stamp his choices…

Still, there are some opportunities across the political spectrum (not just left, right, center, or cross-party as M5S, but all of them) for a convergence on specific issues: in Italy, we still lack a sense of “Heimat”, and I routinely have to post online a cartoon that shows why Italy isn’t in Europe, from Bozzetto, including the point about elections: the “jumping on the winner bandwagon” is almost universal, and the difference is mainly from those smart enough to sense where the crowd is heading to, and join before they do, to those jumping a second before everybody else, down to the dumbest ones, those that join when everybody is leaving a sinking ship, not to make a political point (acceptable- there are always “contrarians”, acting like salmons swimming against the tide), but just because they do not realize what is going on (“lenti a carburare”, we say in Italian).

There is a specific issue that Mauro referred to, so, after this long preamble to say “where I stand” (paraphrasing a theatre monologue on Jesus’ father written by a Jewish author that I adapted from English, “I stand on one leg”), let’s more to reality and urgency, down to earth and away from “Hyperuranos”, the world of the ideas.

Mauro’s “stimulus”:
“Sono alcune centinaia le famiglie della Riviera del Brenta che hanno subito danni piu’ o meno ingenti a seguito del tornado F4 del 08.07.2015.
Questo gruppo è disposizione delle famiglie colpite dal tornado che desiderano comunicare la loro situazione difficile confidando nell’aiuto diretto dei propri conCittadini.
La Rete puo’ infatti essere utilizzata in modo molto efficace per agevolare il contatto e la SOLIDARIETA’ DIRETTA tra Cittadini; SENZA INTERMEDIARI.
Fate conoscere questo gruppo e fatelo utilizzare dal maggior numero di famiglie drammaticamente coinvolte nella furia del tornado.
Solo cosi’ facendo avremo utilizzato la Rete in un’altra delle sue potenzialità inespresse condividendo la conoscenza per un aiuto CONCRETO, TEMPESTIVO e DIRETTO alle famiglie in difficoltà.

Italy is cursed by a mismanagement of its territory that dates from few centuries back: on this issue (as others, e.g. unity in a divided territory) the country might be a laboratory and living experiment.

Decades ago, at last a kind of “territorial emergency management agency” akin to FEMA in USA (but without the same powers) set up, with all the paraphernalia (local volunteers with routine exercises, warehousing of material, etc.)

Still, what we call “dissesto idrogeologico” (mismanagement of land and water) is increasingly generating recurring disasters, notably in areas with rivers and torrents (meaning: most of the inhabited land, as Italy used to have a nominal density of 182 inh/sq km on 301k sq km, but most of the surface is just mountains, and therefore the density is much higher).

Since WWII, that mismanagement turned on an industrial size, and I remember in the 1980s and 1990s at last specially appointed magistrates and new laws on the disposal of refuse from industrial activities (I do not know if the current law require something akin to a proposal contained in one of De Bono’s books, i.e. that factories polluting water should be forced to pick up water for their own manufacturing processes downstream, not upstream, so that they have to “keep their own nose clean”).

Now, I consider Mauro’s post implying the following:
1. whenever there is an emergency, there is at last a willingness of Italian citizens to help (a bit of “direct democracy”), instead of sitting and waiting for the State to intervene
2. anyway, the State bureaucracy is the State bureaucracy, and teaching an elephant to tango takes a while- and whoever dances with it might get crushed
3. it makes more sense to have citizens directly support citizens that need support after an emergency
4. each new emergency generates a new call for support, but the intermediary (local authorities) is acting as a bureaucracy (covering its own back against potential misallocation) conduit for citizens’ support, unnervating both those giving and those that are (hoping) to receive
5. in Italy, you cannot pinpoint specific cases as the libel laws are stiffer than the right of the public to know, but we ha in the past repeated misuses of funding by the intermediaries, in some cases converting a stream of funding into a trickle reaching just some recipients
6. the key issue is having aid reaching those that need it when they need it- accepting risks.

