Exploring Sicily and Digging for Innovation

  • Digital Nomads at Impact Hub

    Adrien Malguy, who called himself a ‘land explorer and innovation digger‘ worked in Sicily for one week as a reporter, for a music festival called Djoon Experience, which happened on the tiny, wild and gorgeous island of Favignana. After that festival, he needed a break to figure out his next move. Quickly checking Google Maps of Sicily, he decided to come to Siracusa and ended up spending over a month here.

    He said he fell in love with the city and here the reason why!

    Tell us about your background and your profession.
    As many people nowadays, my academic and professional background is a mash up of different things. I did a bachelor in History of Arts and Cultural Policies in Paris, then a master degree in Interactive Design at la Sorbonne. During these 5 years I did around 10 internships in France, but also in Norway and Japan, mainly for museums or art centers or communication agencies.

    I worked in a pretty big agency called Ogilvy as UX Designer. I left this company and started to give courses (about innovation in museums) in a private school (IESA Multimedia), then I got hired by this company as program coordinator for the master degree dedicated to ”digital strategy”. I decided to leave this company, after one year and a half.

    I started to be involved in fablab and hackerspace field and communities, which I loved! With some friends we’ve built a drone start-up (called Flylab, that still exists today).
    In short: I am an expert of nothing, but I am quite polyvalent ?
    Two years ago I decided to work in remote and travel more. Today I do two things: freelancing, as photographer/journalist (for Makery for instance), and project management for the creative studio we’ve just created with some old friends.

    What did you like most about Siracusa?
    The food, the people and the atmosphere. Local people often say, “here, everything is about food”, which should gi1_tgqzSdl0dcgsEBHS-ZXIeAve you a good understanding where their priorities lie… You can get super tasty and crazy cheap food here, for instance a (real) cappuccino costs 1,20€, and you can have a delicious pistachio or almond pastry (1€) with it ,or fresh orange juice (2€). Sicilia is surrounded by sea, so you can easily find fish, shellfish and squid. Street food is well represented here, too with arancini and large slice of pizza (2€).

    That is a cheap way of living. Of course you can also go in great restaurants and have gastronomic and romantic dinner for 20 euros per person, wine included.

    About weather, I was there in the middle of summer, so I had no rain for 30 days, only sun and blue sky with daily temperatures between 32 and 35 degrees. Most of the shops and indoor places have air conditioning. And in “worst” case a short swim or a nap would split your day perfectly.

    Whether you are a pro hiker, a regular diver or an art lover, Siracusa and its surroundings have everything to seduce you. Ortigia, the historical center of Siracusa, is under UNESCO protection, like many places in this region. It’s definitely a charming place, full of back streets, hidden garden, courtyards and all sorts of urban artefacts. Art lovers are gonna have heart strokes every 10 meters. Greeks, Normans andArabs settled in Sicily, and you can feel and see it through many buildings and remains. So many influent personalities are related to the city (like Archimedes, who´s a native, or Caravaggio, who spent time in Siracusa).

    Adrien, why did you chose Impact Hub Siracusa as your coworking space?
    Actually, I chose to go to Siracusa because of Impact Hub (it’s true!). I heard about Impact Hub before and wanted to experience it, as I feel pretty close to social innovation. And when I discovered that there were one in Siracusa I decided to have a jump there.

    I was so surprised… It’s probably the most charming coworking space I ever been. It’s located right in the middle of the old city, hidden in a quiet street, you have to pass by a calm, green and welcoming backyard to go inside. Impact Hub, as you may know, is a famous global community, focused on social innovation. Impact Hub connects many local communities through specific coworking spaces and projects, all involved inthe digital transition.

    Here in Siracusa, the local community is deeply involved in design (service design, information architecture, UX design, urban planning, furniture…), museums and policies innovations, immigration and food fields, mainly thanks to the work of actors and connectors like Vincenzo Di Maria, Claudia Busetto and Simone Piceno. Furthermore an interesting connection exists between the Hub in Siracusa, and Vulcanic, the incubator in Catania (a vibrant city of one million habitants located 30 min from Siracusa) which is much more focused on start-ups and business.

