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Selene Biffi. Social entrepreneurship teaches that global wellness starts from ourselves.

Economy / -

©Rolex Awards-Reto Albertalli

Selene Biffi is a social entrepreneur and UN consultant. Thanks to her determination, the first Afghan school for storytellers was borne and the Youth Action for Change was set up for the defence of human rights and sustainable development.

You are a social entrepreneur. Could you clue us in on why this up-and-coming sector seems to be especially interesting for women?
What I’ve seen in the past few years is that there are more and more women deciding to take on this challenge because they believe social entrepreneurship really makes the most of their skills and is often linked to what women are mostly good at. So, it’s not just about being an entrepreneur. It’s about empathy, it’s about listening skills, and it’s about trying to proceed in a process in which anyone can benefit. So, these are not hard skills. These are soft skills and this is what, according to many studies, women are really good at. So social entrepreneurship really gives them a chance to shine and it gives them a chance to bring out whatever skills they have that in many other sectors may not be fundamental or appreciated. So social entrepreneurship is a great opportunity for everyone who believes they have something to contribute to the greater good by starting with themselves.
On the other side of the coin, how can social entrepreneurship help women? Maybe you could give us an example from your own enterprise work in Afghanistan.
Bibak is the organization, the social enterprise, which basically builds sensors for landmine detection and works with communities to clear the land and to build agricultural microenterprises and basically to leverage technology to close the gap in post-conflict societies. We see that 80% of those who actually grow and pick saffron on these cleared lands are women. They don’t get paid very much but they are receiving the opportunities and skills to improve their communities. So, we work with communities and we work with men and women but we tend to give women more opportunities because we think they are the key to unlock the potential of their communities. Generally when you pay a man for the job, and this is UN data, 80% of the money will be spent on things that are not related to providing for their families, while a woman will invest everything she earns to buy food, clothing and to pay for her children’s education. So I think social entrepreneurship is a good way for women to do something that can benefit themselves economically, but can also have an impact on their immediate family or community and society at large. And, at the same time, because many social enterprises are run by women and are also meant for women, it creates a very holistic approach that allows those who are normally at the fringes of society in many places around the world to actually speak up for themselves, build a different future for themselves and give their families and communities a different opportunity to thrive.

During Women’s Weeks you were invited to speak at The Aspen Forum at Expo during a panel discussion “Investing in innovation: women and technologies”. Could you tell us how innovation is linked to empowering women?
In my case, what I’m really passionate about and what I really love doing is finding new ways, new products, and new services to basically tackle old problems. There’s a very nice phrase by Albert Einstein that says that problems cannot be addressed by the same old mentality that created them so you need to be innovative to find a solution to something that you experience every single day that is not great. Empowerment and innovation go hand in hand. You may be an entrepreneur, you may be innovative, your ideas may be great but then you really need to feel empowered in order to act on them. When I started, the thing that most people pointed out was the fact that I was very young. So, I was being told over and over again that I was just a little girl with bizarre ideas and that bizarre ideas would take me nowhere. Of course nobody likes being told that they are something that they are not, or even if they are that something, they don’t like to hear it. However, I don’t believe you need someone to give you a pat on the back and to tell you how great you. I do believe that you need to take ownership of your own ideas and most women are not doing this. Taking ownership means empowering yourself because unfortunately you will not find other people who, in many cases, can empower you. I did not find it. I had to create my own opportunities in order to see my own ideas come to life. I believe that innovation can come from all sorts of places or people, but then I believe that you have to empower yourself and understand yourself and believe in your dream to make sure that that innovation becomes a reality.

At The Aspen Forum at Expo you gave a very important message for young women which was inspired by the words of Rumi. Could you share that with us again?
Rumi is considered to be the initiator of the Sufi movement and he is also a great poet. This particular piece of poetry, which is very short, goes something like this: And don’t be satisfied with the stories that you hear and with how things have gone for others. Unfold your own legend. To me it really means that we all keep listening to different things and we hope to be inspired, and sometimes we are and that is good. But that’s just the very beginning. That’s just how things unfolded for others. That is what their destiny is and that is good but what is really important is that we get to understand that we also can do something and we also have a role to play. And at the end of the day, their stories matter as much as ours so we might as well start doing something and create the kind of stories we would like to live ourselves.

WE-Women for Expo has created a Women’s Alliance on the theme of empowering women in agriculture and reducing food waste to fight hunger. It is made up of female leaders from various sectors from around the world. Do you think this type of network can help empower women and help them unfold their own legends?
I think a network such as this can be extremely powerful for women and extremely powerful for young women because sometimes you may have ideas, you may have projects, but you don’t really know where to start and you don’t have people to turn to for advice. I was in this type of situation. I had an idea, I was young, and I needed a lot of support in just understanding how to turn a vision into reality. But, there was nobody there for me so I had to learn the hard way. I think a network, especially a women-led one, or one that is mainly meant for women, is actually a good starting point for those who may want to do something but who still feel kind of isolated. 

You may have heard that the leaders of WE would like to make Women for Expo a permanent fixture of all universal expositions in the future. Do you think this is an idea that, if it becomes a reality, could impact women’s lives?
I think it’s a very interesting idea and I think it’s an idea whose time has come. It’s a traveling exposition and the themes may be different, the places may be different but the main issues that are experienced by women from all over the world all boil down to the same final idea: being a woman is tough. It’s difficult; it’s not something for the faint of heart because as a woman you are confronted with all sorts of issues. You need a job, you have to raise a family, you may be in a place where human rights are not something people hold in high regard, you may live in a place where your freedom is limited by social norms. So, having a mission such as this one, that reaches out to women from different backgrounds in different countries where expos are being organized, is a good starting point to give such women a chance to see themselves in a different role.

Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales. Solidarity and cooperation to achieve common goals

Culture / -

The Secretary-General of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales, places an emphasis on cooperation and respect, the only two things that can lead to equality. "Expo is the place where the diversity of cultures, biodiversity, is revealed". According to Loscertales "this is the starting point for cooperation and for joint progress”.

Filippa Lagerback: What is Italy? A perfectly ripe tomato

Culture / -

Filippa Lagerback

Swedish-born Filippa Lagerback, a well-known Italian TV personality, tells us about her relationship with food, with mobility, and with time. The running theme is one of sustainability.

Environment: You, especially on the television, have always been associated with environmental sustainability. Where does your passion come from, and what does having a sustainable lifestyle mean to you?
Everything comes from my origins in Sweden, and my innate respect and love for nature and my surroundings. Nature belongs to everyone in Sweden, and everyone must have the right to enjoy the forests, and the lakes. There, you can also pitch your tent on private property, as long as you leave the place as you found it, as if it were yours.
Therefore, for me it was natural to be interested in the Earth, it was something that I have understood since I was a child. While the city is just as beautiful, to read a book in a forest, under a birch tree, is something that cannot be described.
Food: Today, the topic of sustainability tends mostly to concern food. One of the things that each of us could do in everyday life is to reduce waste. What are you like in the kitchen, in this regard?
I aim to buy only what I need, and try to be an informed consumer and not fall prey to all the advertising. I always want to know where the things I eat come from, such as the fruits and vegetables, if they are in season. And then, I always try to create dishes with the leftovers.
In Sweden we have a dish, which is made with leftovers, and is called "pyttipanna". Everything gets thrown into the pan to create a delicious dish that is ready to be eaten the following day. With the hectic lives that we lead these days, it’s not always easy, but when you can, it’s important to be well-informed, and to read "between the lines" so you can make the right choices. I find it pointless to eat fruit that has been flown in from the other side of the world and, for this, we must use common sense. Often this is something that gets forgotten because we are too busy.
You were born in Sweden, but moved to Italy some time ago. I must ask you, which cuisine do you prefer? What is the one ingredient that you cannot do without?
I believe that Italian cuisine is the best in the world. It’s only here that I have tasted authentic flavors. And I believe that the ingredient that best represents Italy is a perfectly ripe tomato, a product so simple yet with such incredible variety. I’ve heard endless discussions on what makes the perfect tomato.
You chose only Italian things, but is there a particular Swedish dish that you miss?
Potatoes form the base of Swedish cuisine, and there are many different dishes made with this ingredient. The new potatoes that arrive in June in Sweden, cooked with a little dill, are delicious!. They are often served with herring, although I actually prefer side dishes of fruit, vegetables and ... cheese!
Mobility: To stay healthy and lead a healthy lifestyle we need to eat well, but physical activity also plays a role. You love your bicycle because, as you have said in the past, it makes you feel "free". A feeling that you decided to pass on to your daughter. Why do you love the bicycle so much?
It was my first means of transport, one that allowed me to travel, to school, as well as to the beach with friends. It made me feel independent, and therefore free. When I arrived in Milan over ten years ago, things were a little different, and going around by bike seemed impossible.
But when my daughter was born, I thought it was unfair that she could not have the same experiences I had at her age. So I decided to go ahead, and just do it anyway. I also wrote a book in order to change things, and to convince friends and the general public to ride a bicycle for all the benefits it brings: environmental, financial, and time-saving. Today Milan is full of cyclists and this makes me very proud because this is, in some small part, also down to me.
Time: On the subject of a hectic lifestyle and mobility, it seems that rushing around, and time have become increasingly valuable for our society. What value do you attach to time?
I believe that time is the greatest luxury we have. I prefer to give up some activities, so as to have time, even where I choose to do nothing at all. Also to enjoy days with my family, to devote myself to things that improve my day, this also makes you feel good.
Another important thing is to take the time to be together. If I could choose any gift for a friend, it would be the time to enjoy some shared experiences. I would always prefer this over anything material since it’s the most enriching.
Expo: On May 1 you were at Expo for an initiative that is related to both time and to sustainability. Could you tell us something about that?
Yes, I am a spokesperson for Swatch, Official Watch & Timekeeper of Expo. Together with Treedom, Swatch launched an initiative where 5,100 fruit trees will be planted in Kenya, one for each of the 5,100 limited-edition watches sold during the Exposition.
Everyone who buys one will receive a code that allows them to follow the growth of “their” tree online. I was given a mango. And then 51 orange trees will be planted in Milan at the end of the Expo. The number 51 is significant for Swatch because it represents the number of components from which the very first of their watches was made.
Milan: This is your city, what do you think have been, and what will be, the effects of the six-month Universal Exposition, both for the city and for Italy?
First of all I am happy that the first ever Expo dedicated to nutrition is taking place in Italy, as there is no better place on earth to talk about food. And Milan has really transformed itself, turning into a far more international city than before, a contemporary city.
Millions of people will come to Milan for the Expo, and, for the first time, this city will be the main tourist destination, from which they will travel to other world-famous Italian locations. We must be proud, and we have to show those who come here just how wonderful our country is.

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