In Italy there are over 6 million people involved in voluntary work. When people say to me that this is "the other Italy", I reply: "No, this is Italy". In our country there is a keen sense of philanthropy and selflessness, also secular in nature. It is part of our DNA. For example, the Spedale degli Innocenti, in Florence, was established back in 1419 to tackle the problem of abandoned children. The local authorities even called Brunelleschi to design it and a number of great artists to decorate it. Precisely because the children had had an underprivileged start in life, they needed an opportunity to grow up in a pleasant environment. Awareness and social achievements are two of the hallmarks of Italy. I may be the last of the idealists, but I still fight for these ideals...".
Emanuela Del Re, Deputy Foreign Minister, with responsibility for Development Cooperation, thus anticipates the question we would have liked to ask her, whether the pandemic and the ensuing economic difficulties are causing a crisis in aid to the poorest countries. Is it business as usual?
"Generally speaking, development cooperation is the most operational arm of foreign policy, and at the moment it can play a specific role precisely because it can provide concrete answers. Countries like ours, with tried and tested and efficient health systems, know how to respond adequately to the demands of more fragile countries unequipped to tackle the pandemic. Some of these have already recognised that, without Italian help in the past years their hospitals would be unable to cope. We are appreciated for our value and professionalism. Even if underestimated by some, the Italian model is an inspiration for many".
Are there not too many fronts open at home, at the moment?
"Italians have always contributed to the destinies of the world. We operate everywhere, we know how to interact with other societies, we bring positive technologies and values. We also do it in our own interest. A fairer, more developed world, able to resist pandemics and new infections, migrations and the exploitation of migrants, is also in our interest. When our cooperation organisation operates in fragile countries it helps local people, but it also opens many doors, creating privileged relationships with local institutions. Italian businesses, in the presence of a cooperation structure, have an easier life. However, there can be no world that is not interconnected. Remember John Donne's Meditation, " No man is an island entire of itself .... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." This could be adopted as the manifesto of development cooperation today, despite the fact that it was written four centuries ago. Not a pietistic idea of helping the weak, which would also be very noble, but a principle that contemplates the need to improve the social and economic conditions of other people so that they can, in the future, walk on their own legs".
Africa is the main target of cooperation. Why?
"There is only one corridor from Europe, through the Mediterranean down to Cape Town: traffic, interests, migration, investments. That's why I've been preaching for years that it's obsolete to talk about donors and beneficiaries. In cooperation we are all partners and the benefit is mutual. In Europe, too, we are aware of this interconnection and, in the face of the pandemic, Africa has become the main focus. We Italians have many recognised excellences to provide...".
"Food security. Italy is particularly virtuous, with solid supply chains and great expertise. We are able to provide important impulses to develop first forms of subsistence and then entrepreneurship. The problem of food security in the world is often not the scarcity of food but how to manage it. We have experienced what can happen if we close the borders to stop the contagion spreading... Then, we always put human rights first. Let me give you an example that fills me with joy. We have been very close to Sudan, we have not abandoned it even under the toughest regimes. In addition to having improved the living conditions of the Sudanese, it is also due to our commitment to an achievement that was transformed into law just a few months ago: today, in that country, female genital mutilation has become a crime".