Interview with Dynamo Foundation CEO Serena Porcari. The Great Social Enterprise Revolution.

She left a large corporation to build the “Italian Social Enterprise dream” and create the first recreational therapy facility in our country: a magical place, located in a WWF-affiliated Oasis of more than 900 hectares, that hosts sick children and youth free of charge for periods of vacation, fun, and relaxation. A face-to-face interview with Serena Porcari, CEO of Dynamo Foundation and Vice President of Dynamo Camp Onlus, allowing us to discover that the nonprofit industry is made of healthy competition and that, behind a visionary project, there is a complex machine led by a great woman.

Achieving impossible dreams requires determination, passion, and courage. This is demonstrated by Serena Porcari: a Bocconi University graduate who gave up a solid and brilliant career at IBM to turn a start-up into the Social Enterprise that has revolutionized the non-profit industry.

Milan, the Brera neighborhood. At Dynamo Foundation’s headquarters, people work in an atmosphere ripe with a standard of excellence and enthusiasm. Serena peeks out of her office. In a blue structured suit and ponytail she is the image of the group she leads: professional and passionate, tenacious and positive. She finishes a phone call and quickly seats me. There is no time to waste; she begins a chat in which she unveils the non-profit industry’s potential and a visionary management strategy: a capability to respond to urgent social needs while also providing employment. But she also talk to us about the role of women in the workplace, the need to reconcile work with motherhood… and about an art project that NMWA’s Italian Committee finds particularly important.

1- Probing unexplored paths and building an innovative enterprise requires foresight and ambition, but also a dash of folly. In 2004 you left IBM to throw yourself into the Dynamo Foundation. What made you leave a large corporation for what was, at the time, a non-profit start-up where nothing was certain?

– Serena Porcari- My motivation was related to working on a project that had to be built from the ground up. Dynamo Foundation, which at that point was newly established, had the idea of creating a social venture managed with the managerial rigor typical of the for-profit sector. The entrepreneur who started the Foundation, Vincenzo Manes (editor’s note – a pioneer in Social Enterprise), wanted to apply Venture Philanthropy criteria to an initiative with a social purpose, conceived completely in an entrepreneurial way. The driving force behind my interest was precisely the fact that it was a start-up which needed a mid- to long-term business plan and a staff to recruit.

2- What is Dynamo Foundation, how is it structured, and what are its goals?

– S.P.- Dynamo Foundation supports the design and development of business organizations that address social problems such as education, health, social services, and the environment, while also fostering new jobs. Dynamo Foundation uses the business skills and experience of its team and partner network in its operating model, investing directly in projects using its managerial and financial resources, brining these projects to their full potential, and creating the tools for their long-term operations. The Foundation today is an organized group, including the non-profit association Dynamo Camp, the social enterprise Dynamo Academy, Oasi Dynamo – active in environmental conservation – and the commercial enterprise Pro Dynamo, which by statute donates 100% of its profits to social projects.

3- The first project funded by Dynamo Foundation is Dynamo Camp. This is the first recreational therapy facility in Italy, which – at a WWF-affiliated oasis in the province of Pistoia – hosts children and adolescents with serious and chronic illnesses for free for periods of vacation, fun, and relaxation. What happens in this magical place?

– S.P.-“When I’m at Dynamo I don’t have time to think about my illness because there are too many adventures to be had.” This is one of the numerous and enthusiastic testimonials offered by the children who have been guests of the Camp. They all manifest the magic of the experience achieved through Recreational Therapy: a scientific approach that is based on leveraging the potential and abilities of children and young people, rather than on their disabilities. At Dynamo, every activity – performed in a protected, playful setting – is an opportunity for personal growth. Climbing, archery, playing in the water (editorial note – in an inclusive barrier-free pool), even horseback riding, theater, and art are all opportunities to regain confidence in oneself and one’s abilities.

4- The impact of Dynamo Camp’s first decade is truly extraordinary. Can you share any numbers?

