Category Archives: Palermo – Italy

Smarter Cities Challenge Palermo – the final countdown

And so crunch week is upon us.  Time to focus our energies on refining our recommendations. We were lucky enough to have a last minute visit from the Mayor to our hotel team office, so we were able to validate some of our ideas with him. He’s a man of many wise words and sayings, and a man who very much believes in the possibility of change; he wholeheartedly refutes the Italian saying ‘He who is born round cannot die square’!


A lot of discussion and prep was required ….


And finally Friday arrived. Our Powerpoint skills had been tested, as had our patience and creativity, but finally we had an overview of recommendations that we were happy with and which we presented to the mayor and many of the people we’d met and interviewed during the previous 3 weeks. The last minute livestream on Facebook was a bit of a surprise but by that point it was too late to worry.

The mayor seemed happy with our presentation and it seemed to resonate with his thoughts and plans. He commented that they already have the infrastructure in place but they need to put it in service of the ‘client’ and that while they have both a communication and digital infrastructure, that these need to be combined, so create a system of participation and involvement.  I particularly loved his comments about how they currently manage by heroes but how they need to get back their souls to build a network of souls. He’s quite a poet!


The 3 presenters… happy with the result

And so a final team lunch was held as we said our goodbyes….but the hard work isn’t over. The report awaits!

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Smarter Cities Challenge Palermo – weekend #2

Weekend number 2 started with football….. while we were waiting for Italy to be beaten by Sweden (sorry Andrea!) the news flashed up on the screen. Coastguards in Libya in a ‘dispute’ with a German NGO over who was responsible for the death of some migrants during a rescue mission. Our eyes, ears and minds are now tuned in to this kind of news.

After a bit of shopping and a couple of hours of work, we all went off the international dinner with our new friends at La Noce. A fabulous evening of international food that everyone had made, chatting, dancing ensued, along with a table football tournament where the women were victorious! (We wanted to do something for the ‘unaccompanied minors’, the young lads we had met the last time we visited and Andrea had the great idea of a table football).

My overriding memory of the evening is of young African men and young African mothers dancing with Italian and German volunteers, dancing with Syrian and Tunisian men, women and their kids and also dancing with the IBM SCC team. It was such a fantastic picture of unity, happiness and hope. A REALLY amazing evening. Thank you La Noce, you’ll always have a place in my heart.


Sunday was largely filled with work again – we need to produce the best recommendations possible for all of the great people we have met. But Lisa, Helene and I did escape to the Massimo Teatro for a couple of hours to hear the beautiful voices of the children’s choir and orchestra rehearse. A bit of calm before the final week storm…

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Teatro Massimo children’s choir in rehearsal

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Smarter Cities Palermo – days 8-12

It’s funny how 3 weeks away from your day job seems like such an eternity to manage but 3 weeks on a project seems like a really short period of time! So week 2 arrived and it was time to divide and conquer.

We still had many meetings to do but we also needed to organise our thoughts and get some structure in place. Design thinking principles, SWOT analyses, workflows, a stack of post-it notes enabled us to synthesize the data we had and come up with a structure to move us forward.


We met three amazing women from the International Organisation for Migrants, part of the UN. The stories about sex trafficking were truly harrowing.  At the opposite end of the spectrum we also met a fabulous Italian entrepreneur who has her own fashion business based in Palermo.

I was also privileged to be able to visit Teatro Massimo on Thursday. It’s the 3rd biggest opera house in Europe and has a stage over 50 metres deep. But more impressive to me was the work they do in social inclusion. The superintendent told us about their ‘opera truck’ that they use to take opera around the city, to the masses – and how they took it one day to a tough neighbourhood called Zen. Initially they were performing to no one, but slowly the kids started to appear and then the mothers with their babies…. and finally the men. And how for those few hours of performance the police reported back that criminality stopped.  Amongst other things, they have a Rainbow Choir made up from kids from all walks of life and do concerts for pregnant women to introduce their babies to music.

Gelato and speed walks completed week 2 of being in the ‘City with a soul’.

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Smarter Cities Challenge Palermo – woo hoo, it’s the weekend! (Days 6 – 7)

The weekend arrived! It’s amazing how tiring a week of listening can be, so a bit of down time was certainly welcome. Friday night started with a party at Moltivolti. An African band played to a packed audience of ‘many faces’ (as you’d expect).  So dinner, dancing and a bit of singing were in the order of the evening.


Saturday was a chance to expand our horizons outside of the central old city. First stop Monreale, a historical hillside town just outside of Palermo which boasts an amazing cathedral with over 6000 square meters of mosaics dating back to the 12th century. The sun shone, we had a fabulous lunch (which largely goes without saying on this challenge so far) before heading back into the city.


Cathedral at Monreale

Second stop was a visit to La Noce (the valley). We’d heard from their director, Anna, earlier in the week and she’d invited us to the Centre to meet some of the people in her centre. The organisation does everything from running a school, to helping and housing unaccompanied minors (UAM), families who have come through the ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ and vulnerable women.


