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Build bridges and stimulate dialogue: corporate culture for growth

Building bridges, not walls.  Re-launching the “culture of dialog” that is such an integral part of Italian – and, indeed, European – life. In fact, “dialog” was the operative word most heard last week during the meeting between Pope Francis and Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, two men convinced of the need for open dialog not just between the major institutions (such as between Church and State), but also among individuals who, despite having different backgrounds, experiences and cultures, are aware of their common roots and feel a sense of responsibility for creating a better future for the generations to come. So dialogue, collaboration and – why not? – competition, reviving the origins of the word from the Latin “cum petere”, i.e. striving together towards a common goal, not as adversaries, but as individuals who grow together within a community. It’s a lesson in both civic and moral duty that should guide our daily conduct and our more ambitious projects.

Dialog is also invaluable to the culture of enterprise, something to be promoted during the conferences, meetings, exhibits and other events that, each year, animate “Culture of Enterprise Week”, which is being organized by Confindustria and MuseImprese throughout Italy from 14 to 24 November with the active involvement of businesses of all sizes. The underlying theme for the week is “Più cultura, più impresa” (more culture, more enterprise), which also very much reflects the strategic decision of the Pirelli Foundation whereby “enterprise is culture” – a “polytechnic” culture that encompasses innovation, as the very heart of the enterprise itself, in its broadest sense: in products and production systems; in labour relations and in the rules of governance; in technologies and new materials; in the lifelong training of people and in the language of its marketing and communication; in relations between the enterprise and its stakeholders and its local community, and with schools, universities, the scientific community, the creative community, and so on.

In other words, dialog as it applies to sustainable development, both environmentally and socially. From this point of view, industry is the vibrant core, the place where “building bridges” is commonplace, whether it be with employees, customers or suppliers, or with the market, with consumers, and with investors; with those who do the fundamental research so as to support it and, at the same time, to fuel the sort of applied research that leads to innovation. Industry as a weaver of relationships, as a cornerstone of civilisation that produces wealth and employment and that bonds the very fibres of our society.

Italy’s culture of enterprise is a rich one, built on a wealth of dialoguing and of relationships. Olivetti and Pirelli are longstanding examples of this, but they are far from the only ones. The best moments of Italian growth, during the happy times of the economic boom and in the dramatic times of social tension and even terrorism, have been marked by dialog between open, responsible business people, great directors of the trade unions, forward-looking politicians, and bankers with an educated eye focused on the cultural and scientific communities (such as Raffaele Mattioli at Banca Commerciale Italiana, to give just one of the many possible names).

Enterprise as a key agent in economic and societal growth, and culture as the axis of development. President Napolitano was right to reiterate the importance of Article 1 of the Italian Constitution (the central importance of employment) as well as of Article 9, whereby Italy is to promote the development of culture and of scientific and technological research, and enterprises and their associations work well when, amidst strategy documents, conferences and “culture weeks”, they insist on research and on the synthesis and interaction, not the duality, of the humanities and the sciences. Dialog. On the front page of La Stampa on 17 November, Giovanni Bignami recalled the core importance of research as exemplified in the teachings of a great scientist, William H. Press, from the authoritative American Association for the Advancement of Science, who, in quoting George Washington, the first president of the United States, wrote, “Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”  This is a lesson to be remembered, whether it be in politics, in the scientific and academic communities, in government and, of course, in business. In this synthesis of culture, development and social cohesion we Italians have a great heritage, one which is to be used to its fullest.