From Realtà Mapei International n° 69 - 7/12/2018

Milan, capital of research and sustainability

Interview with Diana Bracco: the challenge of expo, her love of art and relationship with Milan.

Dianna Bracco was born in Milan and graduated in chemistry from Pavia University, where she was also awarded an honorary degree in pharmacy, before going on to take a degree in medicine from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome. She is President and CEO of the Bracco Group, a major pharmaceutical-chemical company founded in 1927, which also encompasses the Centro Diagnostico Italiano (Italian Diagnostics Centre), a multi-clinic facility providing a full range of preventative services of the very highest European standards.

Under her leadership, the Bracco Group has reached the very cutting-edge globally in the diagnostic biomedical imaging sector. The company now has a consolidated turnover of approximately 1.25 billion Euros, 87% of which coming from foreign markets, and employs approximately 3450 staff. Every year it invests approximately 9% of its turnover in R&D and can boast a portfolio of over 1800 patents.

Diana Bracco is currently also the President of the Bracco Foundation and President of the National Life Science Cluster – ALISEI. She is also a member of several boards of directors, including those of Bocconi University and the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala.

A member of the Italian Order of Merit for Labour, she was the President of Expo 2015 SpA and the General Commissioner for the Italian Pavilion. 


You played a key role in Milan’s bid to host the Expo, both during the tricky preparation period and the actual running of the 2015 Expo. What is your opinion about what is happening to the huge area that hosted the event?

I must admit that I am truly delighted to see that Tecnopole’s first researchers are coming to work in our magnificent Palazzo Italia with its futuristic architecture and its biodynamic cement custom-designed by researchers from Italcementi, which stands alongside the Tree of Life. As we envisaged at the time, the Expo site will be taken up by a gigantic Science, Knowledge and Innovation Park, which has already been given the clever acronym “MIND” (Milan Innovation District), which I like a lot. Thinking back over the challenge Expo posed, I would like to add that it was the most difficult thing I have ever undertaken. A challenge so intimidating that it made me tremble at the knees, which was, however, also a crucial turning point for both Milan and the whole of Italy. We showed the world that we can do great things: it was extremely rewarding.


Do you think Human Technopole will really be a great opportunity for Italy?

I certainly do. It is an ambitious and visionary project, which aims to take Italy to the very forefront in the sciences of life. I am sure it will become a world-class integrated multidisciplinary research infrastructure in the fields of health, genomics and data science. Thanks to this extraordinary project Milan will gain credibility and attract leading international professionals in these industries. It is extremely significant and an extremely good omen that a leading figure like the Scottish scientist Iain Mattaj, the current Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, is planning to leave Germany to come to Italy to head the Human Technopole. Congratulations to Arexpo and Roberto Cingolani for the work they have done over the last few years.


Once a city renowned for its often family-run small and medium-size businesses and manufacturing companies, Milan is now turning into a major city focused around the advanced services industry. What you think about this transition?

Like all major cities from London to Paris, it was an inevitable step. Nevertheless, Milan still has an important industrial fabric, as is shown by Mapei or Bracco itself, as well as all the companies associated with Assolombarda (the Associations of the firms located in the Provinces of Milan, Lodi and Monza and Brianza). Nowadays Milan stands for industry, finance, tourism, design and fashion, but it is still very much a centre of research and innovation. I would like to emphasise that the territorial marketing campaign carried out to try get the headquarters of the EMA (European Medicines Agency) transferred from London to Milan demonstrated Milan’s new vocation to the entire world: the aim to be one of the leading capitals of in the field of research. Human Technopole will seal its status, significantly benefiting from the work carried out to try and attract the EMA.


The suburbs of Milan are, however, still more a problem than a resource. The city Mayor, Giuseppe Sala, has focused his attention on the suburbs and promised to do something about this issue, even turning to the private sector for help. As President of the Bracco Foundation, do you have any plans in mind?

The issue of marginalisation and the city suburbs has increasingly been the focus of attention of both researchers and public administrators/practitioners over the last few years, as they have struggled to come up with ideas for regenerating places and communities, well aware that the only way to really grow is to grow together. Faced with the issue of migration, which has such a major impact on life in the suburbs of big cities, we cannot remain indifferent. As the Bracco Foundation, for example, we have at least made a minor contribution in aid of those people who are often forgotten and overlooked. We must all realise that, unless we take action on the social fabric of society, problems can degenerate dramatically, as we can see from what has happened recently in so many major European cities.

