AttivAree: a fresh look for the future of rural areas

In Italy, small towns, villages and hamlets make up 60% of the country. The reasons for this lie in the country’s geography –  its large portion of mountainous areas – and history, that over the centuries shaped settlement choices. These rural places are mostly far from urban centers, set like gems into the mountains or sprawled in valleys. Flourishing and populated in the past, when people largely lived off the land, these rural towns and villages increasingly saw their population dwindle as the economy transformed. People started leaving rural areas to relocate to the cities, lured by employment opportunities, easier and more comfortable ways of life. Abandonment was slow yet relentless. The most isolated hamlets at first, then larger villages and eventually entire rural areas depopulated and became marginalized. Far-flung areas, both geographically – as they are far from the more populated urban centers offering more opportunities and services – and culturally, as they remained largely untouched by those social changes that radically transformed people needs. Those times of transition were marked by an economic boom that seemed unstoppable and funneled people into the cities in hopes of a better life, a life not dictated by natural forces, without “calloused hands" and "moon phases".

Today, everything has changed and we have entered a new phase. In a couple of generations a new attitude has emerged towards rural life. Equipped with technology and knowledge that makes a difference, people are making a comeback, retracing the steps of those who left those places many years back... In villages and other rural areas across Italy, a new light is shining and there is a rekindling of hope. These places are now seen as strongholds that have preserved our traditions, our unique environmental, cultural and social heritage, our legacies. Today, there are favorable conditions and the abilities to capitalize on that heritage, taking a fresh look at those rural places, joining up efforts and transforming what was once abandoned into a resource and what has been preserved into a legacy to build upon.

Fondazione Cariplo is looking afresh at the untapped potential of rural areas with AttivAree, the cross-cutting Program seeking to revitalize marginalized areas in its constituency, and enhance their attractiveness for residents, potential investors and nearby urban centers by leveraging the resources of the local communities.


The keyword is regeneration of rural places and communities through a process of change, facilitating social, cultural and economic growth by:

  1. Promoting participatory processes
  2. Leveraging the role and competencies of the third sector
  3. Adopting cross-cutting approaches that integrate environmental, social, cultural and economic aspects and research opportunities;
  4. Developing fruitful  interactions between rural and urban areas;
  5. Recovering existing buildings without using additional land.

Why rural areas?

For a couple of reasons - as explains Elena Jachia, Fondazione Cariplo Environment Area Director and AttivAree Program Officer:

These are areas rich in cultural, natural  and social assets, human capital, ideas and experiences, that lost the central economic role they have had up until the years after the first world war to urban centers. They were progressively abandoned due to the emergence of alternative cultural models and, in more recent times, due to the increasing lack of services. Taking action to support rural areas means voicing the needs of those communities and turning the spotlight on what is happening - including spontaneously - in those places. It means supporting sustainable development at the local level as a way to boost nationwide growth. In this respect, the most "marginalized" areas are a place of innovative experimentation. Also, we have observed an interesting convergence between national policies – especially, the National Strategy for Rural Areas - and the spontaneous comeback of people to rural areas and farming. So, we thought we could contribute ideas based on the experience Fondazione Cariplo has gained in the field with projects of particular significance for rural communities - from cultural districts and the community-based welfare initiative to ecological corridors and AGER the project supporting research in the agricultural field.”

Local communities

With the AttivAree program our Foundation funds two projects for the rebirth of rural areas. These projects were selected from those submitted by 11 local communities in Lombardy and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola under the Call that closed on June 30, 2016. One is for rural areas in Oltrepò Pavese, the other for the Trompia and Sabbia Valleys in the province of Brescia. These projects rightly construe the idea of creating and strengthening a virtual bridge between rural areas and cities or large urban centers, not for rural places to be in a subordinate role or to lose their identity to the urban centers, but as a complement to each other, in an exchange of know-how and services. These projects also feature a re-interpretation of the role of agriculture under a more modern scientific, social and environmental approach.


Oltrepò(BIO)diverso (Bio-diverse Oltrepò)

Promoted by the Foundation for the Development of Oltrepò Pavese, Oltrepò(BIO)diverso can be rightly called a  “rural and community regeneration" project. It leverages biodiversity to boost competitiveness, to advance connections, development and repopulation. It strives to foster biodiversity also in its social, cultural and intercultural implications, and to give agriculture and the natural landscape renewed prominence, including as a field of application of scientific research. As access to land is key to promote multifunctional farming, work will be done to overcome land fragmentation. Also, greater visibility will be given to biodiversity in the area - not many people know that butterfly species in Oltrepò are as many as  in the entire Great Britain. Attracting youngsters and migrants, developing new services to encourage repopulation of rural areas and a good work-family balance - hence greater female employment – as well as revitalizing places for a strengthened collective cultural identity are other key aspects related to this project.

Resilient Valleys

Proposed by the Mountain Communities of the Trompia and Sabbia Valleys, the revitalization of rural areas under the “Resilient Valleys” project is grounded in a strategy that spans various realms striving to capitalize on local skills and experiences while seizing the opportunities offered by new technologies.  It also features a good balance between the "inside" and the "outside": on the one hand, networked local services for residents managed by social cooperatives and actions to promote local products; on the other hand administration efficiency to attract new investors, and specialist services for vulnerable population groups, including those coming from other places. This project relies on mutual collaboration and cross-fertilization of partners to exchange good practices and replicate those that work.


With €10 million earmarked for these communities Fondazione Cariplo strives to:

  • Strengthen and innovate local economies and youth entrepreneurship;
  • Promote local heritage and cultural identity;
  • Prevent and reduce hydro-geological risk;
  • Further education/training and innovative technological and scientific contents;
  • Encourage social/work integration of migrants and new residents;
  • Communicate and promote local resources and potential;
  • Support regulatory advocacy for rural areas.


For more information: www.attivaree.fondazionecariplo.it attivaree@fondazionecariplo.it