Libera Terra: First Social Innovation Business Case Study published

Tamami KOMATSU, Alessandro DESERTI & Francesca RIZZO

Creating social and economic value by re-using confiscated assets

Libera Terra is a network of nine Type B social cooperatives, the only profit-making social cooperatives allowed by the Italian law, working on confiscated lands primarily in the agro-food industry. The network currently manages 1,400 hectares of confiscated lands in Sicily, Campania, Calabria, and Apulia, and gives work to about 140 people, producing ethical, organic products and selling them under the brand Libera Terra. Libera Terra is the entrepreneurial branch of the anti-mafia association Libera. Its mission is to create social and economic value for the community by re-using the confiscated assets re-allocated to them under the law 109/96.

BSC - Libera Terra

In Italy, the mafias have created a wide range of economic, social and cultural problems. While most think of violence as the biggest consequence of organised crime, the principle consequences are economic and cultural: According to a report done by SOS Impresa, in 2010 the mafias produced a turnover of ?130 billion, making up a net profit of over ?70 billion. The commercial branch alone equalled about 6% of the Italian national GDP.

The anti-mafia movement, which started at the very rise of the mafias, has been working hard to fight against their power, strongly pushing for normative change as a fundamental issue. In September 1982 the law Rognoni-La Torre was passed: The law defined the mafia-related organisations underling their illegal business related activities, thus shifting the attention from the violence or danger of the individual onto the economic power of the indicted. The next normative innovation came in 1996, when Don Luigi Ciotti, a priest from Turin, collected over a million signatures to pass the law 109/96 written by Ex-Magistrate, Giuseppe Di Lello, of the Anti-Mafia Pool. The law called for the social re-use of all assets confiscated from the mafias and the designation of these assets to those subjects - associations, cooperatives, municipalities, provinces, and regions - who were able to give them back to the citizens through services, activities of social promotion, and work.


The Background

Libera: Associazioni, Nomi e Numeri contro le mafie was established on March 25, 1995, by founder and President Don Ciotti, with the intention to solicit civil society in the fight against the mafias. Libera is an association of associations whose primary activities are concerned with the promotion of a cultural shift toward legality, civic virtue and the concept of co-responsibility, i.e. that the fight against the mafias is the personal responsibility of everyone.

The primary unmet, social need in Italy's south is that of social security: The right to a just and equal social order combined with the right to self-realization. Libera Terra responds to this need by creating legal and ethical employment in territories destroyed by the mafias.


The Response

Confiscated land given in use to Libera Terra
Confiscated land given in use to Libera Terra

Libera Terra is the result of a multitude of actors and can be classified as an innovation that has come out of a movement. In collaboration with the Consortium Libera Terra Mediterraneo (LTM), the cooperatives produce 60 different products, including pasta, legumes, salsas, honey, cookies, coffee, sweets, juice, olive oil, and wine. The Consortium LTM coordinates the cultivation amongst the various cooperatives, rationing and monitoring the production seeking to both match market demands and ensure production quality.

The primary focus of the cooperatives is to provide employment: A core activity of the cooperatives hence goes to training and development, but also to market entry and stability. This is done in collaboration with the agency Cooperare con Libera Terra, an association of 74 cooperatives, created by Legacoop (the major association of cooperatives in Italy) to help support those cooperatives who manage confiscated assets by transferring know-how, skills, and best practices. Beyond the core activities done by the social cooperatives, they are also dedicated to promoting a culture of legality and positive socio-economic growth.

Libera Terra Products
Some of the products of the Libera Terra's social cooperatives

They hence are very active in their communities, forming partnerships with local entities and working in tandem with various activities. All of Libera Terra's activities work to create new methods of provision that in turn create new, ethical markets. For example, by requiring only organic production, the local farmers who wish to make contracts with Libera Terra must certify both that their production is organically made and that they are free from the mafia (both professionally and personally). Libera Terra hence created a market for fair, organic products by creating a demand that previously didn't exist.

One of the dominant growth risks involved in the Libera Terra project is the problem of ownership. Since the asset remains the public property of the municipality, this proves to be quite problematic for the cooperatives for two primary reasons. The first is the danger that the asset could be taken away and all the investment done on the property would remain, rendering the project fragile. The second is that, due to the lack in land ownership, or else in collateral, the cooperatives face high barriers to loan access and hence cannot easily invest in growth strategies. Other barriers are those resulting from the mafias, either in damaging the property before leaving, creating high start-up costs or in damaging the property afterwards.

The creation of local employment opportunities, the strengthening of local production, the creation of new markets, the diffusion of an entrepreneurial and ethical culture in the territory and the creation of best practices for scaling efforts are some of Libera Terra's key benefits and core features.