    What will you do differently next time you visit Siracusa?
    I would do the same: finding a flat and coming to Impact Hub half of the day time. I would also find a way to be more involved in local life, probably by helping/working on the immigration issue. Few good things happen there, but there is still a lot to do! In Siracusa there is a really interesting guy, called Ramzi that is doing great things on it. He knows very well the topic and has a worldwide network and nice intentions. I would probably try create connections, or a program with TechFugees community. I think I would also focus on freediving!

    Tell us about your current project!
    Now I just came back to Taipei (Taiwan), with a friend and my girlfriend. I will stay here for several months I think, to focus on our studio’s development (1_sQjT83Cq98_UX9ZBFG-U8gfinding projects/ clients and building up the intern organization), keep doing photography but also to keep exploring this great culture and country.

    What drives you?
    Curiosity and people!

    Thank you Adrien!

    If you want to check out his video about Siracusa, follow the link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX6TNKwROcs

    Research for social innovation

    • Digital Nomad

      ‘Soon you will have a German friend with whom you can speak your language’. This is what Simone told me when he was very happy for Danielle’s return. The only other thing I knew about her was that she made an incredibly good Thai Curry that had left the recipe on HUB’s fridge. I was curious to meet you. During a conversation, I got to know why he returned to the Impact Hub Syracuse for the third time.

      How did Danielle get here?

      It all started with a call for proposals from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program. One of my tasks as a researcher at the University of Münster in Germany was to write the proposal based on the professor’s contribution. His idea was to combine the results of previous research projects with new organizations, to build a network of institutions in different countries of the world. An ambitious and tiring plan (more than once I wished I could abandon the idea). But now I’m happy, because without this project I would never have arrived here!

      Tell me about your project!  

      The objective of the project – http://www.uni-muenster.de/IfPol/FAB-MOVE/ – is to allow the exchange between research institutes and professionals working on the theme of social enterprises. Including Impact Hub in Syracuse as a partner in this network allows us to get insights into the field of social enterprises in Sicily. The exchange consists of spending one to twelve months at one of the selected organizations to the staff of another organization (such as my university). My decision to come to Syracuse was based on several considerations: we needed further information on the structures and activities of social enterprises in Southern Italy and on supporting Impact Hub activities. Plus I was expecting some warmth and sunshine, good food and wonderful scenery.

      Were you surprised when you first came here? 

      From day one, Syracuse (especially Ortigia) enchanted me and I immediately felt at home. Everyone I met at the Hub welcomed me warmly and openly, as if I were already among friends. There is always a place to sit and work, at lunch you can cook and eat together in the large kitchen, and if you have a problem there will always be someone to help you. I usually prefer spaces where I can work alone and not be disturbed. But during my stay here, I experienced that the collaboration has a very special dynamic that has greatly improved my work efficiency, making me finish my reports in record time. This concerns both the moments when you are sitting around the big table and everyone writes on their laptops, and the moments when people meet and talk. There are always a certain number of people from various professional and / or national contexts and each of them contributes to bringing about surprising synergies revealing new points of view and ways of dealing with problems. I have also participated in some of the other Hub activities and this has allowed me to meet successful social entrepreneurs and discuss microfinance for Muslim migrants or refugee reception facilities and processes in Sicily. I took part in a session of the project “Bassi Communicanti” in Ragusa, where young entrepreneurs receive advice on how to turn their ideas into real social enterprises. All this gave me a level of knowledge of social enterprises (in particular in southern Italy) that no scientific study could ever give me.

      Tell me about your experiences here.

      There is more than a work experience in Sicily. Speaking of Sicily, you must also talk about food. I’ve always been passionate about cooking and I love trying local cuisines, but I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such tasty and perfectly balanced dishes as here. They combine various flavors (such as bittersweet) and show influences from the various cultures that have colonized the island over the centuries. Hiking and cycling are the perfect way to eliminate all the calories of food and also allow you to admire the beautiful nature of the island: from the hills, to the volcano, to the sea. Also, there are so many World Heritage cities that it’s really hard to choose which one to visit first. But the most important aspect of Sicily is its people. They are the largest resource on the island and its added value. Meetings with other Hubbers and their larger networks, as well as daily meetings in bars and markets have captured me in a way I never thought possible. Since my first stay was too short to spend enough time with everyone, I came back again this year and I’m already planning my next return. The Syracuse Hub is like a second home, where I am welcomed as if I had only been away for a day, where there is always a desk waiting for me, and where I look forward to the answer to the question “what do we do for lunch?” “. When we are together at the table, chatting about social enterprises, research, politics or personal life, I know I am back again. And I also know that it will be difficult when the day of departure comes. There is only one remedy against the fear of separation: plan your next stay at the Syracuse Impact Hub!

