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Foreign Policy Analysis

The Fragility Factor: from societal challenge to social wealth | Anna Fiscale | TEDxLakeComo


Translator: Michele Gianella
Reviewer: Muriel de Meo Diving into life feet up, head down is hands down the easiest
and safest birth. As a mum-to-be I hope that Maddalena’s
first gaze on this world will be upside down: feet in the air, head on the ground. Too bad that later in life
we can no longer keep this flipped worldview, as everything and everyone
ask us to walk straight up, our feet rooted on the ground. But ‘what if’ – what would happen if we allowed ourselves to keep
our flipped gaze in adulthood? Four years ago, I finally understood
that looking at the world upside down can offer unexpected second chances
that ripple to the systems around us. That’s what happened to me
when I reconsidered the word fragility. I want to tell you my story. My name is Anna, I am 29 years old and four years ago I’ve become
a fragility entrepreneur, convinced as I am that fragility
is an unexplored and unassessed factor, both in our personal lives and in the way we do business. It was 2013. I was a well-grounded girl
with my feet stuck on the ground. Feet on the ground, one can run fast, keep an eye on the horizon, stand up and duck down,
react to threats and fight. Keeping our feet on the ground
makes us feel strong, and in many ways I did feel strong. I had just graduated with top scores, and my strong resume
filled with international internships, was supposed to be my stepping stone
towards an international career. In fact, I had never felt so weak. An abusive, controlling relationship
with a much older man had turned me into a prisoner. My life, while externally so successful, was also so paralised, on the other hand, I couldn’t even pick a pair of shoes
without asking for his advice. I was tormented: how can my
strength and weakness coexist? How could I be buzzing with energy
and broken at the same time? So powerful and prisoner?
So free and chained? Have you ever felt so fragile, so divided? Can you go back to those moments when you felt defensless,
scared, cornered? Think about it,
it will come handy later on. I had been offended
in that very space – love – where one should feel free to be fragile
with no fear to be broken. Then, one spring morning life came and called me. A sentence touched my soul and I felt loved
in my fragility, in my bruises. So I decided to take on
a path of deep dialogue – you name it, an encounter, faith, God,
the meaning of life on this planet. It’s exactly from this
upside-down gaze on life that I started loving my fragility
and getting back to my feet. I started replacing
the word ‘weak’ with ‘fragile’. ‘Weak’ means ‘intrinsically strengthless’. A fragile person, or thing,
can break if mishandled or mistreated. Reconsidering my fragility not as a limit, but rather
as a starting point, made me come to life again, and made me more sympathetic towards that world I wanted
to study and defeat. Where others saw weak chainrings,
I saw fragilities to enhance. So, I erased the word ‘against’
and turned them into ‘for’. Eventually I could fight for something, to flip the fragility paradigm. Where others saw weak economies, I saw potential for recovery. I left the world of
international organisations and I returned home, to Italy. This was an unlucky Monopoly round,
a ‘back-to-the-start’, in many people’s eyes. Businesses had just started recuperating
and the economy was, indeed, fragile. But it also marked the beginning
of my best – and luckiest – game so far. In 2013, with a team
of very young friends, I founded Progetto QUID. The peg, our logo, is a symbol of the chance
to combine strength and fragility. Progetto QUID puts back into the workforce people with a past of fragility, producing eco-fashion collections out of recovered textile surplus from the best ‘Made in Italy’ brands. Since 2013 we have employed 75 people, each with their own specific fragility. 75 lives escaped a future of uncertainty,
poverty and social exclusion 75 flipped worldviews, thanks to a job. In more traditional business terms, we went from 5 to 75 employees, from 90.000 Euros to an over 2 millions turnover, from 2 to 10 collaborations with some of the most prominent
Made in Italy brands. In 2017 we shipped
over 70.000 clothing items and 150.000 accessories. After 10 collections,
and 800 km of recovered textiles, we are proud to say
that we’ve built a model where fragility is a starting point,
rather than a limit. Both the human fragility
and the one of our ecosystem, represent the two axes of this new model. But only when we add empathy, axis z, this model can create impact and volume. But let’s look at the model in detail: X axis: our capital is