There are few elements that might be useful to know:
1. Italy has a law on crowdfunding, but Italy also has de factor (as Minister Tremonti said few years ago) dropped banking secrecy
2. data about transactions eventually will be taken automatically (there is a software platform able to connect information from banks, utilities, etc. to give an overall picture of what Italian citizens do with their money, and they funding sources)
3. despite all the criticism, I was able to observe first-hand in Rome during the funeral of Pope John Paul II the level of efficiency of the Protezione Civile in providing logistics to support a “flash mob” of millions roaming through the streets day and night for few days, in a town whose traffic is at best congested in any ordinary day
4. believe or not in global warming, it is a fact that since the 1980s while flying over the Alps I saw a constant decrease in snow caps, and while in school in the mid-1970s we were taught that “permanent snows” (“zero termico”) started at 2300 mt, now routinely pushes to 4000 mt, and we had more storms that in my living past
5. in the past, media reported with a “sense of order”, i.e. more than once displeasing news didn’t reach outside the affected area (I remember as a kid being told that I was crazy when I said in Turin what I had seen in Reggio Calabria- it was a time when the mafia was considered an invention of the Communist Party to pick up votes)
6. nowadays, thanks also to the “disintermediation of news” (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), it is true that rumors and gossip get amplified, but even mainstream media report what was first leaked on social media, and the news cycle is getting faster (not necessarily better, but discussing that would be a digression).

Stated the problem, stated the context, let’s now move to the first three proposed means
1. crowdfunding platforms are there: why not add a possibility for micro-donations to be collected on specific issues using also the favorite means used by Italians for Telethon and the like, i.e. text messages
2. a different kind of crowdfunding might be a collection of “promises to deliver”: if after an event locals were to quickly collect a list of what was needed and “crowdsource it”, then also the Protezione Civile might optimize its logistics
3. if you make this a “market” with pure demand and offer, there will be misuses (akin to a building unaffected by 9/11 that gets insurance reimbursements as if it were), but there are plenty of laws covering fraud- just add an increase in penalties when this involves a disaster, e.g. by assimilating it to “jackals”.

So, a “category manager for crowdfunding” might have to see three different “categories of support” to collect and distribute: funding, materials, workforce.

As you can see, the point is having demand (those affected or claiming to have been affected), offer (those willing to offer money or material or work), and a professional distribution network (Protezione Civile) directly involved, to avoid the chaos incurred in everybody clogging anything from roads to telephone lines (I remember in the late 1980s a natural disaster where one of my colleagues, living in an affected zone in Northern Italy but working with me in Turin, said that one of the forms of supports received was… two trucks of toffees (taffies for my American friends).

Local authorities? Involved through the Protezione Civile on the logistics (but it happens already, as locally many volunteers wearing the uniform of Protezione Civile and attending its exercises are closely integrated with local authorities)- but staying out of the way of demand and offer.

As the main issue is, as I wrote above, “6. the key issue is having aid reaching those that need it when they need it- accepting risks”- and also local authorities are a bureaucracy, elected but a bureaucracy, and therefore “taking risks” implies for even a willing mayor to consider the potential of then spending the next 20 years in and out of tribunals, and self-financing a lawyer just for having done what was politically correct to help his citizen, and guilty only of not been omniscient

Or: if s/he gives to those that aren’t entitled to, or refuses to give to those that are, in both cases in a country like Italy s/he can expect a long, long “afterlife”, whose costs (both for the mayor and the State bureaucracy) often exceed the actual damages.

So, as making “nimbler” the bureaucracy might generate (as it happened way too often) more routine misuses that the occasional disbursement of aid or materials to those that do not need them after a natural disaster, better let each party play its own role 🙂

Mauro, my five cents, as I know that you have contacts in both the technology/web industry, media, and political organizations able to deliver 🙂


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