La Noce and the Smarter Cities Challenge team – multiculture at its best

Most of the UAM are young African men, 16 or 17 years old, who have great ambitions for what their future – chefs, footballers, doctors… and with such passion and such amazing support from the team that runs La Noce you know that anything is possible.  We met Syrian and Tunisian families and heard about those that come from refugee camps in Lebanon.


Helene, Kate and Lisa with some of the lovely ladies from La Noce

The visit was a really good reminder to us all of one of the main reasons we are here and we were all really moved by their stories and how warm and welcoming they were.  I ended Saturday happy but physically and emotional exhausted.

Sunday morning came around all to quickly and we were off on another tour, this time a little closer to home. Ballaro is an area in the heart of the city centre, right next to where we are staying, and is famous for being an area populated by migrants. It’s trying to shake off its reputation of being unsafe and somewhere not to visit at night. Certainly during the day it is vibrant place with a huge market selling everything from fish, bread and vegetables through to second hand goods where bartering is possible. One of the well known faces in the area, Massimo, took us around and introduced us to many people. With every step he knew someone and with each of these steps we seemed to have the knowing nod of ‘ah yes, the team from IBM’. The responsibility is beginning to weigh on my shoulders.



Team SCC Palermo (L to R: Mike, Kate, Andrea, Helene, Lisa and Angelo) up a bell tower in Ballaro

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SCC Palermo – days 2 to 5

Tuesday, day 2 of our challenge, was truly a baptism of fire. A day full of meetings with stakeholders. Getting used to listening to translators through one ear and English through another and in between all of this trying to decode the noise between your ears into some sensible output. We talked to those responsible for IT, social services, innovation department as well as those responsible for unaccompanied minors through the migration process.


Hearing from Mr D’Anneo from the Statistics Unit in the Municipality

On one hand the picture started to get a bit clearer and yet on the other hand it doesn’t. I think we were all overcome with how wide this scope could be.

Wednesday was a public holiday here and so with the help of the rigour of some consulting techniques (thanks Mike!) and some gelato, we set about trying to order our thoughts and refine the scope based on what we had heard to date. Post it notes were definitely our best friend by the end of the day and I think we all had a real sense of progress. Understanding the area we are likely to focus on made our meetings for the rest of the week more productive as we could ask much more targeted questions.


The first of many gelato: the happy faces of Kate, Helene and Lisa


We ended Wednesday on a real high with a visit to MoltiVolti (‘many faces’), a social enterprise set up by 2 inspirational guys called Claudio and Johnny.  Their ethos is around supporting ‘dignity, citizenship and value from the diversity’. On one side it is a shared space for the 3rd sector, which is funded by the other side – a restaurant. The passion and enthusiasm these guys have, along with their team, is infectious.  And the food is fabulous!

Thursday’s Day of the Dead celebrations brought us back to uncertainty – who are we really trying to help? Are we clear? The team was a bit divided on this, more questioning was clearly needed.

Many of the meetings that followed for the rest of the week were with societies and organisations that help – all passionate about social inclusion and integration.  So far everyone we have spoken to from the municipality, to the deputy Prefectura (responsible for the reception of migrants from the port of entry) and through to the charitable organisations have all passionate about one thing….. which, to use Mayor Orlando’s words, is that ‘we are all Palermitano’.

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Smarter Cities Challenge Palermo – day 1

‘You’ve been accepted on Smarter Cities Challenge’ were the exciting words in an email just a few short weeks ago.  My mind raced to the exotic places I might end up (like a many of the team, our definition of exotic seems to be somewhere outside of Europe!), mostly based on my colleagues’ experiences in far flung places like the Philippines.  Reading further on I discovered that Sicily was to be my destination of choice so images of pasta, pizza, red wine, the mafia all came to mind. Trailing somewhat in that visualisation, I’m ashamed to say, is the recent plight of thousands of migrants who have and continue to land on Italy’s shores hoping for a better life.

And this is our challenge for the next three weeks. To work with the Mayor to transform this migration into an opportunity for the city of Palermo, its new residents and for all citizens. Our aim is to help the city become smarter, more open and more inclusive.

With a day of exploring behind me, I can see that in actual fact Palermo is an exotic city. As it’s leader, Mayor Orlando, says it is a ‘middle eastern city in Europe’. A fusion of history, cultures and people over many centuries.

We met the man himself today, day one of our Smarter Cities Challenge, as the work began in earnest.  Mayor Orlando is a real legend not only in Sicily but the whole of Italy and an amazing character. Passionate, enthusiastic and committed are just some of the words that spring to mind. He describes his city ‘not as a painting but a mosaic’ that needs a framework to create harmony from all the different pieces of stone. And talked about how to connect the virtual and the human.  Two hours of inspirational talk later, it’s clear that this is going to be a fascinating challenge trying to bring consensus to an emotive subject.

And then it was time to move onto the hard facts. A team from the University of Palermo Department of Industry and Digital Innovation shared with us some of the numbers but it became clear very quickly that the actual numbers are not easy to define.

So with pizzas in our bellies, we finish day one happy, watching the news bulletin featuring our meeting with the mayor (but thankfully not my interview!) but still with many questions that need answers.

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