the fragility of human lives and the measure of our profit. I’ll tell you another story. This is Rosa, Rosa joined QUID after enduring domestic abuse, as a child, domestic violence as a young woman,
jail and addiction in her thirties. Her interest in sewing machines sparked in a workshop she attended
in a jail in Northern Italy. The regular pace of hems gave her a sense of safety which she, and many others like her,
had never experienced before. Once out of prison, Rosa moved to QUID, in a six-month internship. After a few months, though,
she stopped coming to work. A few weeks later
she called us, asking for help. She had started drinking again. Next Monday, instead of firing her, we asked her to come back
and stick with QUID. Now Rosa leads a team. Our mission is not maximising profit but maximising impact instead, namely the ability to generate new jobs. This is our upside-down gaze on the world. Our statute requires us to hire ‘disadvantaged’ people, as the law calls them. People with disabilities,
addictions, inmates – For us, they are fragile in many profiles
and strong in others, Just like anyone else, sometimes in life. Axis y – the planet’s fragility
is our opportunity. This is our warehouse. These fabrics are a side effect
of the fashion system. Designing clothes is no easy business,
and it’s a creative process. Usually, what fashion brands do is designing a collection,
starting one year before release and trial after trial they select or discard
tons of sample fabrics. This inevitably creates
an overstock of gorgeous textiles, designed, developed and printed
with care and love, with a tradition, a personality,
often locally manufactured. Our project transformed a weak link
in the textile supply chain into an opportunity, And thanks to the
“Capsule collection” format, which are limited edition collections. in every season we can
create a unique variant, according to the current leftover stock. Here too we flipped our worldview on clothes manufacturing,
textiles and resources, thus redeeming people,
histories and fabrics. Axis z – Fragility generates empathy. We have many partners, many are famous Italian fashion brands. To those who ask how we got
in touch with them, we explain that often speaking about fragility openly,
and honestly, made all the difference. The reason is simple: addictions, family issues,
disability, criminal behaviours are all symptoms of fragility. But they’re all also facets
of our colourful, priceless humanity. Who, among us, has never come
across any of these? And how many of us have maybe faced them within their family circle. Fragility is what we all share
– and is transversal, women and men, Italians and foreigners,
entrepreneurs and workers. Along the way we often met top managers, lawyers, designers who told us they experienced, either first hand
or through their loved ones, what fragility means when it’s only seen as a limit. One of the key factors of our success is that we were able
to speak out about fragility, especially the one we carry on. Either before an audience, like today, or while grabbing a coffee
in a break with a CEO, or engaging with our customers
in one of our shops. Inevitably, our story raised empathy, empathy triggered action,
action made impact. And just like my turning point was where my own history of fragility
and the world’s fragility met and I involved, through empathy,
my team and our partners, that’s the three-axis model we suggest. But what happens if we focus our strengths
on just fixing our weak spots, centered on our belly? We become depressed. What happens if we just focus on the system’s faults, often insurmountable, which we cannot solve on our own? We become cynical. And if we focus on both our limits
and the world’s ones, we get both depressed and cynical. Where my own fragility
and system’s fragility meet, there’s neither volume nor impact.
It’s just a barren land. But.. ‘what if’? What would happen if we added empathy, namely the ability to involve others and build a team, or a partnership
network, that believes in our project? Then yes, you get action,
action generates volume and volume has an impact. I was a hurt woman – axis x – I decided to do something for other
hurt women, like Rosa and myself, by recovering leftover textiles (Y axis) involving my team
and our partners (Z axis). That’s how QUID’s peg was born. Today Rosa stopped drinking and got a permanent position,
which is our impact. This is the QUID model. And this is the model we suggest to those who want to change things
and ask us where they can start from. And going back to my story, I could have shut down keeping myself from new projects and new relationships,
in order not to be hurt again. But I did not: in 2013 QUID was born and on May 28th 2016 I married Daniele. And so, ‘what if’, what could happen if each of you saw fragility not just a limit,
but a starting point? (Applause)

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