As we collectively respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become more clear than ever that we need digital in order to effectively meet unexpected global challenges and to prepare for a future in which we can best facilitate social, economic and environmental well-being for cities, communities, families and companies. The question is: how do we strategize best? Many lessons have been learned over the past years, complexity reigns and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all. Each community has to find its own path. However, we can probably agree on a number of principles underpinning our approaches – principles which together help shape a New Digital Deal to drive a convergence between people’s needs, new technologies, ethics, the best possible business, governance and ecosystem models.
In my own country, Italy, one can find families, companies and professionals at large concentrated in metropolitan areas of course, but less urban habitats remain still important: medium-sized cities and villages dotting the Italian hills and countryside, internationally known so well for their nature, food and quality of life. Those communities are at a crossroads: to confidently enter a new dynamic digital world or to slip slowly but steadily into the past, into a certain state of oblivion.
My biggest fear is that people and companies living in those communities end up on the wrong side of a new wave of new digital divides, lacking the smart services and digital infrastructures, depriving those communities of the opportunity to redefine and augment their lives, their businesses, and their daily conduct within the context of digitalization. We need to rethink how we define and enable sustainable community development.
Public and private sector leaders should collaborate with the aim of producing investment schemes, partnerships and governance models that will make digitalization a truly inclusive affair – not a mission to be accomplished for and by large cities only, but for all. Nevertheless, big cities can better plan their growth by including surrounding communities in their own innovation programs. Such regional collaboration allows for smaller communities to take advantage of existing knowledge, ongoing investments, jointly representing a sizable market, while the citizens of such smaller communities become active users of urban services. My hope is that the right models and approaches, combined with our creativity, sense of art, determination and hard work will lead us to make the right choices. While time hasn’t run out yet, it is fundamentally clear we must act now.
So, my call-out is that each of us, each single worker, manager, leader, young and old, reflects, assumes responsibility, and acts in pursuit of an inclusive, connected, ethically just, environmentally sustainable and digitally-powered future. My wish is also that the new generation of politicians will be increasingly able, trained and prepared to reshape the public organizations around the new digital models, paradigms and values. Let us ensure, too, that such a future state will continue to be a hybrid, colorful and creative one. Our sense of fashion, art, quality of life and love of beauty must thrive at the heart of a digitalized Italy, inspiring a digitalized Europe and world.
This is the mindset that has been driving me and Bas in sharing our experiences and knowledge together with other great professionals and friends in order to give a contribution for the growth of my country. Italy ranks 25th among the 28 EU member states in the European Commission’s economy and society digitization index (DESI) for 2020. According to ISTAT disclosed in 2019, GDP in Italy it grew by 0.3%, the lowest progress since 2014. But Italy owns 70% of the world’s artistic heritage, it is the country with the highest number of Unesco sites (55), outranking any other nation in the world. Yet it can be equally adaptive and innovative. For example, it is the number one European country when it comes to the percentage of recycling of waste, more than double the European average (36%). Italy thrives as a nation of creativity and innovation. Italy is the country of lights and shadows, with contradictions, with problems of pollution, mobility and inefficiency but also with unique assets and areas for improvement where it can lead on the journey of digitalization. If we collectively manage to forge our nation’s New Digital Deal, if we can manage to build as much for each and every community, Italy will yet prove again one of the world’s best places to live, work, learn, eat, design, create & thrive.
Raffaele Gareri and Bas Boorsma are the authors of “Un New Deal Digitale. Oltre le Smart Cities. Come impiegare al meglio la Digitalizzazione al Servizio delle nostre Comunità” – Edizione 2020 rivista.