      Interview by
      Sarah Steiner

    Central Movement: the first bikecafè in Sicily

    •  A project supported by Impact Hub Syracuse.

    It’s Tuesday afternoon and I walk through the little streets of Ortigia, towards the Bikecafé of Chiara Pota and Alfonso Peralta. Today, they proposed to take me to a place that has a very special meaning for them.


    We walk along the water on the gulf side of Ortigia and I am curious: why is this place so important to you? 

    It’s the story of our foundation. It was the second January 2014, a year and a half ago – explains Chiara smiling – We went here along this beach for a walk at sunset. Hand in hand, very romantic. There we saw a sign in one of those beach houses: “For sale”, that was the moment when the idea of doing something here came to mind for the first time. We wanted a place to be happy, and here we found it. The initial idea was to find a place with lots of rooms to create something similar to a BnB, dedicated to cycling, because we are passionate about bikes. This first idea has changed a bit until today, but it was born and grew up here. Before coming to Syracuse, they both lived and worked in Milan. Chiara in communication and Alfonso as graphic designer for advertising. “We decided to change because we were tired of the things we were doing. We wanted to do something in a new, less business-oriented place like Milan, a place with a different lifestyle, where we could give a signal to future generations, the community and the territory. A business like a bikecafé is a positive signal. We can proudly say that we are doing something good for the city and the community.

    Why did you choose Syracuse as your business location? 

    There are several reasons – says Alfonso – first of all it is the city where I was born. From time to time I would come back for holidays and I realized that it is a beautiful place: on the sea, with a quiet lifestyle. Just what I missed in Milan. Another reason is that this city is a bit like a blank canvas, a territory that is still little exploited. So if your business is well planned and structured, you have a good chance of success, because there are not many competitors around. 

    Tell me something about your business, what exactly are you doing? 

    We offer healthy, organic and local food from morning to night all day long. We also rent bikes and have the tools to repair them for free. We also give information to people who want to ride a bike, such as special itineraries. Once a week we offer a group bike tour.

    Is this your mission, to give people an understanding of these values? 

    Yes, we try to communicate our values by living them. There are still only a few people who are really sensitive to the problems of sustainability, sustainable mobility or the focus on food and garbage. For our activity we have realized that, in Syracuse and perhaps all over Sicily, there is still little awareness of the fact that what we do today will have an impact on our future. There is still no culture of this awareness. Therefore, people do not worry and take responsibility for their actions. We hope to strengthen this awareness through our activities. 

    Before opening the bikecafé you were very close to Impact Hub. What happened there?

    Our first contact with Impact Hub was in Milan. We participated in a one-day training for start-ups. There we found a flyer showing all Impact Hubs around the world. I saw that there was also one in Syracuse and I was surprised! So when we decided to start our business in Syracuse, we contacted them and immediately organised a consultation. Thanks to the Business Clinic, we were able to focus more on the weaknesses of our business strategy. It was an important process for us. 

    What does Impact Hub Syracuse represent for you? 

    It is very valuable for innovators in the city, it is a window on the world for Syracuse. Their mission is truly exceptional. The hub and the people who attend it wants to have a positive impact on the territory, create collaborations and synergies. Breathing those emotions gives us a lot of power and courage. 

    What can a digital nomad expect from this place? 

    I think Syracuse is the perfect place for digital nomads, an ideal environment: the climate is pleasant, it is less expensive than other cities and there is no stress. Also you can eat really well and besides the sea there are also mountains.

    What could a working day in Syracuse be like?

    This is not a big city. It’s just a few steps from the office to the beach. After waking up, you can take a first bath, go to work, have lunch at the beach and then return to the office. There are many nice places to eat or drink in the evening. You don’t have any external disturbances like in a big city and this allows you to concentrate on your work. In the end it is a bit like in a big family with this small town. After some time you will get to know everyone. Getting in touch with real people, with friends, were things I missed a lot in Milan. 

