LONG IS THE JOURNEY n. 2 Fall 2015

Civilizing practices by Franco Cioffi (Oct 2015)

It is often assumed that entrepreneurship is a “self-inducing” phenomenon that automatically grows and expands, and that the public administration, in contrast, is destined never to work, almost as if it were condemned to this fate by a “divine curse.” The truth is more mundane and predictable: every organization is under the sway of those who plan for and direct it. It is a sobering thought that the present public and private ruling class is the logical product of two decades of cultural impoverishment in the country, but this is no reason to despair. It only calls for intelligence, managerial skills and, naturally, time.

The political class does not seem ready for or inclined towards a dialogue with those who could guide it towards a higher plane, not only for the sake of the country but for also its own … electoral advantage. This does not imply that one should interrupt or stop seeking avenues for engagement, but simply that it is necessary to pursue alternative strategies: direct and indirect civilizing actions targeted at those who select the political class and may perhaps later evaluate it.

As the levels of freedom and civility among a people increase, so does their indignation and consequently, the incentive to change (or risk decadence) vis-à-vis the political class which, if it does not adapt, could appear inadequate. The more the evolution, the lower is the probability of reverting to previous civic standards, simply because they are no longer tolerated. After all, a participative democracy functions better when cultural asymmetries among its components are minimized. Fundamentally, this entails grassroots actions aimed at restoring the normal functioning of a participative democracy which, in recent years, has been deliberately “diluted,” even by the media.

After basic training as a development economist, rooted to these axioms and with the idea of practically testing new policies, I embarked upon a management career specializing in the development and reorganization of SMEs and (more recently) the public administration.

I spent 15 years travelling the length and breadth of Italy striving to revive or launch enterprises, as well as training entrepreneurs, managers and employees using an entrepreneurial as well as an economic approach. I experimented with a training model incorporating economic, commercial and social elements, following the logic of balanced personal/professional development aimed primarily at nurturing ideas/talents and forging civic consciousness. This is an approach that relies on a largely participative management style directed towards raising civic standards and increasing individual liberties, so as to preclude a return to previous levels. This has entailed infusing culture but also promoting a different mentality—oriented more towards entrepreneurship than towards employment/dependence.

These initiatives were useful in carrying out, among other things, field trials of certain theoretical concepts proposed by A. O. Hirschman and Eugenio Colorni, imbued with theoretical and practical interpretations by Prof. Meldolesi (self-subversion, cognitive dissonance, the hiding hand, the process of stumbling, etc.). Thus, these practices have engendered a constant evolution in my thought by way of practical evidence from the field. In fact, apart from the influence of the illustrious social economists mentioned above, these ideas originated from field research conducted as part of my thesis “Big business and the direct and indirect spread  of skills, as a driver of the local economy. The case of Texas Instruments, Aversa (CE).” This study demonstrates how a cultural/organizational model that was intended to secure a competitive advantage generated, over time and unconsciously, an extraordinary wave of civic and economic development in the region.

Thus emerged the idea of implementing indirect civilizing practices through the reorganization and development of local SMEs. It implied “killing two birds with one stone”: increasing the competitiveness of enterprises and generating civic economy in the region.

And so it was! Fifteen years of work, more than 30 enterprises/public bodies engaged with as a manager or consultant, and a mobile business school created (with Tommaso Di Nardo) have entirely validated what I had intuited at that time. The results include:

  1. Enterprises rendered competitive through reorganization and repositioning in target markets
  2. Entrepreneurs and employees professionally trained
  3. Widespread regularization of irregular forms of work owing to an improved capacity to manage business affairs
  4. Important professional, cultural and civic repercussions within the regions in question

All this confirms the pedagogical value of the entrepreneurial system!

However, it is clear that if this type of approach is practiced in a scattered and disjointed manner, its effects are limited to individual instances, in contrast to the outcomes if it were to be adopted as a regional social and economic policy. The active involvement of parties officially entrusted with this role (states, regions, provinces, municipalities, local media, etc.) could also contribute to the development of the region through legislation inclined more towards “supporting” (mentorship or direct training) than towards “financing” (tax breaks and financial subsidies) the development and consolidation of enterprises.

Hence springs the proposal for the creation of a managerial class specifically for SMEs, embodied by the mentor: a professional figure who is an amalgamation of entrepreneur, economist and local development agent.

In conclusion, there exists enormous untapped potential in the form of people, enterprises and public bodies that need only guidance and support to express their full energy and vitality; conversely, there is also a structural lack of managerial personnel (entrepreneurs, public and private managers, members of cooperatives, etc.) capable of executing this. Initiating, implementing and supervising these processes is something that only a few can do. It is more convenient (and popular) to believe that ideas and finance (subsidized if possible) will suffice!