CRESM (Centre for Social and Economic Research in Southern Italy) was established in 1973 (1) in Palermo by Lorenzo Barbera and many other experts and volunteers who had previously worked, during the ‘60s, with Danilo Dolci, a non violent activist and educator, who devoted his life to improve life conditions of Western Sicily, to raise consciousness against every kind of violence (included mafia) and to use Civil Disobedience as a mean to affirm human and constitutional rights.
The story of these persons was particularly linked to the area of the Belice Valley (2) where they carried on, since 1962 to 1967, one of the first national experiments of economic and social development through participatory planning.
CRESM is now a no-profit organisation (social cooperative), based in Sicily, with a pluri decennial experience on Local Development Planning, Rural Transition, Community Regeneration, Immigration and Social Inclusion. We usually work with vulnerable groups (little farmers, immigrants, prisoners and disabled people) in disadvantaged areas, both in Italy and the Mediterranean. But we also work in urban areas (eg. Palermo) with young people, schools and communities.
What we believe in
We believe in a multicentric world made of local territories, regions, countries, and international organisations networking and sharing their efforts towards a responsible and sustainable world. A world where local identities and resources are enhanced, but “contamination” from other cultures is also considered a possible richness for all; where relations are not exclusively led by the strongest but carried out thanks to cooperation and fair exchange; where everyone and every group is free, and enhanced, to give his own contribution for a better world.
Where we are
- in Gibellina (Headquarter) where we coordinate our planning activities, and run our Training Center. There we also manage a Memory and Community Regeneration Museum (Belice/EpiCentro della Memoria Viva) and an annual Festival of Social Documentaries (Visioni Notturne Sostenibili – Sustainable Night Visions).
- In Palermo we promote several cultural and social initiatives with migrants communities (Comunità Urbane Solidali – Solidarity Led Urban Communities), where we host a little number of refugees (SPRAR Program) and where we are launching a big social and entrepreneurial project, mixing sicilian and immigrant traditions in handcraftsmanship and eco-building (Nuove Officine alla Zisa – New Factories at Zisa).
- In Castelvetrano we are currently running an organic farm on a confiscated mafia loot with disabled people and local associations (Fattoria Vitattiva – Active Life Farm) and where we promote activities with victims (Sportello Kore – Kore Counseling Center) and with schools (Peer Mediation against bullyism)
Working in Sicily
We live and work,mostly, in Sicily (the biggest region in Italy, more than 5 million people), a special land with an ancestral tradition of hospitality and syncretism of cultures, where racism has never been a problem. A land full of contradictions and resources, still badly influenced by mafia control on several sectors of economy and with an ineffective Regional Administration. For this reason it occurs that people or organisations, also coming from outside or abroad, with brilliant ideas and goodwilling, often renounce to their objectives and surrender to this kind of unintelligible stillness.
Our work under these conditions (refusing any kind of political interference) means that, even basic goals, can be achieved only through a particularly patient and constant work (that sometimes resembles to Penelope’s shroud). Nonetheless we can testify that a lot of processes of cultural change are now at work in Sicily and we are here to give our contribution!
The great amount of work that we have developed in decades of territorial commitment, autonomous from political or private interests, allows us now to structure projects on a broader scale. We could serve as entry point for international institutions and foundations that are willing to work with us on an incredibly complex land and granting more effectiveness on an institutional level.
- Assembly of the Cooperative: 23 members
- Board of Directors: 5 members
- N. of collaborators (average figures): 3 administrative, 5 coordinators, 18 collaborators
- Average revenues of the last 5 years (2011-2015): 743.000 €
- Number of young farmers involved in our courses in the last 8 years > 1000
- Average number of annual visitors in our Museum since 2011: 4.500
- Number of refugees hosted ( 2014-2016): 43
- Number of students trained with peer mediation method (2014-2016): > 600
- Number of teachers trained with school mediation method (2014-2016): > 200
Before 1973 the work on local development in the Belice Valley (promoted by Danilo Dolci and Lorenzo Barbera) was principally financed through some international fund-raising committees (in particular in Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, and Germany). With some people of these committees we are still in touch and some of them still continue to come to Sicily and visit us. In our Historical Archive, which is protected (but not financed) by the Minister of Cultural Heritage, we have a lot of interesting correspondence with those committees. In particular these international committees where initially attracted by the “charisma” of Danilo Dolci (who was considered the “Italian Gandhi”), and of course by his social challenges in a poor area like the Western Sicily of 50’s and early ’60s. But when they periodically came to visit the “mission” they also were attracted by Lorenzo’s effectiveness and organisational capacities.
After 1987 CRESM started to work with public funds for social projects (training, creation of enterprises, etc) and, after the start of the LEADER Program (that was partly inspired by CRESM work in Irpinia 1 during the ’80s).
We continued to work with public funds from EU, State and Regions for all the ’90s and great part of 2000s. In 2004 Alessandro La Grassa was elected as President by CRESM Assembly. Since 2009 we started to work with the Fondazione con il Sud and this changed our view about how to use projects (not only to make specific activities but also to create a sustainability for CRESM itself).
In 2014 we transformed CRESM into a Social Cooperative, starting to work also on the idea of managing directly some entrepreneurial activities (professional training, farm management, etc). Now, developing that idea we are considering the possibility to furtherly transform CRESM into a Consortium/Incubator of Social Cooperative, Enterprises and Associations.
This process was tragically interrupted by an earthquake in January 1968. After this traumatic event, the same group of persons, guided by Barbera, decided to give their contribution for the urban and social reconstruction of the area, often guiding non violent protests against the sluggishness of the State and Regional Administration and infiltration of mafia.
In 1980, consequently to another tremendous earthquake in Irpinia (near Naples), Lorenzo Barbera took CRESM experience about reconstruction in this area, promoting a new season of participatory planning processes for local development.