    Let’s go back to Movimentocentrale, where they make me taste their brand new “Green Juice” – made with green apple, cucumber, lemon and ginger. More and more customers crowd the place because it’s aperitif time. Most of them drink the “Semedorato”, a Sicilian beer, Chiara moves from table to table, serving small glasses with couscous snacks and explaining with a kind smile how it is made. Alfonso advises a French couple interested in bike rental and invites them to the weekly joint bike tour, offered every Thursday evening. Around ten o’clock, when it’s dark, we take our bikes and go together to beautiful places around Ortigia. Sometimes we take a bath or play music together. Everyone is invited to participate.

    Thank you Alfonso and Chiara!

    Text, Photos and Graphic:
    Marie-Sophie Kammler
    [email protected]

    Curator of Theatre and Art festivals

    Desk at Impact HUB Siracusa

    She’s back! It is end of june and Gry Ulfeng enters the door of Impact HUB Siracusa, after one month of absence. She is back from her other home, Norway, where she moderated a seminar at “Stamsund Theatre Festival”, a festival for performing arts, which aims to “facilitate a dialogue between the contemporary oriented theatre professionals, and the small but lively fishing village of Stamsund located in the Lofoten”.

    Educated as theatre historian with a focus on german-political theatre, she worked for several years as an assistant professor in the departement for theatre and drama at the university and as a political advisor. After she decided to quit having a “normal job” and instead put those very diverse influences together, to start as a freelance dramaturg and artistic producer for theatre directors and dance choreografers. “Knowledge about the political system, the structure and institutions have been a very valueble understanding to transfer into the independent field”. She started to work permanent with different theatre and dance companies, always with the dream in mind to live abroad.

    To really make this possible she applied for money for an own project and got support for this. After having been curator for three theatre festivals before, she decided to run her own one now: a festival based in Norway, in summer 2016. “So now I’m not artistic producer anymore, but working full-time as curator and artistic director for my own art festival!”, she says and laughes loud with the eyes of someone who is truly happy about what she just said.

    After having a black tea together in the HUB kitchen and speaking about recent projects, it has become half past seven. I ask her to bring me to one of her favorite places in Siracusa, for doing the interview during the next days. “But we can also do it now”, she responds spontaneously, “there is something I really have to show you and now is the perfect time for it.” – Ok!
    Ten minutes later I find myself sitting with her at the sea.

    So, where are we now, Gry?

    I want to show you several places, but this one of the favourite spots where I use to go almost every day. It is a very tiny beach at the gulf side of the oldtown-island Ortigia and from here you can see a spectacular sunset. This is better than art.
    This place, where you have the sea and see the sun going down so close, without any cars, allows me to get a very strong connection to nature just a few steps away from the city centre. It helps me thinking and reflecting in a really good way and gives me peaces. During the day I really need to think about a lot of things and here I have the space for long and slow thoughts.

    Is this why you chose Ortigia for living?

    Definitely, yes. Because as a small island it is always so close to nature, I can see the sun going up on the one side and then I can go here in the evening and see the sun going down. It is really a place where I have the whole world around me. I love living here.
    At the same time it is one of the oldest colonies in Europe, so it’s the oldest civilized place you discover outside the greek world. It’s fascinating I think. This also makes me calm and peaceful, that there is this long history. I can see treasures and pathes from this older time every day. This gives me a lot of strength and I can reflect very well because of those two conditions: the nature and the history of men.
    For me it’s almost the same as in a library. When I go to a very good library I also get this quietness inside me. Because in a library it is the crossroad between humans thinking for maybe thousands of years and modern man. If I can really feel that the man has struggled and build and reflected, this makes me calm. I used to live in Rome for a long time, but I can be very restless in big cities. It’s a lot of culture today and civilized places where they have a lot of experimental art and human intelligence, but I can be very restless there. It doesn’t satisfy me. But when the history is so deep and I see this crossroad, this touches something like a religous point in me.

    Tell me about your experience with Impact HUB Siracusa?

    For my work I need people, co-working, relationships. When I went to the HUB I got this immediately. It was an urban mentality, people who are completely in the centre of the discourse. Not just sustainability but they are high educated in all different branches. We can stimultate each other and it’s a transference of competences for all of us. I expected it, but they overfulfilled it in this place. Really, really! It’s not just the unique combination of education they have there. But it’s also their personalities which make a very unique mix here in the HUB, I think.

