THE BLOG
02/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Italy: No Country For Young Men

Italy is desperately looking for an Italian version of Barack Obama. Since the historic victory of the first African-American in a US presidential election, Italian politicians of all colors, civil society, the media and public opinion have been calling for the need of hope and change.

But change, unfortunately, is hard to come by in Italy, a country bogged down by red-tape, political scandals and lack of innovation.

Provided Italy successfully managed to find its own political gem, an Italian-styled Obama alone would fail to bring upon any hope or real transformation in a country that has resisted change for decades. Simply put, Italy is not yet ready for a leader like Obama.

Il Belpaese is marred by structural problems, which call for structural solutions. To find the young, talented and unifying leadership -- that Obama represents -- a new strategy for recruiting and empowering the lagging new generations has to be devised. Change in leadership can only be achieved through inclusiveness and an inter-generational approach to power. But the Italian system - let alone its elderly ruling class - is hostile to these ideas and rejects any form of political rejuvenation. The systemic delay and political backwardness affect the Italian peninsula to the extent that an Obama-like figure would not be enough to shake the country out of its rut.

The advent of a new young leader in Rome would be wasted given that a whole generation of young, reform-minded advisors, needed to fill government posts and support new policies, is missing. Those who have any inspiration to change the system are either sidelined within the public sphere, to the point that they become invisible, or they are forced to emigrate. A recent report promoted by Fondazione Migrantes has shown that more than half of the 4 million Italians living abroad are younger than 35 years old. Most of them are either professionals or graduates and represent the true backbone of the Italian diaspora.

The sectors of research, infrastructure and energy suffer from a similar strife.

Universities keep asking for increased public funding while they are unable to make any sensible use of it due to high red tape, structural deficiencies within the education system and a complete lack of evaluation.

During a public conference held last December in Turin on the potential of so-called "cloud computing" -- the use of internet as a technology development platform -- one participant sarcastically asked 'how would user-generated Internet 2.0 work in an Italy 0.0, where broadband penetration is just above 10 per cent?'.

A young start-up entrepreneur -- also present at the conference- - said that a new IT software product he engineered was refused by retailers because 'too innovative for the Italian market'. He was forced to cut down the level of technological innovation of the software in order to sell it.

Another poignant example of Italy's backwardness is the farcical implementation of high-speed trains. These were designed by the prominent Italian engineer Pininfarina more than a decade before the first high-speed railway track could actually be inaugurated at the end of 2008.

Just like there is little point in having fast trains running on slow tracks, there is little point in having a 21st century leader like Obama in a 20th century political system like Italy. It will take a new generation of policy makers to lay the new tracks to hone in Italy's entry into the new millennium.

Transformation cannot be delayed as Italy waits for a new political prophet. It presupposes the empowerment of "agents of change", those who can bring about innovation in content and methods. Their voices have to be considered, they need to be connected among themselves and with domestic problems in a way that the aggregate can produce a systemic transformation.

In some respects, a method has already made headway. It leans on assets like cutting-edge innovation, hands-on approaches, and inclusiveness that Italian young professionals and researchers with a solid experience abroad have been applying for decades throughout the US and Europe.

Change will never come from the outside. But change can originate from what young Italians have experienced and learned abroad, and are willing to share. They are tired of being excluded, resolute in front of adversities, but adverse to antagonism between generations as they advocate inter-generational cooperation and sustained meritocracy. They brandish the sword of non-partisanship and independence from the warlords of Italian politics, academia, business and national media, longing for the overdue moment to come home.

Some may argue that the unprecedented economic crisis leaves virtually no room for reforms and radical changes. But history has demonstrated just the contrary. As the latest annual report by the national research center CENSIS has suggested, the unfolding global crisis may have created a situation of collective panic but it has also sown the seeds of "hope in epochal transformation" similar to the one occurred in the aftermath of WWII. Provided that a new collective leadership is finally allowed to take the driver's seat.