Metamorphoses of sustainability

Paul Villinski, Butterfly Machine.

What is the main goal of business organizations? Profit. And what is the main goal of non-profit organizations? Mission. Money is a common resource, but is used and distributed in different ways.
These two worlds have recently begun to converge and intertwine. Meeting halfway, they are finding a common ground (low-profit organizations, benefit corporations), cautiously drawing closer to each other.

“Providing such a close-up does not necessarily mean diminishing or ironizing: this is a universe in which space is densely packed with forms which constantly swap size and nature, while the flow of time is continually filled by a proliferation of tales and cycles of tales.”

We can take this statement by Italo Calvino, regarding Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and go further to claim that the boundaries between for-profit and non-profit are blurred and their instruments can be interchangeable.

That is why we decided to carry out an experiment and build a Balanced Scorecard (BSC) specifically designed for lettera27, a tool that could potentially be adopted by and shared with others
What is a Balanced Scorecard? Wikipedia describes:

It as a strategy performance management tool – a semi-standard structured report, supported by design methods and automation tools, that can be used by managers to keep track of the execution of activities by the staff within their control and to monitor the consequences arising from these actions. The critical characteristics that define a balanced scorecard are: its focus on the strategic agenda of the organization concerned; the selection of a small number of data items to monitor; a mix of financial and non-financial data items.

Sustainability is our keyword. Is there such a thing as sustainable culture? Well, there should be. While self-sustainability still seems unlikely, sustainability is a desirable goal. Since doing things by ourselves is never particularly pleasing or effective, we joined forces with other organizations with expertise in this area: Kwantis, a company specializing in risk management and performance optimization; Doppiozero, an online cultural magazine; CheFare, a platform promoting companies and cultural projects (both for-profit and non-profit) based on their social impact.

Once again, Fondazione Cariplo co-funded this experiment by launching a call dedicated to “Sustainable culture”, in which lettera27 and its partners successfully participated.

Today, a year and a half since the beginning of this project, we are able to publish our communication, fundraising and social networking/media partnership guidelines, sharing them with organizations actively committed to supporting culture and its ethic and synaesthetic values, although from a marginal position within the current economic system. These guidelines represent the first step of a larger empirical process, the first of a series of stories that we will be writing together with our partners.

Yes, you read well. It took us a year and a half to publish these guidelines. We are certainly not as fast as business organizations – one could think, and rightfully so – but culture is not measured in grams, meters, decibels or other instantaneous systems of measurement. It is measured in terms of time: the time required to develop and process knowledge, to internalize values. Culture is heterochronic and heterotopic, as Simon Njami points out, recalling a principle set out by Foucault: “Heterotopia encompasses within itself heterochrony, namely a break with real-time that introduces multiple time-spaces.”

Culture is a bridge. A bridge should indeed “support” and “be supported”. Above all, it should be based upon solid and indestructible foundations, like the roots of a centenarian oak. Sustain-Ability – this is the name we gave to the project – goes in this direction: it promotes a solid but practical and flexible organizational model, effective management of resources, and useful and simple tools to be used to achieve goals.

This is still at the experimental stage: we intend to broaden the network of cultural players to test together whether and to what extent this approach may work. They say: “there’s no harm in trying.” And we are trying our best.

Tania Gianesin, lettera27 Executive Director