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A much needed regeneration of business and society – taking heed of Morin’s humanistic lessons

In Lezioni di un secolo di vita (Lessons of a Century of Life), Edgar Morin’s autobiography (published in France in early June and soon to be published in Italy by Mimesis), the author speaks of “regenerated humanism”. Morin is one of the greatest intellectuals of our times – just turned a hundred years old, his ideas remain sprightly and strictly critical of “the new barbarism” and the obsession with growth without equilibrium. A forward-looking, project-oriented thinker, whose teachings we should be mindful of, just like those by Bauman, Beck, Sen, Stiglitz, and Crouch – all theorists who offer challenging interpretations of the disquieting feeling brought on by uncertainty and who advocate for a much needed social and economic “paradigm shift”.

Regeneration” was also the buzzword at the general assembly held by Assolombarda, Confindustria’s largest territorial entrepreneurial association, under the vaults of the Acciaierie Falck’s former rolling mill in Sesto San Giovanni, a structure that’s already under transformation as part of one of the most challenging urban and economic reconstruction projects in Europe.

A correlation that needs investigating, in these rugged yet hopeful times. As such, and ignoring linguistics, the term is used by entrepreneurs operating in the most dynamic and European areas in Italy as well as by Morin – a cultured man of Jewish descent, a bit Italian (“For me Italy is a matrix”) and a bit Spanish, “son of Montaigne and Spinoza”, deeply Mediterranean and therefore cosmopolitan, French by affiliation yet a self-proclaimed mere “human being” (in 7, the Corriere della Sera‘s supplement, 2 July) – and seems to lead down a rather stimulating path.

A path that doesn’t merely take us towards “restarting” or ”recovering” from when we left off due to the pandemic and the recession, but rather marked by intense activity that takes into account fragility’s rifts and roots while also creating something new, because “after a crisis that made us face our limits a restart is not enough. We need a change”, as asserted by Alessandro Spada, president of Assolombarda.

A regeneration, then, to take place within a synthesis between memory and future, amidst the awareness of one’s own story and innovation’s creative and critical impetus. The notion of business as a design and dialectical community and Morin’s philosophy do converge, though from very different directions, towards the concept of a new human dimension based on knowledge and responsibility. And they, too, point to a path along which economic activity, the considerations of social organisations and – why not? – the whole contemporary European thought should focus on, taking advantage of a crisis period ruled by incompetence, when the allure of “populist shortcuts” is dwindling (as intriguingly shown in Italian political news) and steering us towards new paths of knowledge and development.

Industrial humanism”, says the best Italian corporate culture. “Digital humanism”, counteract those entrepreneurs sensitive to the value, and the ethical values, found in algorithms and in the philosophies of thinkers such as Luciano Floridi. “Regenerated humanism”, reiterates Morin, reminding us that “science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul”, championing “the European humanistic culture” as a means to avoid “the degradation of the planet at the mercy of an uncontrolled economic technological development.”

This opens up a debate not only about corporate values and ends, but also about corporate responsibility and economic activities, and it’s up to the country’s polytechnic culture to try and devise a more balanced and sustainable development.

What it all boils down to is that businesses displaying “manufacturing community traits” (a brilliant definition by Dario Di Vico, in Corriere della Sera, 4 July) are no longer sites for the sole generation of well-being and employment, innovation and profit, ever-changing products and services, and better life quality – though still essentially conducive to these. Rather, they have become active agents in creating a balanced environmental and social sustainability. They are key elements in a positive social capital aimed at making a decisive contribution to what not only Pope Francis but also leading voices in economic literature call “the just economy”, a “circular” and “civic” economy (it’s worth rereading Antonio Genovesi, forward-looking Neapolitan Enlightenment writer, and his creative contemporary peers, starting from Stefano Zamagni). Enterprise and work. Enterprise and human advancement. Enterprise and social inclusion, between competitiveness and solidarity. Enterprise and culture. Enterprise and metamorphosis – going back to, once again, the path of “regeneration”.

Taking the time to consider the data pertaining the recovery is a useful exercise to gain an even better understanding. “The Made in Italy rears its head again: crisis over for half of the districts” is the headline in Il Sole24Ore (1 July), which also mentions the results yielded by the periodical monitoring analyses performed by Intesa Sanpaolo. The first quarter of 2021 shows a “marked recovery for specialised manufacturing industries” and “the export of household appliances, metalworks, furniture, tiles and food is already higher than before Covid.” The fashion industry, however, is not doing well, while mechatronics, boating, farming machinery and thermomechanics are holding firm.

These are the districts acting as engines of recovery, armed with widespread resourcefulness, a solid relationship with each relevant territory’s expertise, a social capital whose assets lie in social dynamism and inclusion, in exchanges, and in solidarity. Furthermore, these are economic values that galvanise industrial relations and that in particular places – the Motor Valley in Emilia Romagna, for instance (“16,000 businesses, 66,000 employees, extremely high technical abilities”, declares the Corriere della Sera‘s L’Economia supplement, 28 June) – are bolstered by profitable collaborations between enterprises, universities, and good local and regional governance.

A social capital that renews itself. “Industry 4.0 and young entrepreneurs have triggered the boom of the Made in Italy,” remarks the Fondazione Edison’s vice president Marco Fortis, reminding us how more dynamic businesses have been able to capitalise on the fiscal stimuli engendered by the innovation measures governments introduced in 2015 and 2016, and have done so by investing in digital transformations. Fortis also notes the emergence, within the industrial policy’s framework of reforms and forward-looking choices, of “the skills belonging to young entrepreneurs who, in recent years and thanks to a generational transition, have risen to leading corporate roles and have exploited the thrust of Industry 4.0 with creativity and daring, thoroughly modernising business organisation, processes and products.” And now that the recovery is underway, the results are becoming even more obvious.

A “fair and sustainablerecovery, cherished by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who considers “social cohesion” as “a moral duty”, as well as a huge economic opportunity that could effectively refashion welfare tools and social benefits in order to cope with the employment situation.

From this viewpoint, too, enterprises play a fundamental role, as confirmed by Symbola’s latest Report (also mentioned in our blog from 22 June), which identified “cohesive companies” as more efficient and innovative, as those that export the most and are better at seizing opportunities for growth in terms of quality and competitive edge.

On the horizon, a stronger social stability for Italy can be glimpsed, as well as the rebuilding of confidence and the implementation of reforms focused on productivity and sustainability. A cultural, social and economic challenge, and, needless to say, a political one, too. At the Assolombarda’s general assembly, president Spada wisely concluded his speech with one of the most incisive quote by Alcide De Gasperi, the former Prime Minister who led Italy towards reconstruction and recovery after the devastation wreaked by fascism and the war: “one must not look to the next elections but to the future generations.” Regeneration, by all means.