Helping Italians Tell Their Own Stories
ROME -- Ciao from Rome, where I'm delighted to announce the launch of L'Huffington Post. I've always had a great fondness for the boot-shaped country and as a Greek, I feel a kinship with a fellow Mediterranean land where someone is always trying to get you to eat something and nothing starts on time.
The last time I visited Italy was in October 2011, just before Mario Monti succeeded Silvio Berlusconi and ushered in a new era of austerity. One year later, Italy is still feeling the effects of the global economic meltdown: the unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent -- more than 2 million people are out of work -- a number that rises to 35 percent for Italians under 25.
And, like much of Europe, Italy has suffered through austerity policies that have not only hindered growth but dampened national morale. As Economonitor put it: "The implementation of austerity measures in Italy is likely to have a substantial negative impact on the economy in the coming years. Given its lack of competitiveness, the economy lived off constant demand stimulus from the government. Without this the growth problem is likely to become worse." Analysts believe the unemployment rate will continue to climb in the coming years, pushing it beyond 11.5 percent, which would be the country's highest unemployment rate in three decades.
And while L'HuffPost will devote plenty of space to what isn't working in Italy, we will also put the spotlight on what is working: the innovation, ingenuity, spirit and resilience of the Italian people. Those qualities are evident in the work of social entrepreneurs like YouCapital, a crowdfunding website that connects citizen journalists with funding; Plain Ink, which uses the power of storytelling to increase literacy and improve lives around the world; Oltre Venture, founded by former private equity manager Luciano Balbo, which, as Italy's first venture philanthropy firm, addresses at-risk youth, unemployment and immigration; and the Italian Business & Investment Initiative, which connects Italians with Silicon Valley startups and then helps them create their own startups once they return to Italy.
Above all, L'HuffPost will celebrate Italy's vibrant culture, from its cuisine, operas and art to its traditions, ancient history and legendary cities. And we'll spotlight institutions and events that reflect Italy's DNA and connect us with its past, like the Venice Film Festival -- which just celebrated its 80th year -- and the restoration of the Colosseum, which is a bit older (and what we Greeks would call a "new addition"). We'll also spotlight the ways Italians unplug and recharge, since disconnecting from our devices is one of the best ways to reconnect with ourselves, and our wisdom. I especially love the traditions of the riposo -- the period each afternoon when shops and offices close -- and the passeggiata, the evening stroll, when the pressures of the day give way to fresh air and conversation.
To capture this vast mix of traditions that makes Italy unique, we'll be using all the tools at our disposal to tell the most important -- and most entertaining -- stories of our time. And, just as important, help Italians tell their stories themselves. And since Italy's 35.8 million Internet users make up nearly 59 percent of the population, it's our hope that L'HuffPost will help expand the conversation at a time when Italians are looking to each other and their communities -- both online and offline -- for the empathy, ingenuity and creativity that will lead to the real solutions the country needs.
On a 2009 visit to Italy, I attended a media conference where everyone was given a button to wear, reading "Io ho fiducia" -- "I am confident." It's a fitting slogan as we set about spotlighting what is working around the country, and those who are committed to improving their lives and the lives of others.
Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is email@example.com.(c) 2012 Arianna Huffington. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.