What is a Regenerative Business? The Case of Palermo’s Moltivolti

Social entrepreneurship has not consistently delivered on the promise of social upliftment using capitalism as an engine for change.

Belinda Bell – a Fellow of Social Innovation at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, where she previously established and led the programs for social entrepreneurial support – asks:

Has social enterprise proved it is not fit for purpose?

The point she makes is as follows:

Social enterprise was meant to be about reshaping capitalism, enabling the capture and release of social and economic value to communities. Some social enterprises extract profits for private gain; this enables social enterprise thinking to permeate the mainstream, but also allows uncertainty to enter, creating a lack of clarity about the underlying ethos of the sector. It opens the door for ‘social washing’ of regular businesses.

What is a social enterprise? According to Bell, a social enterprise is an organization that seeks to solve social or environmental problems by using business as a tool for change.

Bell questions whether the various incarnations of “social enterprise” – non-profits, community businesses and co-operatives, impact businesses, social ventures, social businesses, B corps, as well as more mainstream businesses that have social impact as a core purpose – are effective, or whether they might actually exacerbate the problems they are trying to solve. One key issue: when we apply a business solution to a social problem, we are not looking at the root causes of the problem. Thus, explains Bell – when an organization patches up problems downstream, there is less incentive for the problems to be eliminated at source. 

Our research points to another problem.

If the organization is not regenerative, the chances of failure are exponentially higher.

What is a regenerative business?

Regenerative marketing is defined as marketing practices which nurture communities and build local prosperity over the long term.  The outcomes of regenerative marketing include value creation for customers, employees, and local communities. 

Regenerative marketing practices must – by definition – build community wealth.

The same applies to regenerative business. What is unique about the regenerative business model is the idea that community value creation is as important as business value creation.

The process is based on a continuous dialogue between the business and the community, followed by an integration of purpose, which in turn leads to community regeneration. Thus, a regenerative business is in the business of building local trust.

A regenerative business is place-based, builds community wealth, improves social cohesion and inclusivity – creating a just future for the community. It is focused on supporting the community’s jobs-to-be-done.

A regenerative business creates value for the community it serves

The regenerative business has two recipients of value – the customer and the beneficiary. It uses its profits to create more value for the community it serves. It’s purpose is not profit-making, but community regeneration. Its strength is the creation of deep community relationships which make it more resilient in times of crisis. The currency is trust.

The regenerative business champions regenerative economics. What might this look like?

Moltivolti: A Regenerative Business

In the neighborhood of Ballaró, in what used to be a rundown part of Palermo, just a street over from the Palazzo Pretorio, is a small restaurant which demonstrates daily what a regenerative business model looks like in action.

The restaurant is called Moltivolti – “many faces” in Italian. Founded in 2014, by a group of young neighborhood friends with different cultural backgrounds — coming from eight countries: Senegal, Zambia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Spain, Gambia and Italy — Moltivolti is the epitome of how work can be designed to offer dignity, citizenship, and simultaneously create both business and community value.

Moltivolti: a restaurant and co-working space in Ballaró, Palermo

The purpose of Moltivolti is two-fold, explains Claudio Arestivo, one of the co-founders. He proposes a circular economic system where profit and non-profit support each other. That’s right, Moltivolti is both a for-profit and a non-profit organization, a hybrid business model we can categorize as a regenerative business.

Claudio Arestivo, a co-founder of Moltivolti

What it does

Moltivolti is both a restaurant, and a co-working and meeting space.

The restaurant employs immigrants (one of the chefs is an ex-Afghan general) and delivers an eclectic mix of Sicilian and world cuisine to the visitors who frequent the premises. The customers of the restaurant are people from the neighborhood, tour operators and tourists, school children, and immigrants who are making their way in a new world.

The design of the space creates a multicultural dimensionality – from the menu, to the people to the unique art by Igor Scalisi Palmintieri – the faces of people from the neighborhood (some of whom are instantly recognizable!)

Moltivolti (Many faces): the art of Igor Scalisi Palminteri

Moltivolti is also a co-working and meeting space for its community partners – a range of non-profit organizations which are part of the neighborhood and create value for community residents. The beneficiaries are the organizations and the people they serve, many from the community of Ballaró.

Moltivolti: The Business Model

Moltivolti is a hybrid business model: it functions as a for-profit and a non-profit at the same time. It’s purpose is to create a community-based dining experience, a hub for social integration and employment which serves the needs of the community beyond food and nourishment. It does this through its community partners – who are an integral part of the “space” Moltivolti has created; a “space” for the many voices and lives it touches daily.

Impact beyond the kitchen

Moltivolti is an integral part of the Ballaró community. Along with its partners, it is building the future by heeding the voices of the neighborhood, and engaging in a continuous dialogue. Every month it adds something to the menu of the community – an event, actions, and even launching new organizations. Moltivolti has expanded its operations by launching a B&B enterprise above the restaurant. It also helps incubate new businesses and organizations by providing advice and support. It also sells products from partners like Libera – a national organization that manages businesses confiscated from the Mafia.

During the COVID downturn, Moltivolti expanded its footprint by adding a second location in order to keep its employees. It also distributed meals across Ballaró during the lockdown.

Moltivolti is also a part of Addiopizzo, an anti-Mafia movement of local businesses.

Visit: www.moltivolti.org >>

Learn more about regenerative marketing at www.regenmarketing.org.