Italian Philanthropy Forum

Philanthropy, a life path. The case of Fondazione Mazzola.

Trying, making mistakes, and learning in order to get to the definition of one's own model, seeking to strike a balance between relationship, empathy and professional tools aligned with national and international good practices. Carlo Mazzola, president of the Mazzola Foundation, shares his own philanthropic journey and analyzes the organization's setting and theory of change created to promote the socio-economic inclusion of people with disabilities through sport.  

1.Can you tell us what your approach to "philanthropy" was?

I would say that it was basically a process of maturation. I believe that we are all brought to collaborate, to share resources for a greater end, and that this trait of the human being is something innate - that we can then develop more or less in the course of our life on the basis of many factors, personal and / or endogenous ones. 

In my case, the awareness of being part of the community, the desire to return something of what I had and to provide opportunities to those who start from a disadvantaged condition are characteristics that always accompanied me and that we tried to convey to our children. Over the years, this attitude shaped various experiences that saw me alongside various organizations and projects; both as a "philanthropist" - in the most naive sense of the term, I will come back to that - and as a social investor, providing know-how and patient capital to initiatives that showed potential at an entrepreneurial level and in terms of positive externalities for the community. Some went well, some not so much. Philanthropy is a risky sector: there is no silver bullet, it is not easy to identify the right partners and understand which initiatives will have the greatest chances of success. I have taken various paths. I made a lot of mistakes. And I think I learned something that can guide me in this new phase of my life and path.

2.Is this the motivation that led you to set up the Foundation? 

I would say it was one of the main reasons, not the only one. Certainly, the idea of creating a dedicated vehicle was marked by the desire to enter the game at a different level, to really play the role of "philanthropist" compared to what I have been so far, that perhaps can be more appropriately described by the word "benefactor". Treccani defines philanthropy as "Love for the neighbour, disposition of mind and industrious effort": the last two words are fundamental because they cast on this approach a different light than charity and necessarily imply a development - in terms of engagement, involvement of professionals, evaluation of results, etc. This is not a judgment on which path is better: simply, the rules of the game, the opportunities and the responsibilities are different. Opportunities in terms, for example, of developing partnerships with other funders, entering co-planning mechanisms with the supported charities and evaluating the results produced by the allocated resources. Responsibility because you go beyond the exclusively private dimension and “gut reasoning” to become a point of reference, with the need to adopt more standard mechanisms and procedures and to take into account what the real needs of the territory are.

Furthermore, I wanted to move from a personal dimension - which saw myself as the exclusive reference - to a family model. Fondazione Mazzola was inspired by my uncle Piergiorgio, C6-C7 quadriplegic: he was an important figure to me and also was among the pioneers in spreading a culture of inclusiveness and in contrasting the physical and perceptive barriers that could limit the autonomy of people with disabilities. The board of the Foundation includes my wife Barbara and our children Stefano and Alberto: for me the involvement of new generations, the possibility of transmitting values of openness to others and the attention to the "common good" are fundamental aspects of a philanthropic design that, in my hope, may persist and go beyond me. The Foundation essentially represents a bridge between our family and our community and, at the same time, a connection between past, present and future. 

3.In your opinion, which are the particularly relevant features of Fondazione Mazzola’s model of intervention?

I believe there are several elements of interest, which we have identified in our Guidelines, but I would focus on three main aspects.  

First, it was essential to take a few months to analyse the existing literature, the data and above all to "listen" - to sector experts, non-profit organizations with great experience, people with disabilities, etc. - to avoid the risk of ending up in the self-referential trap. This allowed us to develop our Theory of Change (ToC) to guide our work clearly, defining lines of intervention, boundaries and priorities. Obviously, these elements are not carved in stone but they can indicate, to us and to others, the direction we are heading to and the objectives we pursue in a coherent and rational way. The ToC has also allowed us to clarify our value setting, what we consider precious and what we want the Foundation to represent in the Italian panorama - concepts that we captured in our Philanthropy Manifesto.

It was a complex but very valuable work that also led us to take as our reference the "International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)" by the WHO, an international standard for measuring and classifying health and disability. An important step that shifts the focus from the concept of "handicap", intended as the consequence of an impairment, to the "functioning" of a person inserted in a specific context. In other words, rather than framing the limitation as an intrinsic phenomenon, it focuses on how much the person is able to lead an autonomous and satisfying life because he/she is supported (or hindered) by the surrounding environment. It is a cultural turning point because it represents an evolution: from an absolute assessment of a disability to a relativist, gradual and more measurable one. It also pushes us to a change of mind, as a so-called "able-bodied" person could be in a condition of disability if placed in an unfavourable context. Simply take a short-sighted individual: how functional would he be and which would be the implications on his daily life if he were unable to get a pair of glasses? 

The second aspect relates to capacity building, which runs parallel to the part of project financing. Just as a person needs the right resources to function, any organization needs specialized skills and services and must be able to invest in its own structure to produce added value. If in the private sector this is commonly accepted and indeed supported (would anyone ever question a company that invests in marketing or R&D?), in the non-profit sector this is a grey area that few decide to promote. It is understandable that most donors prefer to direct their resources to projects whose outputs are immediate and easily visible in the short term; but if we want non-profit organizations to be successful in the long term and to increase their performance we must help them develop or strengthen fundamental skills. We have chosen to get involved directly, putting free of charges the abilities of in-house specialists at the service of charities that have specific training / consultancy needs and clear development goals. It is certainly a time-consuming model for us and, like all innovations, we will have to test it to understand its potential. But this is an area we deeply cherish and that we hope to expand more and more - to multiply what we can offer to the community and because we think this can represent a useful service for the whole sector, also for other funders. And, thinking in a more "opportunistic" way, strengthening organizations that we could also financially support means being able to count on more reliable partners to work with.

The third point is precisely the concept of partnership. The theme of collaboration, of combining resources, of "enlarging the cake" as they say in the field of negotiation is a fundamental aspect that we want to promote with the Foundation. On the one hand with other funders, looking for foundations, companies and philanthropists who are interested in common co-financing and planning, to multiply the resources available for shared objectives. It is no longer time to act alone, if we want to produce significant social change we have to work together.

On the other side, with the charities we support: for us they represent "travel companions" to work with and not the implementers of projects to relate to only at the time of reporting. Beyond a value setting of this type, this translates for us into the concrete tools and procedures that we have chosen to adopt - from the selection of projects to the siding of the organizations in order to face together any difficulties they may encounter. We prefer to work with few realities, investing in the quality and frequency of the relationship.

Finally, working together with players, points of reference for the philanthropic and non-profit sector, who share our need to spread a culture of "effective philanthropy" to promote the growth of our system. The launch of the Italian Philanthropy Forum, in partnership with Aragorn, represents for us the first step in this direction.

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Carlo Mazzola

Economist and entrepreneur, after teaching Economic Politics and Financial Markets in universities and creating one of the first independent financial analysis firm in Italy (NoRisk), in the last years he devoted himself to social, education and negotiation themes. He published the first book on ETF in 2004 and wrote many articles on the main Italian newspapers and on specialized press. In 2017, he created Albacast, an editorial and creative project, that focuses on negotiation - reworked in an innovative and useful shape - as the basis of the processes for well-being and personal growth. In 2018, he founded Fondazione Mazzola, of which he is President, a philanthropic organization that promotes sport as a tool for the health, well-being and empowerment of people with disabilities and as an engine of social and economic inclusion. 

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