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2021-04-28 Zenia Simonella

Stories of Inclusion: The Next Project, Beyond the Borders of Business

More and more companies are investing in Corporate Social Responsibility-CSR projects to make a contribution to local communities in terms of employment and social wellbeing.

Maria Cristina Alfieri, the current Director of the Next Association, talked to us about how the project she leads has already allowed many people in fragile conditions to receive training and find jobs.


According to the latest report from the Socialis Observatory, the number of companies that invest in Corporate Social Responsibility-CSR projects is growing: from 44 companies in 2000 to 92 in 2019 (the sample was made up of 400 companies).[1]

The activities that come under the area of CSR are above all internal (i.e. aimed at employees) or linked to the local/national territory, while merely philanthropic activities are decreasing. Among the various interventions cited, the prevailing ones regard the environment (waste disposal, energy savings, recycling), changes to processes/products from the standpoint of sustainability, and the launching of collaborative relationships with universities. At the mid-point in the rankings, higher than in 2017, is "making the company's professional skills available to non-profit organizations" (from 20 companies to 25 in 2019). In terms of repercussions, the two benefits cited the most are "improvement of the company's image" and "improvement of relations with the local territory/community."

An example of a CSR project that makes the company's professional skills and abilities available in order to provide a benefit to the local community (and then to all of the national territory) is Next.[2]

The project was launched in Parma four years ago on the initiative of the logistics company Number1[3]: "Everything started with the desire of the entrepreneurs who lead the group to provide a response to the need for jobs in the local area, especially for migrants and refugees. The response devised by Number1 was to bring together a financial partner (Fondazione Cariparma), third sector entities such as Caritas and Ciac Onlus, and a training body to create theoretical and practical training courses that allowed these people to obtain the proper training to be able to work in the group's logistics warehouses. In three years over 115 people were hired. Then we asked: how can we make this project evolve further?" said Maria Cristina Alfieri, the current Director of the Next Association.

Starting with this first project an Association was established with the mission of bringing the Parma project to other cities and extending it to other businesses. The first result was the launch of the "Aula 162" project in January 2020, thanks to the financial and organizational support of Procter & Gamble: "This is a project that promotes the dignity of people and helps the company to grow economically. We are co-sponsors. Companies, even those that compete with each other, are invited to participate; we ask them to invest in the project or hire the people who are trained. I expect the market to look favorably upon the proposal. We started in Milan, Parma, and Caserta and are thinking about opening new classrooms in Pomezia, Novara, and Bologna. And we want to keep moving forward," says Riccardo Calvi, Director of Communications of P&G. 

The new project has thus gone from local to national. It has the goal of favoring contact between companies searching for qualified personnel and people who are in difficult situations but qualified and trained, and seeking new work opportunities. The project involves not only migrants (as has taken place from the beginning), but is also aimed at those unemployed due to the Covid-19 emergency, youth who have dropped out of school, and women are who victims of violence, i.e., people in fragile conditions. These people are identified by Caritas, the Italian Red Cross, Save the Children, and other third sector entities active in the local territory. They enter the program, and once it is completed, are offered to companies through the assistance of Manpower, but also other employment agencies that are collaborating with Next at the local level, such as GiGroup, Randstad Italia, InOpera, and many others.

The people who are trained are employed principally in the logistics and distribution sectors and in manufacturing. The program does not regard only training, but entails broader attention to the person: "Thanks to an agreement with Fondazione Banco Alimentare (the Food Bank Foundation –ed.), we provide the participants weekly groceries, and if necessary pay for transportation. The goal is to ensure that the person concentrates on the training without being distracted by other problems," explains Maria Cristina Alfieri.

The results are interesting: in four years (from the start of the project until the founding of the association) 178 people have been trained, of which 115 hired. Since the launch of Aula 162, there have been 49 people hired, bringing the total number of placements to over 160. The analyses conducted following placement highlight a strong connection to the company on the part of the people hired, above-average performance results, constant presence at work, low absenteeism, and high openness to overtime work and changes in duties. "Naturally, we must be careful and ensure these workers are motivated and assisted. It is important for them to understand that this is an opportunity, one that isn't necessarily always available," says Riccardo Calvi.

[1] Data drawn from the 9th investigative report of the Socialis Observatory, "L’impegno sociale delle aziende in Italia".

[3] We had already discussed this in F. Perretti, Z. Simonella, S. Basaglia,  "L’immigrazione vista da imprese e sindacati"Economia & Management, 2018, 3, pp. 14-18