When Dario Riccobono was 13, his little-known hometown of Capaci in Sicily, Italy was suddenly thrust onto the world stage. A massive explosion orchestrated by the mafia took down a portion of the nearby highway and with it the renowned anti-mafia prosecutor, Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was driving to his home.
The gruesome event was a turning point in Dario’s life. Growing up, few people had talked about the mafia, let alone challenged it. Most pretended it didn’t exist. Dario’s father was an exception having stood up to the mafia as a matter of principle. Seeing him cry at the news of the killing marked Dario profoundly. He had to do something.
Like Dario, many in Sicily awoke from this tragedy with a new-found spirit for change. When members of a youth group who Dario looked up to launched a local citizen group to drive non-partisan political action independent of the mafia, Dario joined. Led by leaders in their twenties, Dario saw that younger people like himself –in their early teens-did not have a place or a clear voice in the movement. So although he was still a minor and could not vote yet, he started a youth wing for the organization and helped recruit and empower other teenagers to bring visibility to the unspoken links between organized crime, political leadership and economic elites.
That early experience made him know that he could mobilize others around something important. The citizen movement in Sicily ultimately forced the mafia to abandon such public acts of violence. However, its political and economic control in Sicily remained. Dario and a group of friends now in their twenties, saw that the way to break the power of the mafia was to cut it off from its pizzo, the “protection tax” that nearly 80% of businesses paid to the mafia bosses.
They created Addiopizzo (goodbye pizzo) to bring together business owners who refused to pay the pizzo. Since refusing to pay would mean threats, possibly damage to businesses and/or a loss of customer base, Dario’s first move was to rally thousands of consumers pledge business to non-pizzo-paying establishments so they didn’t have to fight alone. Over 1,000 business joined Addiopizzo contributing to an estimated 10% decrease in the payment of the pizzo in Palermo, Sicily’s capital.
Dario has now expanded his work beyond Sicily by tapping into a massive market of new consumers who commit to buying non-pizzo products and services: tourists -many of them school groups of teenagers. He founded Addiopizzo Travel to help visitors see Sicily through the lens of its anti-mafia struggle, countering the glorified mafia of The Godfather and the Sopranos. Addiopizzo Travel specializes in educational tours for students from all over Italy and Europe and helps them learn how they can make change in their own communities through their power as consumers. Profits from Addiopizzo Travel fund additional projects with local school kids and university students to openly talk about the mafia and chip away at the culture of dependency.
Dario felt his own power as a teenager and is now helping grow a new generation of engaged young citizens who know they can change society for the better. With Sicily again thrust onto the world stage at the center of a historic refugee crisis, the need for its young citizens to adapt and find solutions to a set of new emerging challenges is critical.
This December, Dario and his team, in partnership with Ashoka, are hosting the 12th Changemaker Exchange in Palermo linking young Sicilian leaders to a network of hundreds of youth changemakers connected across 40 countries. Together they will bring forward a set of youth-led solutions to help Sicily’s new great challenge.