Meeting with Emma Ursich, Executive Officer of The Human Safety Net Foundation
by Mariachiara Marzari

The Human Safety Net is a global initiative of people helping people, active in 24 countries together with 62+ NGOs. Their mission is to free the potential of those who live in vulnerable conditions. Emma Ursich told us about Generali’s latest challenges.

The Human Safety Net is a global movement of people helping people. It is active in twenty-four countries and partner with sixty-two NGOs. Its mission is to free the potential of people living in vulnerable conditions, so that they could improve their life conditions and those of their families and communities. The programmes of the Foundation, initiated by the Generali Group in 2017, support vulnerable families (with children aged 0 to six) and the integration of refugees by work and entrepreneurship. The Human Safety Net has had a home in Venice since just over nine months, in Piazza San Marco. The building has been opened to the public for the first time in over 500 years, after a beautiful restoration designed by David Chipperfield Architects Milan. Inside it, the interactive exhibition A World of Potential guides visitors to discover their own strengths, thus making an impact on society and sustainability. In the same spaces are the Café managed by Illy, a co-working space with an amazing view on the Piazza, and an event area with the auditorium. We met Emma Ursich, Executive officer of The Human Safety Net Foundation. She guided us into the heart of the exhibition and the Foundation itself and offered a peculiar, attentive outlook on the future as well as an invitation to be a bit more inclusive of ourselves and other in such a complex historical moment.

The Human Safety Net and its function within Generali Group.
Generali accompanies people in their project with the goal of being ‘life partners’. The Human Safety Net has been created with this objective in mind, as a point of priority to reach out to the most vulnerable people, those who have no other safety net, for them to develop a life project they otherwise just couldn’t. Our identity can be summed up in the few words that accompany our exhibition A World of Potential: “We all have potential. Some of us just cannot express it yet.” Our programmes for refugees and vulnerable families support people for a definite timeframe in their lives to change them for the better. When we will take our separate ways, after a year or eighteen months, neither must be in the same situation they were when we started. That’s our goal.

We have people in all countries we operate in, and we partner with local NGOs and social enterprises. We go beyond the approach of traditional philanthropy, often limited to money grants, and prefer an all-around approach: a real, tangible support for people. Our idea is to listen and understand what people needs. Then, we partner with local organizations to offer our support, so that we can integrate and accelerate their outreach. For us, this means not overlap or replicate what already exists, but intervene with specific actions and make them more comprehensive and sustainable. It is essential to invest in trainings for educators – these may be social workers in destination countries – and provide them with the opportunity to acquire knowledge and services that at present they cannot offer. Other times, we support co-financing projects of public and private actors. In the latter cases, we provide matching grants, which will allow the programme to scale and help more people. We listen, we learn, and we catalyse our efforts in those places and moments where we can make a difference. This has been our goal since inception.

Your work in Venice
Venice is a city of immense symbolic value. It is the centre of the foundation’s business and the centre of gravity for everything we do in the countries we help. A platform of exchange that is open to the world. The Procuratie Vecchie underwent an important restoration, designed by David Chipperfield Architects. Generali wanted to recuperate an iconic building of Venice as well as give it a new mission by means of The Human Safety Net, which is consistent with what historically was done here. A modern mission that opens up to Venice and to the world. This is the nature of the Generali Group. The challenge we wanted to face was to maintain the building’s history and, at the same time, make it more modern and accessible to the themes we have been discussing. There are space for the global conversation as well as for local projects. For us, this place is a space for discussion on sustainability and social inclusion, a space where we can create programmes for everyone, that can mix people of different extraction and promote dialogue, stimulus, collective reflection. It’s been only a few months and we are ecstatic.

A World of Potential
It all came to life after our partners and us discussed how to facilitate access to what is intangible – the human capital – and, consequently, how we can and must show to the public how we help people through our social programmes. We wanted to avoid being self-referential, limiting ourselves to a show & tell approach. We, rather, wanted to make visitors find out their best, and how much better it is if we all put our potential into the game. This is why we chose to build this playful exhibition area, something that invites everyone to reflect. We hired specialized professionals: Dialogue Social Enterprise, from Germany, and its founders, Andreas Heinecke and Orna Cohen. The narrative of the exhibition was built upon the method of positive psychology, a tool to get to know ourselves and our strength developed by American psychologist Martin Seligman and employed in many different cultural contexts. Taking stock of five years of work, and eight months in Venice We are a small group, though strongly motivated, and we were supported by a large network of partners and colleagues. Thank to collective effort, we have been able to reach our goals within the first five years of work, which pushes us even more strongly to keep on doing what we do. Regarding our office in Venice, we are happy to have welcomed over 40,000 visitors to A World of Potential. Visitors reacted in many different ways and have been very curious. We kept our ears open and paid attention, trying to engage everyone who comes to see us. To this end, we hired cultural mediators to interact with the public and help them into the right frame of mind. At the end of the visit, people can keep in touch, too. Half of the ticket price is allocated to either the ‘Families’ or the ‘Refugees’ fund – the choice lies with the visitor.

Local cooperations
After the first few months, when we made the necessary adjustments to our work routine, we worked on our 2023 calendar for a rich offer of opportunities. Our goal is to network with other similar spaces in other cities and develop our discourse on sustainability. We also co-founded a Foundation for Venice as World Capital of Sustainability, which will be headquartered right here at the Procuratie Vecchie.

Your own life and work
I am the child of an Italian father and an English mother. They met in Australia, between two different worlds, and maybe that’s where my passion and curiosity for the Other was born. That’s probably why I am so interested in Chinese language and culture. I love to get to know other cultures, to build relationships between them. I believe that’s also why I worked so hard to get this Foundation started, to create a network where each of us can contribute in original ways. Thanks to this project, I have been able to put to good use my personal inclinations with the culture and identity of the Generali Group as well as with their story and their work.

Discover your personal strengths with The Human Safety Net

The historical Procuratie Vecchie will house The Human Safety Net