    I really feel home in the Impact Hub. Also among people, I felt this imediately. It was as if I just took the place. I came there and I asked, “Can I start to work on monday?” and they said: “Come!” And I came there and asked, “Can you set up the internet for me and help me with the printer?” and I just started to work and they were like: “Yes, just do it!” It’s unbelievable.

    What can people expect from this place?

    Besides the gorgeous people that are working and hosting, I think it’s very important to tell about the amazing architecture and the atmosphere of the working space. You can create very different work situations there: It is a workshop place, it is an office place and it is a very good common room for meetings. And of course the kitchen as social room, where you can work and make food together, it’s wonderful. This is what I will use it for in autumn. I will bring my curator team here and work with them in the common space for the festival.

    Tell me something about your current project, the festival!

    I am the main curator and I invited four other international guest-curators to work with me in my team. The festival will take place in summer 2016 in Norway. There I try to create something which is beyond institutions but social intervention through art – art as activism. For this reason I have to to be free from capitalistic structures and not be part of the economic game of selling tickets and satisfying public taste. Autonomy is nessecary to combine art and society.
    So I am really lucky! Now I can do a festival which is just the favorite thing I want to do. I don’t compromise on anything. And it allows me to live anywhere in Europe, exactly as I want. It feels at the same time as being the luckiest person on earth and having a large responability. I feel the seriousity of this every day. It’s really all or nothing, everything at the same time. But then I come to the sea to think.

    In the meantime we took one of the small electric busses that connect Ortigia with the other parts of Siracusa and moved a bit outside the historical centre. Within ten minutes we reach the beautiful seasinde of Siracusa, from where you can have a view on Ortiga. There you can decide whether taking the bikestreet “Pista Ciclabile” or just turn to the coast and hike through the nature. Gry decides to show me the second and we climb over the rocks that are covered with the plants of thyme and capers.

    How do you combine working and relaxing?

    This place allows me to combine history, nature and my work, the three three most important and stimulating things for me, everyday. Here, nature is always just a few steps away from you. So it is possible to switch very fast from one to another mode. In the morning I use to go running up here on the seaside, in the evening I like to see the sunset. During the day in summer I prefer to work inside, because the sun is really hot for me. But I also like a lot to swim. You can do it in Ortigia of course, but I will show you one of my favorite places: the Solarium Zen. It is less crowded and a very silent and beautiful place.
    It turns six o’clock and Gry is bringing me to the last station of our stroll. The solarium, a swimplace with a little bar and restaurant, where we meet her partner Marco. The place has just closed for today and we have it just for us. Together with Marco we have a cold beer, while relaxing our feet at the sea. She didn’t promise too much. The swimplace is located in a natural bay at the feet of the cliffs. We watch the wild sea and again, in the distance, Ortigia. “I am really lucky to live here!”, she says and laughs.

    Why did you choose to live in Siracusa instead of any city in Norway?

    I have been travelling back and forth between different places in Italy and Norway for twelve years before I decided to have my permanent base in Siracusa, about one year ago. Here you can see a lot of friction. And I love friction and contradictions. I don’t like homogen societies where everything is hidden and it seems so democratic and “ok I’m perfect”, this makes me always a little bit anguish. It is one reason for why I decided not to live in Norway anymore but here. Living in Norway also with a lot of political changes was untolerable, it was time to go to another place in Europe.
    Then, for me it was also a question of: Where do you want to gentrify? Do you want to take part of the gentrification of a squad milieu in the suburbs of Oslo or do you want to contribute to the gentrification in a very, very poor part of Sicily that I love? When I think about this, the choice is really easy for me. I like to take part of the gentrification and use my money to stimulate this place, in the border of Europe. In the border where everything is so extensivly full of contrasts.
    On the one hand this is very extreme for me, coming from Norway, one of the richest countries in the world. On the other hand it gives me a lot.

    Tell me about your decision to move here. How did that happen?

    Honestly I was not in decision about moving. I went to Sicily on vacation the first time. I lived in Rome and I wanted to have vacation and to do some work at the same time. So I had to write an article and see all the greek theatres remaing in Sicily for it. I went from one theatre spot to another. When I came to Siracusa and in particular to Ortigia I just decided: “Here would I like to stay”. I just fell in love, very strange.

    Thank you Gry Ulfeng!