23 March 2020

we are community, we are Humana Civilitas

This blog is a message that Francesca Limana, Head of Communications at Fondazione Adriano Olivetti in Rome, sent on Friday to her friends and peers in the EFC’s Communications Professional in Philanthropy Network

She describes what Italy is going through these days … and what we are all gradually facing ourselves around the world.   


Dear all 

What we are experiencing in Italy, and in the world, is a real emergency. Wasn’t our meeting in Athens focused on “How to deal with an emergency“? For those who were not present last November, we spent two very intense days, where we discussed case studies of facing an emergency (Panama Papersmigrants, terrorist attackscoming to the conclusion that while most of us had an emergency plan ready, just few of us had really faced one. 

And in these rare cases, other factors related to time, emotion, interconnected events have demolished even the most accurate procedures. 

Today we are all, absolutely all, facing a real emergency and we are all facing it, with or without a plan in our hands. 

Now, I would like to tell you what is happening in Italy, hoping that this will help you. As you know, the operative headquarters of our Foundation is in Rome, therefore in an area that has not been, at least at the beginning, severely affected by government restrictions. It is true that the first Italian case of COVID-19 of two Chinese tourists happened in Rome at the end of January. This fact, however, had not particularly worried or shaken tourism, and the Roman dolce vita went on as usual. On 23 February, a first government decree was issued in order to contain the spread of the contagion.  However it concerned only some regions in the north, which appeared to be the most affected by the virus. So we started to greet each other with the elbow like Frankenstein Junior, avoiding kisses and hugs (which for an Italian is a significant effort), and above all we started to see the first images of Wuhan police stopping those who were trying to cross the borders, images that seemed to belong more to John Woo films than to reality. But nothing more. Until March the activities of our Foundation have continued without major repercussions, with a principle of prudence of course, which has not, in any case, prevented us from attending meetings or taking lessons in schools and universities, in the city or even outside. Projects with European partners also continued – we had a premeeting planned for the EFC’s AGA in Vienna, and in the first days of March my colleague Matilde Trevisani had several calls, with very positive feedback. So it seemed everything was going on, as in those days when there is a beautiful sun, but occasionally it is obscured by some clouds. Nothing important. The COVID-19 problem seemed to be limited to some areas of the north, and mostly concerning a particular segment of the population, the elderly. 

No one would have ever imagined that from the first decree on 23 February, seven more would follow within a few days, and that each of them contained more and more severe restrictions. 

Thursday 5 March, the first devastating news: schools close. Thousands of workers are forced to find alternative solutions for their children. In a welfare economy like the Italian one, founded on the family, the alternative, in other times, would have been grandparents. But this virus is compelling us to protect our grandparents, and so we must be truly resilient. Find solutions, adapt and try not to panic which … doesnt help right now. 

The cinemas have remained open but with the obligation to be spaced two seats apart, even restaurants have kept distance between tables and the bars; in front of the counters, they have placed yellow and black stripes on the ground that cannot be crossed. Hopefully there is the sun and the clouds seem to be only in Wuhan and few also above the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna. But everything still seems to be very far away. Over the weekend, as sunny as in May, with the children free from their homework, all the Italians poured out on the beaches and into the parks, believing that after all, there you could stay free without the fear of harming anyone.  

Chats in the open air were just regarding the virus, the contagion, the numbers of infected, northern Italy hit by many losses. Everyone was talking about the same thing, all of the time. But on Sunday 8 March a new decree arrived. Even more stringent. Restaurants are closed, cinemas are closed, social spaces are closed, all workers invited to take their holidays. On Sunday evening we received a message from the President of our Foundation: (…) … we believe we must adhere as closely as possible to the government’s recommendations regarding COVID-19 and we feel morally and civilly engaged in reducing possible contagions. (…) we will ask you to work remotely as much as possible, however tomorrow morning it is necessary to take stock of the situation and organise the work. (…). 