Libera Terra is an original solution to a very old yet persistent problem of criminal organizations in Italy: What makes it unique is the concerted effort by multiple actors and the importance of policy for the solution to work. Since Libera Terra's cooperatives are located in highly corrupt areas, the barriers (economic, social and cultural) to being competitive in local markets are high: Advocacy as well as innovative marketing tools and strategic partnerships become essential to remaining on the market.

People at Work
People at work in the Placido Rizzotto social cooperative

Libera Terra is an original solution to a very old yet persistent problem of criminal organizations in Italy: What makes it unique is the concerted effort by multiple actors and the importance of policy for the solution to work. Since Libera Terra's cooperatives are located in highly corrupt areas, the barriers (economic, social and cultural) to being competitive in local markets are high: Advocacy as well as innovative marketing tools and strategic partnerships become essential to remaining on the market.



Education for Accommodation: First Social Innovation Biography published


Located in Duisburg-Marxloh, Germany, «Tausche Bildung für Wohnen» («Exchange Education for Accommodation», TBfW) was born in summer 2011 as preventive action against cultural exclusion, social discrimination and low education of children in Duisburg-Marxloh. The solutions' innovativeness lies in the combination of supporting deprived children, providing affordable living for students, lowering high vacancy rates and providing urgently needed assists for urban and religious institutions, resulting in a win-win-win situation: Deprived children in the district is offered an intensive after-school assistance for homework, learning, language skills and spare time activities provided by engaged young people who in turn are provided rent-free housing in a shared apartment.

Marxloh in the north of Duisburg, Germany, is a district whose history has been closely associated with the coal and steel industry. Due to its history, the neighbourhood is characterised by a large number of households with migrant background, which accounted for 64.1% of the residents.

In Germany, more than in many other European countries, the social background is still the decisive factor as to whether young people receive a good education. The prospects of, for example, households receiving public subsidies (e.g. Hartz IV) to participate in education, school success and integration into working life are therewith strongly impaired.

Hence, the idea of TBfW was to establish a «prevention chain» to fight children's and their families' social, cultural and economic discrimination through strategic volunteering children from 6 to 12 by young, well-educated people such as students, apprentices or other socially engaged young adults («mentors»). Establishing a reliable reference structure for the children in the neighbourhood takes centre stage. Next, the influx of the young, well-educated people is viewed as way forward to a better social mix, which underpins social cohesion. Besides, rent-free accommodation of mentors in a joint property financed by TBfW is not only a wise and social use of vacancies, but also adds value to the neighbouring properties.

TBfW - Tausche Bildung für Wohnen
Photo: Sebastian Lehmann Source: TBfW 2015


Backyard Duisburg-Marxloh
Photo: Sascha Kohlmann Source: Galery

TBfW's idea first came up to Mustafa Tazeoglu, who was born and raised in Marxloh and has a Turkish migrant background, in 2007/08 from his own experience of living in a shared flat of ten solidary people and learning about a girl who provided tutoring for a free meal. In 2010, the idea was first formulated in a ten-page concept paper. Jointly with Christine Bleks (also born and raised in the Ruhr Area) he founded Urban Rhizome UG in 2011 - a social enterprise, concerned with the development and accompanying new models at the intersection of urbanity, (inter)culturality and economy. In fall 2014 the first generation of mentors has been assigned, moved in two threesome shared apartments and begun to volunteer children in the neighbourhood with homework, language skills (mainly through playful learning) and learning assistance in the basic classes German, English, mathematics and social studies, as well as cultural, sportive and other leisure activities.

TBfW is designed as a lasting self-supported solution to prevent social, cultural and economic discrimination of children from low-income families and therewith accounts for the demographic change in the district. Through the involvement of local partners from the public, private and non-profit sphere in the innovation process and by related bartering agreements in the framework of TBfW, engagement of the district's community gained momentum and will long be a support to the neighbourhood and its residents.


The Idea

TBfW - Mentors
TBfW Mentors Source: TBfW 2015


Social Innovation Biographies: A New Research Methodology


Social Innovation Biographies (SIBs) of successful und less successful initiatives envisage deepening our understanding of development paths, knowledge trajectories and stakeholder interactions at the micro-level, i.e. the single innovation.

They allow for the reconstruction of social innovation from the emergence of its first idea to implementation, scaling and diffusion identifying involved actors, processes and networks as well as their interplay as well as related economic principles, objectives and components appyling narrative interviewing methods and triangulation.

