Vincenzo Linarello

Ashoka Fellow
Gioiosa Ionica, RC, Italy, Europe
Fellow Since 2016


This profile was prepared when Vincenzo Linarello was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.
The New Idea
Vincenzo believes that wealth can be created in Calabria and beyond without association with the mafia by creating a working example of an inclusive, environmentally friendly and socially-minded economy as an alternative. This alternative economy can create jobs, thus delegitimising the mafia as the only hope for locals. People will then be more likely to speak against it, as they won’t depend on it for income, bringing us one step closer towards defeating the mafia. Vincenzo leverages the assets that his region provides despite its extreme geographical isolation and mafia-infiltrated economy: from the infrastructure of a former textile industry to the fertile land or the large number of people in search of a job. He builds on these assets to re-create an economy which is ethical, inclusive, legal and environmental-friendly. To create more jobs and therefore weaken the real but also psychological hold of power of the ‘Ndrangheta, Vincenzo connects his consortium to large retailers from the North of Italy, to create demand for its products. As the mafia expands to Northern Italy where it has become an economic power by investing the money it has acquired illicitly, Vincenzo follows it by involving consumers and businesses in an anti-mafia movement.

It all began with Cerca Lavoro, an incubator for entreprises that has provided support to hundreds of local businesses since 1996. Cerca Lavoro provides legal, administrative, fiscal and business advice and support free of charge. In exchange, if the company succeeds, a 2% fee on their profit would be owed to Cerca Lavoro for the first few years. In 2003 it joined several other local businesses and cooperatives who wanted to oppose the mafia economy by creating Consorzio Goel. Since then, under Vincenzo’s leadership, other important social businesses have emerged within the consortium.

Cangiari (to change in the local dialect) is the first ethical brand in the Italian fashion industry. All textile material is organic, fair trade and ecological and the textile workers are all disadvantaged people united in a cooperative, so part owners of the means of production. Versace is among their clients.
Goel BIO works in Rosarno, a small village that became infamously popular nationwide in 2010, when African migrants, kept as workers in orange fields in near-slavery conditions, started a revolt in which several of them were shot. Oranges are typically bought from farmers for as little as 5 cents a kilo from distributors that belong to the ‘Ndrangheta. Goel wants to offer an alternative, buying them for 40 cents a kilo in exchange for a compulsory inspection by the authorities to make sure that workers are hired with regular contracts, that their conditions are dignified and that their cultivation is indeed organic. NaturaSi, a chain of organic supermarket, is a client. The for-profit companies that have joined the Consortium are largely agricultural businesses who have been convinced that Vincenzo’s model is the way forward. This way, Vincenzo is actively taking away market share from the mafia. In October 2015, as this profile was being written and days before the harvest of oranges, some of the tractors belonging to one of these businesses was burnt by the mob. While this is horrible, when the mafia uses violence it is usually because they feel under attack, so the strategy against them is gaining ground.

Coop idea is a community house for disadvantaged teenagers who have been excluded by the education system for behavioral issues. Many of them experienced exposure to violence at home, often in families actively involved with the mafia. In the last 10 years, 100 youth have gone through Coop Idea. The house hosts up to 10 at the same time. Until recently, after a period of support by psychologists and educators, most kids would be offered an apprenticeship in local small businesses to give them a chance to access the job market. Unfortunately, they were usually unable to obtain jobs in this way. Vincenzo then tried to embed a working space inside their community house. The Vodafone Foundation has provided all the machinery to create an organic cosmetic lab. Its products are called Goel Cosmesi. Waste material from the olive oil production (leaves, small olives, oil that is too acidic to be eaten) are used to make essences, perfumes and other personal care products.

Aiutamundi (let’s help ourselves in the local dialect) is a platform for a cash-free local economy. In a place with high unemployment rates as well as tremendous social need, there is also too little money to connect latent supply and demand in the market. Vincenzo has therefore created a system which includes 100 local businesses, in which economic interactions happen with cash-free online transactions - most people give and receive useful services, from legal help to construction, thereby stimulating the local economy and enabling social mobility and progress without the need for money

These are just a few of Vincenzo’s innovations. The new idea lies in in the creation of a parallel economy to the mafia’s and by connecting this new ecosystem to a positive economy in the rest of Italy and beyond. The isolation and brain-drain of Calabria can stop only when local opportunities are a reality.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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