Can you describe what concrete action you take?

I can think of two projects. One was a health prevention/aid project called “Prevention in Aid of Migrant Women”, promoted in partnership with Milan City Council and the Opera San Francesco per i Poveri non-profit organization, which managed to involve 500 immigrant women over a period of one and a half years, 376 of which were actually taken into care. So far 1300 medical visits and clinical examinations have been carried out, bearing in mind the importance of diagnostics for the current and future health of both mothers and children. Another project on the issue of integration I am particularly interested in is “Oltre i margini (Beyond the Margins)”, which operates in an area of the Milan suburbs with a high number of resident immigrants: 1-in-3 people are immigrants and 64% are foreigners. Working with La Rotonda, an extraordinary association headed by Don Paolo Steffano and Cesvi aid agency, this project provides help in finding work and health care. The tailor’s shop “Fiore all’occhiello” also provides immigrant women in Baranzate, a Milan suburb, with a proper job opportunity as part of an intercultural programme.

Thanks also to working partnerships with Sacco Hospital in Milan and the Italian Diagnostics Centre, we are able to prioritise women and children. Lastly, in June 2017 the Bracco Foundation organised the first national conference on city suburbs in partnership with Fondazione Cariplo and Sviluppo Chimica (a service company owned by Federchimica, the Italian Federation of the Chemical Industry), which, together with Fondazione Arché non-profit organization, are working on a project that could potentially have a major social impact in the Milan suburb of Quarto Oggiaro. The conference provided the opportunity to compare successful projects carried out in the city of Milan with other national and European programmes, enabling a network of social players to construct a shared vision, a strategy that can be put into effect to achieve concrete results. It is hoped that this kind of interaction will help spread know-how and expertise, also bringing together different practical/ethical approaches to bridge the gap between profit and non-profit organisations.


Your family comes from Istria and knows what it is like to emigrate. Milan is still a tough city, but is it also welcoming and ready to accommodate and support those willing to make the effort?

Yes, this city is still very much centred around its work ethic. Here, in Milan, a willingness to work hard has always facilitated social integration. Of course, this is being helped along by those employment policies and initiatives, particularly those focused on young people and women, introduced by Milan’s institutions and businesses. Here the concept of “good citizenship” has held sway for some time, providing real support for entire communities. Doing business and philanthropy are becoming two sides of the same coin. A way of paying back part of what you have received. This is the same feeling my family has: real gratitude and a desire to give back.


Everybody knows how much you love art. You are on the Board of Directors of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala and Museo Poldi Pezzoli. In the past, you were also the only Italian member of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Art in Washington (USA). Hardly surprisingly, you decided to publish a limited edition of a book about 50 cultural projects carried out over the years in Italy and abroad to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Bracco Group.

Philanthropy has always been in our company’s DNA, which is why we asked Moreno Gentili to write an account of all the projects our family has undertaken to support culture as a way of commemorating this extremely important anniversary in 2017.

The projects outlined in the book are multifaceted: restoration works, exhibitions, concerts and tours all over the world in partnership with such major institutions as Palazzo del Quirinale, La Scala Theatre, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Triennale di Milano. Renovation work has been carried out on extremely valuable fountains in Genoa, Naples, Rome, Palermo, Milan and Varese; attention to the environment, green policies and the urban habitat are mirrored in redevelopment work carried out on parks and gardens like Guastalla Park in Milan and the renovation of industrial sites of great historical value, such as Torviscosa in Friuli (Northern Italy); we have organised major international exhibitions on Fra Carnevale, Giorgione, Titian and Canaletto; concerts involving such great maestros as Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Riccardo Chailly, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Uto Ughi, Lorin Maazel and Lang Lang, without forgetting all the talented youngsters from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, musicians, ballet dancers and technicians from the entertainment business, who have all been given a helping hand by the Bracco Foundation.

The philosophy underscoring the Bracco company and Foundation’s various enterprises to support culture is the creation of public-private partnerships, so that people can work together towards a common goal.


Here, in Milan, a willingness to work hard has always facilitated social integration

Diana Bracco, President and CEO of the Bracco Group
Realtà Mapei Tags: #vision #interviews #insights

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