El consuelo de los números en tiempos del COVID-19: el caso italiano (artículo en inglés)

Columnist: Roberto Di Meglio


The master’s class given by Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, professor of economic geography at LSE, on occasion of the 5th World Forum on Local Economic Development (June 2021), highlighted some aspects of the crisis generated by Covid-19 [1].

The data displayed in his presentation showed that the pandemic has had a very uneven and concentrated incidence over time, both within cities and at a regional level. The impact of the pandemic, said Rodriguez-Pose, will depend on its duration, on the economic, social, and political conditions of each city and each region, on other simultaneous transformations (digitalization, artificial intelligence, commercial integration), on institutional situations and on luck.

Rodriguez-Pose also mentions the driving mechanisms of transformations: social scars, the changes to maintain social distance and the forced social experiment. From these situations we see changes, involving the way we work (teleworking), consume (online shopping), and socialize (virtual or long-distance relationships).

According to Rodríguez-Pose, the pandemic, with some exceptions, may aggravate development problems in less densely populated and backward areas, affecting employment in our cities and regions. The magnitude of the impact will depend on the measures adopted at the local, national, and global level and on the ability to redefine consumption and use of space.

Rodriguez-Pose offers hope in affirming that, with its negative impact, the pandemic implies opportunities for those who are able to adapt to change; by creating the conditions to maintain good living conditions and a suitable ecosystem to develop new ideas and attract talent. Rodriguez-Pose adds that institutional, political, social and economic conditions will make the difference.


What measures should be put in place to create and maintain an innovative ecosystem that facilitates a new normality with more social justice?

In times of crisis, human beings are pushed to value essential issues, such as health, social relations and work. For these reasons, in addition to others, the attention to “different” ways of interpreting the economy and doing business has grown significantly. I’m referring, for example, to those forms of productive organizations that provide more attention to people and less to profit maximization. Profit maximization is not a negative aspect per se, however, without clear rules and the respect for these, some players of the game may face dire consequences. It’s easy to see that the “policy”, so far, has achieved very limited results in terms of environmental impact, respect for labor rights, safety measures in the workplace. Not to mention the issues surrounding the growing inequalities.

Therefore, it seems necessary to us to promote policies that seek to compensate for the imbalances generated, these policies include ways of doing business that prioritize solidarity, democracy, reinvestment of profits and attention to the community where they operate. This speaks of inclusion and sustainability.

In this sense, another recent presentation of interest has been carried out in Italy by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) with EURICSE, a center for studies on the social and cooperative economy. The research “Social Economy in Italy. Dimensions, characteristics and key sectors” (here in Italian), includes large amount of data that encourages innovation to improve the quality of people’s lives without losing sight of the necessary condition to compete in the market.

The aforementioned research is a representation of a reality, the Italian one, which, although not extensible to the rest of the world, gives a trend line that exists in other countries and motivates us to move forward.

In this research you can find the numbers concerning the following areas of Social Economy Organizations (SEO) in Italy:

  • Number of Social Economy Organizations (SEO)
  • Composition of the SEO
  • Market versus non-market SEO by organizational typology
  • Sources of financing by organizational typology
  • Composition of SEO by sector of activity
  • Weight of the OES over dependent workers by sector
  • Characteristics of OES workers versus other enterprises
  • Incidence of women and young people by type of firm
  • Women by OES sectors versus other private companies
  • Young people by OES sectors versus other private companies
  • Occupation trend in OES versus others

There is also a section of the study dedicated to the territorial dimension of the OES, referring to the Italian national context.

Without mentioning the entirety of the data offered by the study, in this brief article I would like to take up some of the conclusions offered by the authors, which should all be subject to further reflection. In short, the research data gives us the measure of the presence of SEOs in a good part of the sectors of the Italian economic system, which confirms the importance of these organizations. Furthermore, the data shows the extent of the presence of volunteering and donations, relevant issues in the provision of services of general interest. Finally, the research highlights the counter-cyclical role of SEOs in times of crisis.

The ISTAT/Euricse research is a good example of a crucial tool, in this case for Italy, to inform and guide the development and implementation of policies with further attention to the people and the planet.

Social innovation in order to adapt to change and revalue territories and common goods: the Italian numbers suggest that it is possible.


[1] Video of day 4 of the Forum, including the intervention of Andres Rodriguez-Pose here in Spanish, English and French.



Roberto Di Meglio

Senior Specialist on Local Development and Social and Solidarity Economy, ILO Geneva