Research for Social Innovation
Digital Nomads at Impact Hub
‘Soon you´re going to have another German friend you can talk to’. That’s what Simone told me, when he was super excited about Danielle to come back. The only other thing I knew about her was that she made an incredibly good Thai Curry that she left as a recipe on the fridge. So, I was curious to get to know this woman. In a longer conversation, I got to know the reason why she’s here for the third time now.
Danielle, tell me how you landed here, on this little island of Ortigia, speaking fluently Italian although you haven’t spoken it in years?
It all began with a call for proposals by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union. One of my tasks as a researcher at the University of Münster in Germany was to write the proposal based on input from the professor who is also the supervisor of my doctoral thesis.
Her idea was to combine the contacts she had acquired in previous research projects as well as new organizations to build a large network of various institutions in various European and non-European countries. It was an ambitious plan and a lot of work, and more than once I wished we could just drop the idea.
And now I am so happy that we continued to work on it – or else I might never have come here!
Tell me about your project!
The goal of the project (http://www.uni-muenster.de/IfPol/FAB-MOVE/) is to enable exchange between research institutions and practitioners working on the topic of social enterprises. Including the Impact Hub in Siracusa as a partner in this network allows us to gain insights into the field of social enterprises in the Sicily, as well as into the wide variety of activities of intermediaries such as the Hub itself.
The exchange between the participating partners takes place by “secondments”, i.e. staff of one organization (such as my university) spends a period of one to twelve months at one of the other organizations (such as the Hub).
My decision to come to Siracusa was based on various considerations: the mid-term meeting of our project was about to take part here, we needed some more information on the structures and activities of social enterprises in the South of Italy, and on the support activities of the Impact Hub.
My expectations for the stay (including my knowledge about Sicily), however, were basic and superficial before coming here: I expected some warmth and sunshine, some good food and beautiful landscapes.
So, you were surprised when you first came here?
From the first day, Siracusa had me spellbound. Not only is the city – and Ortigia in particular – one of the most beautiful places I know, but I also immediately felt at home. Everyone I met at the Hub welcomed me warmly and openly, so that I instantly felt like being among friends.
There is always a place for you to sit and work, at lunchtime you can cook and eat together in the great kitchen, and if you have a question you can be sure that there is always someone to help you answering it. Being honest, I have to admit that I was skeptical about the concept of co-working in the first place.
As I normally like it to be quiet when I work, I usually prefer spaces where I can be on my own and not be disturbed. This skepticism resolved quickly at the Hub.
During my stay, I have experienced that co-working has a very special dynamic that has greatly enhanced my efficiency in working, making me finish my reports in record time. This regards both the moments when you are sitting around the large table and everyone is typing away at their laptops, and those moments where people come together and talk.
There are always a number of persons from various professional and/or national backgrounds at the Hub, each one contributing their perspectives to the discussions, which often leads to surprising synergies and reveals new angles of viewing or tackling issues. Apart from regular daily work, I have participated in some of the other activities of the Hub.
This has allowed me to meet successful and aspiring social entrepreneurs and to discuss topics such as microfinance solutions for Muslim migrants, or structures and processes of
refugee reception in Sicily. For example, I have taken part in a session of the project “Bassi Communicanti” in Ragusa, where young entrepreneurs-to-be receive counselling on how to develop their ideas into real social enterprises.
All of this has provided me with a degree of knowledge on social enterprises and their support structures in Southern Italy that no scientific case study could ever have achieved.
Let me know about some experiences you made here.
There is more than work experience to be gained in Sicily.
Talking about Sicily, you also have to talk about food. I have always been passionate about cooking, loving to try various local cuisines e.g. during my former stays abroad in Thailand and Tanzania.
But I don’t think I have ever tasted such savoury and perfectly balanced dishes as I have here.
They often combine various tastes, e.g. sweet and sour, or salty and sweet, and display influences of the various cultures that have colonized the island over the centuries.
These influences have been merged into a style of cooking that uses ingredients such as mint leaves or raisins, which add this very special touch to a simple pasta sauce.
Hiking or cycling is the perfect way to work off these extra calories and explore the island’s beautiful nature, where you have everything from hills – and Etna, of course! – to seaside within reach.
In addition, there are so many cities in the Southeast of Sicily that are World Heritage Sites or would be worth becoming one that it is difficult to choose where to go for a weekend.
While all cities are incredibly beautiful, with wonderful Baroque palazzi as well as historical sites, they are not “polished museums”. Instead, each of them (Siracusa, Ragusa, Avola, Noto…) has its very own special charme, and each remains a beautifully imperfect and lively city where you feel history and present melting into something special. The impressions I had here are nicely captured in a Graffito I saw in Ragusa: “Nothing is perfect and nothing is insurmountable”.
While there are imperfections, there are no obstacles that couldn’t be overcome, so let’s start to work on the future.
Up until here, I have hardly touched upon the most important aspect of Sicily: its people. They are the island’s greatest asset and really distinguish this place from others that equally have a lot to offer in terms of beautiful nature, architecture, or good food.
The encounters with other Hubbers and their wider networks, as well as day-to-day encounters in bars or the market have captured me in a way I would never have thought possible and they will always want to make me come back.
Feeling that my first stay was much too short
to spend enough time with everyone, I came back this year and am currently planning my next return.
As I continue to work in a research project at the University of Münster, where I will also conclude my doctoral thesis this year, I cannot just stay indefinitely (not that it hasn’t crossed my mind…).
But coming back to the Hub in Siracusa now feels like coming to my second home, where I am greeted as if I had only been gone for a day, where there is always a desk and a chair to get to work at once, and where I eagerly await the answer to the question “Che cosa facciamo per pranzo?” (What do we cook for lunch?), so that I can go to the market and buy everything we need for cooking another of the wonderful dishes.
Then, when we are sitting together, eating and chatting about social enterprises, research, politics, or personal life, I know that I have arrived once again. I also know that it will be hard when the day of departure is drawing near. There is only one remedy against the fear from parting – planning your next stay at the Impact Hub Siracusa!
Thank you, Danielle, whatever it is that you do, keep doing it and if that means you’ll stay here forever. So be it. Sicily would be amazed by having such an inspiring and warmhearted, shiny person among their people.