Founded by nine young unemployed women in 1990 in Scalea, a pretty town along the Calabrian coast, the Idea 90 social cooperative quickly became a local leader in childcare provision. It now works with public authorities and many businesses in the local area to provide a range of services, mostly for children (nurseries, summer schools) but also adolescents at risk of social marginalization, the elderly and the differently abled. The fact that the cooperative’s services enable women to continue working even after becoming mothers fits perfectly with its already-strong feminist ethos, which goes against the entrenched sexism often found in southern Italian culture and society.
The original impetus for the cooperative’s founding came from Emilia Mezzatesta, now the cooperative’s president. “Meritocracy and a spirit of sacrifice and innovation distinguish our ‘mission’,” she says. The cooperative’s team of women (there is one man out of the six members and four permanent employees) are aged 20 and up, and, says Mezzatesta, “with grit and determination, we have been disproving for over two decades the image of a woman from southern Italy who does not see, does not hear, does not speak.”
The cooperative has always funded itself, and is fiercely proud of its independence. “That makes us co-protagonists in our growth,” says Mezzatesta. “We resolutely challenge those who would still like to see us subjugated to chauvinist policies, pushed behind the gynaeceum [women’s quarters in Ancient Greek homes], waiting for something to change.”
“In the meantime,“ she continues, “some of us have awoken from the deep coma and are looking beyond the bedspread, and have discovered with great wonder that today, more than ever before, cooperation is woman, a woman able to reconcile family, work, enterprise, while fully respecting herself and others.”
Promoting cooperative values is essential to Idea 90’s mission, values that Mezzatesta sees as providing services for people in their psychophysical entirety, body, soul and spirit. Working in a cooperative determines a social awareness and knowledge, with a process of sharing accompanied by personal and group growth.
“There are many advantages to the cooperative model,” she says, “ranging from the material (lowering of costs, tax breaks) to the spiritual, including the development of one’s own self and the interaction with the other that in a kind of fusion becomes ‘us’, the collective identity able to promote culture and richness in one’s own territory.
As well as the regular childcare services, Idea 90 also organizes school integration for differently abled children and arts therapy workshops for autistic and differently abled children and adolescents. Training adults in arts therapies, including dance movement, art, music and drama, will be an important part of the cooperative’s future development, through the St-Art School project, launched in 2012.
In collaboration with an arts therapy and creative sciences institute in Puglia and ART.ED.O., the Mediterranean centre for arts therapies and holistic disciplines, Idea 90, will be provided advanced training in arts therapies.
Innovation and training will always be part of Idea 90’s development, and Mezzatesta looks to the future with ambition and optimism. “We are determined to scale the heights of quality,” she says, “while strengthening the social and educational services in Calabria, becoming the indisputable leader in the field. Presumption? No, a desire for liberation, knowing that there is something more and that it is our right and duty to pursue it and put it at the service of our community.”