Thus, from 10 March #siamotuttiacasa (we all stay at home)the whole of Italy has become red zone, the infected – to date – have exceeded 35,000 and, especially in northern Italy but not only, the victims are many, too many, even if the estimates speak of comorbidity (people with multiple pathologies aggravated by the virus). 

The week of 9-15 March was a settling week for many. Working from home is not easy, having to deal with all the different needs of a family. The backups are never enough, the devices and the connections are not comparable to those in the office, the difficulties are many and the times expand. It is only the first week of quarantine and everything can be done, indeed everything must be done in order to get out of it soon. 

In the meantime, what we saw from the world were images of a life that, within a few days, had slipped from our hands, like sand. Incredulous, we struggled to understand whether to be proud of our country for the way it handled this emergency, or to suspect that everything was due to a public health system so poor, that it could not even support hospitalisations for a common seasonal fever, which too often turns into pneumonia and kills older people. Oh yes, because this is what we thought at the beginning: it only kills the elderly. 

The first week of quarantine passed like this, our lives on other rhythms, between pride and suspicion. But slowly we have seen the shutters of the shops go down and the offices close, as well as museums, cinemas, theatres and amusement parks. Slowly everything is closedIt’s like those satellite images where you can see the lights in time lapse that slowly switch off. All of Italy has been invited to use internet as much as possible for school, work, daily life.  Many of the online initiatives are by museums, opera houses, radios, creating special formats or simply making available collections, videos, podcasts, entire shows. Last week there were real fireworks that almost made us believe, that yes, it is difficult, but then at home with the internet you can do many things and indeed, we also have more time to do them.  All of Italy gathered in a choral effort (in the true sense of the word) and the images went around the world (all of us out on our balconies applauding the health workers, or singing Bella Ciao, Nessun Dorma, Azzurro …). 

But deception was just around the corner. While the hyper-connected Italian was adapting, there was a large part of the Italian population who could not respond to the government’s invitation: I am thinking of prisoners, factory workers, health workers, environmental workers, postmen, the homeless, delivery men (who have seen their work increase significantly), the drivers of public transport who have never stopped guaranteeing their work. The feeling that the social gap in this country was growing was evident. But we are resilient people, I have already said it and I repeat it. Prisoners have also found a way, in the true sense of the word. For example, someone escaped from the Foggia prison last week, and at this moment I am not aware if he has been captured or not But today the priority is to contain COVID-19 and to do so it is good that contacts between people are reduced to the bare minimum. So whoever thought that they were living a forced vacation, with the opportunity to do all those things that they never have time to do, like organising condominium cinema forums, getting together with friends, finally getting around to jogging in the wonderful deserted cities, or going to visit the uncles and aunts they haven’t seen in a while, were not right. This is not the right time to do so, and from this week, this has been understood here and also in Spain, France, in Germany, almost everywhere. 

We are now at the end of the second week of quarantine. We got up to speed with our new rhythms and invented new ways of working. The government has put in place a series of aid for those who have lost their jobs or have had theirs reduced considerably. This type of welfare has never been seen before, maybe not even after the Second World War. We are more and more at home. More and more because from yesterday you can no longer go out except for actual and demonstrated necessity. Shopping is done close to where you live, the dog walked to a maximum of a 500 meter radius from home, the cities are full of police, wonderfully empty, but spooky. 

Even if they put all the wonders of the world online, it would still be something virtual that would not satisfy our deep and human need of sharing between people. From our tribal roots, that ancient community calling, there is no innovation that can emancipate us. We are community, we are humana civilitas. And this COVID-19 is showing this to us. 

Today we see the world retracing the exact same stages that we have gone through over the past two weeks. Experience has taught us that there is not yet an antidote to the virus but to contain it, we can perform the largest participatory initiative ever seen, feeling as if we are all part of the same democratic community. Let’s do it for those born today. Because they will be the generation that can more than any other, rediscover (and practice) that spirit of cohesion, solidarity, responsibility that we have read about on many European agendas and that we now have the real opportunity to act beyond boundaries. 

Rome, 20.03.2020 

Francesca Limana 



Francesca Limana

Head of Communcations, Fondazione Adriano Olivetti