Bologna lovers: interview with Bologna Connect

Bologna Connect

A team of three women, a passion for one city, and a network the expands the globe – these are the elements that make up Bologna Connect, a non-profit organization founded two years ago in Bologna. Their mantra, “bringing the world to Bologna, bringing Bologna to the world” is a true testament of just how far small connections can go. The organization, founded by Laura Bizzari, Antonella Orlandi, and Neima Sitawi, hosts an array of events around the world always with the same goal in mind: to make Bologna known at the international level. “We host many international projects”, says Laura with an eager smile on her face. She adds “We want to tell the world because Bologna isn’t known enough when indeed, many foreigners who discover Bologna end up returning – they see it and they love it. On the other hand, others don’t know about it at all. We want people to visit, to invest, and to get to know the people here.” Naturally, we were happy to talk with an organization so in love with Bologna.

SO WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND BOLOGNA CONNECT? HOW DID IT BEGIN AND WHY?

Antonella (A): It was born because, above all, we had three people, each with international contacts. I worked many years in tourism, Laura had been an Italian teacher, and Neima, who had travelled around the world. We found each other and saw how many people that we’re asking us for information about Bologna. And so we said, “why don’t we organize something for our city?”.

SUPRISINGLY, NONE OF YOU ARE BOLOGNESE. HOW AND WHY DID YOU COME TO BOLOGNA?

Laura (L): I came to bologna to study and to work. I liked it and wanted to stay here. I liked the openness….I come from a closed-minded area, but in Bologna I felt the openness and hospitality immediately. And then there’s also the fact that it’s small but still international.

A: I grew up in Tuscany, near the sea. It was a very beautiful place which means that during the summer it’s always full, but during the winter it’s empty. I applied for a job in Bologna because during that time (1980′s) Bologna was really famous for being a nice city to live in and I had this hunger for that kind of city life. They were wonderful years because there was a high quality of life and it was a great place for young people, and still is. Bologna has always been a city to have fun. In fact I had friends that used to go out in Bologna and then return to Florence at 5 in the morning.

WHAT TYPES OF EVENTS DOES BOLOGNA CONNECT HOST?

L: The events hosted by Bologna Connect often have a focus on a particular aspect or aspects of Bologna including food, culture, art, language, music, automotive industry, and presenting the “packaging valley” – that is, the specialized industries that are based in all of Bologna and the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region, such as Ferrari or Parmiggiano Reggiano Cheese.

WHAT PROJECTS IS BOLOGNA CONNECT CURRENTLY WORKING ON FOR THE FUTURE?

L: Many! We host many events around the world. Our next events will be in Atlanta, Munich, Argentina at the University of Bologna campus in Buenos Aires, Seoul, Tokyo, China, and New Zealand. We try collaborate with cultural organizations in order to present the territory, cuisine, language, art and culture surrounding Bologna. Some events are big and last 2-3 days, during which we usually go to the city to represent other businesses and organizations from the Bologna and Emilia-Romagna territory. Then we have smaller events, usually headed by one of our ambassadors in their native city. These events tend to last only a few hours, and usually present a cultural aspect of Bologna. We have a really strong network of agencies and local producers.

WHAT IS YOUR PRIMARY VISION OR GOAL FOR BOLOGNA CONNECT?

We hope that Bologna becomes one of the top 10 cities to visit in Europe. We want to give opportunity to investors, students, young people etc.. It’s not a coincidence that organizations such as SupperShare came here after San Francisco.

FOR YOU, WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT BOLOGNA THAT YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH THE WORLD?

A: Bologna has always been a city of passaggio (passage) because of its exceptional position within Italy. It’s always been a city rich in culture and trade. In fact, many years ago Bologna was the city of silk. Silk traders used to pass through Bologna everyday to trade silk.

There’s more opportunity to try something new in Bologna. It’s not as saturated as other cities in Italy. And it’s a real city – if you go to Piazza Maggiore on a Sunday morning you’ll find old people – people who have lived here their entire lives, sitting. You can live normally in Bologna.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR FOREIGNERS OR TOURISTS VISITING BOLOGNA?

A: You must take a walk. Walk through the market, look inside hidden palaces, walk down small streets, peek into courtyards. Come to Bologna and be curious.

IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE BOLOGNA, WHICH WORD WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

A: Rossa (red). The thing that hits me the those when I return to Bologna is the red roofs.

L: Hospitality. People are very cordial and warm in Bologna.

YOU COLLABORATE WITH MANY DIVERSE GROUPS AND PEOPLE. WHAT TYPES OF PEOPLE ARE YOU LOOKING TO WORK WITH?

L: We would like to connect, to do things together because its better and richer. The more we collaborate and participate, the better. We’ve done things that are unimaginable just because we worked with others.

Bologna Connect is a non-profit organization. We do it out of passion. This is something that is not always felt by for-profit businesses. We have a network. It’s not always in our culture to have networks because people get jealous. It’s a shame, particularly in this economic crisis. But we have to make the most of our resources!

To foreigners: come to Bologna! Ask Bologna Connect – we have a network of authentic, excellent people and businesses. We can give you advice on where to go and how to meet people passionate about Bologna. If you have ideas or if you’d like us to come to your city, we’ll come! Help us with donations, but most of all, help us to spread the word.

To Italians: We can help create opportunities with you. Share with us more because the network has an intrinsic, unimaginable power. We are looking to collaborate and to work with people who have the same passion for our territory. We can help people looking to open their businesses abroad, as we have so many international connections.

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