Although the methodology has originally been developed in the context of «traditional» innovation, its application to social innovation is, viewed as promising approach to fuel the iterative process of theoretically-informed empirical research, empirically-informed theorising and the generation of evidence-based knowledge to be translated into new modes of policy production and instruments.

It is important to note that a SIB is not a biography of the organisation conducting the innovation but rather the innovation process. Forasmuch a case is neither an organisation nor a policy field or theme, but the social innovation itself.


Exploratory Qualitative Research

A Narrative is a form of interviewing that involves the generation of detailed «stories» of experience, not generalised descriptions. Participants engage in an evolving conversation and collaboratively make meaning of processes and experience.

A case may take the form of a project or initiative, i.e. a single and concrete manifestation of a solution that responds to the demands of vulnerable and marginalised populations, related challenges or the need for institutional change. To qualify as a case within SIMPACT the innovation must meet the following criteria:

  • Address one of the defined thematic areas (i.e., employment, migration, demographic change, gender, education) or any combination;
  • Comply with SIMPACT's understanding of social innovation, according to which social innovation refer « [...] to novel combinations of ideas and distinct forms of collaboration that transcend established institutional contexts with the effect of empowering and (re)engaging vulnerable groups either in the process of the innovation or as a result of it»;
  • Have some kind of formal structure (e.g. NGO, social enterprise, association).

Research Process

A SIB contains of a number of components or building blocks, which together make up the methodology.

  • Well-conducted desk research by means of document analysis is crucial not only for case selection, but also to understand the context of the social innovation.
  • To grasp the space and time dimension of the innovation process one further component is a narrative interview with person being central to the innovation process, i.e. the innovator. The interviewee is asked to tell the story of the innovation process, from the first idea to the implementation of the solution.
  • The narrative is the basis for an intensive analysis of interactions between the actors involved in the innovation process by means of egocentric actor network analysis. Here a person or the solution itself represents the ego.
  • Further interviews with, for example, users or actors from the public and private sector are necessary to «follow» particular interactions. Conducted in form of semi-structured interviews they enrich the bibliographic picture of the social innovation and allow to verify the informaion collected so far. Subject to the complexity of the innovation additional 3 to 5 interviews will, ideally, lead to a coherent picture of the entire case.
  • Finally, triangulation is used to combine data from the individual, collective and structural level. The various interviews constitute an individual level as they reflect interviewees' own perspectives. Egocentric network analysis provides data on involved actors, modes, frequencies, and geographic spread of interactions, i.e. structural level. Whereas, desk research enriches the biography by adding information on the specifics of involved actors and the socio-economic context, i.e. the contextual level.

Step-wise Research Procedure

SI Biography - Research Process
Source: Terstriep/Rehfeld 2014

Upcomming Events

2nd Stakeholder Experiment

25 June 2015, Brussels (Belgium)

Following the successful 1st Stakeholder Experiment, SIMPACT will hold the 2nd workshop to actively involved vulnerable groups representatives in its research activities. Organise by TUDO and hosted at CEPS, Congressplaats 1, 1000 Brussels, the priticipants will discuss and critically reflect on SIMPACT results.

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EMES 2015

5th EMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise

30 June - 3rd July 2015, Helsinki (FI)

The EMES International Research Network, in partnership with the Finnish Network on Social Enterprise (FinSERN), announced the 5th International Research Conference on Social Enterprise entitled «Building a scientific field to foster social enterprise eco-system».


ESSE 2015

6-11 July 2015, Bertinoro (Italy)

The Department of Economics of the University of Bologna (Forlì Campus) in collaboration with AICCON, announced the fourth edition of the European Summer School on Social Economy (ESSE). On Friday, the 10 July 2015, POLIMI jointly with IAT organises two sessions on the «Economic underpinnings of social innovation».


ITSSOIN Mid-term conference

ITSSOIN Mid-term Conference

8 July 2015, Paris (FR)

The ITSSOIN mid-term conference will be held on Wednesday 8 JULY, 2015 in Paris, hosted by ESSEC Business Schools. The conference will inform on the project process and invite participants to comment on the general insights presented. Social innovations in the specific fields (e.g. arts & culture, social services) are addressed.


ISIRC 2015

6-8 September 2015, York (UK)

Hosted by Prof. Bob Doherty (The York Management School) the 7th International Social Innovation Research Conference will be held in York.

CreSSI and SIMPACT jointly organise two sessions on the «Economic underpinnings of social innovation».


«Pathways to Social Change»

18-19 November 2015, Vienna (Austria)

«Pathways to Social Change» is planned and designed by mutually complementary research projects on social innovation that reach out to world-wide experiences and concepts of social innovation. The conference will connect researchers with policy makers and practitioners of social innovation.

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