– S.P.- Since the opening of the Camp in 2007, we have hosted more than 12,000 children free of charge. From 60 children in the first summer, today we welcome 1,800 people a year, including 1,300 children and over 500 parents in family programs. In addition to the activities at Camp, over the past few years we have reached over 16,800 children in hospitals, associations, and aboard the Dynamo Off Camp truck. This is the impact of Dynamo, which – as one doctor defined the programs for children with complex neurological diseases – gives “opportunities for life.”

5- The key to Dynamo’s success is having combined the motivational values of philanthropy with a managerial approach. In this sense, Dynamo Academy plays a leading role for the future of the non-profit sector in Italy…

– S.P.- Dynamo Academy is the Social Enterprise of Dynamo Group, which has been offering training and consulting programs in corporate philanthropy and Business for the Common Good since 2010. In 2016, Dynamo Academy was chosen as the Italian Local Authority by CECP: an organization, founded in 1999 by Paul Newman in the United States, which today brings together more than 150 CEOs of large companies convinced that improving society is an essential measure of business results. In 2017, with SDA Bocconi, and in collaboration with CECP and Newman’s Own Foundation, we produced “Giving in Italy”: the first Italian research paper entirely dedicated to Corporate Philanthropy, and we are working on the second edition which will be presented in November. Also, just this year, the Academy organized the course “Executive Fundamentals of Responsible Enterprise,” with the Adriano Olivetti Foundation. More and more companies in our country are considering the development of philanthropy as an integral part of their business strategy. Dynamo Academy offers tools for work and discussion, useful as an inspiration so that more and more companies make a concrete commitment to improving the common good.

6- Today the Dynamo experience is very broad. It ranges from Camp to continuing education, from an agricultural enterprise to products whose sale supports the Foundation’s initiatives. What are the challenges for the future?

– S.P.-The challenge for the future is to serve an increasing number of social needs, with the creation of new jobs. In particular, we are engaging in training in several areas that relate to the Common Good: how to make Dynamo Camp’s Recreational Therapy model usable for beneficiaries other than children, promote private engagement for the Common Good, and foster conservation of the environment and nature.

7- Top manager, wife, and mother of three children (editor’s note: Pietro, Benedetta, and Luca, ages 16, 13, and 6). How have you managed to balance a successful career with a full and fulfilling personal life? What does being a mother mean to you?

– S.P.- Being a mother is the most important experience in life. Reconciling it with one’s career is a fundamental need that is part of our corporate culture and which, in addition to my case, we encourage throughout the Group.

8- Women must enjoy the same rights as men, without giving up their own specific nature, but rather making it a strength. What female qualities have you experienced in your career?

– S.P.- In some areas, such as fundraising, communication, finance, we are a predominantly a female team: qualified women with skills, professional abilities, and experience in the for-profit sector. Seriousness and tenacity characterize our team, along with passion and identification with the Camp’s mission.

9- Before we say goodbye, however, the Italian Committee is curious about your artistic tastes. You are a multifaceted woman: what role does art play in your life? I am sure that, in this too, you will surprise us….

– S.P.- The importance of the female role in art is very close to my heart. I have always been struck by the work of Sofonisba Anguissola: one of the first women to make a name for herself in European painting, an artist whom I have been trying to understand and learn more about. I like to pass by the gallery of the Dynamo Art Factory project: a fascinating place that I invite everyone to visit; full of stories reflecting a surprising amalgamation of the experience of more than 80 artists from the contemporary art scene, the directness of children, the processing capacity of adolescents and the lived experience of each. On Sunday, October 7, the gallery will exhibit, along with works from past years, works created this summer 2018. We’ll be expecting you: it is an Open Day, open to all with free admission!

We at NMWA’s Italian Committee are cheering on Dynamo Camp, our Charity partner in Women to Watch 2018. And while we count down to the Art Factory of “our” talent Serena Porrati who will create a work together with the Camp children, we invite you to go to the Tuscan hills to discover this magical place where dreams are possible.

Dynamo Camp

Dynamo Camp

Dynamo Art Factory

More on:

Dynamo Camp

Fondazione Dynamo

Dynamo Academy

Oasy Dynamo

Pro Dynamo

Dynamo Art Factory

Open day 2018

(Article by Federica Galassi)