#61 Urban Innovators Global: Fostering Leadership for Smarter Cities

Episode 67 January 24, 2024 00:35:30
#61 Urban Innovators Global: Fostering Leadership for Smarter Cities
Smart in the City – The BABLE Podcast
#61 Urban Innovators Global: Fostering Leadership for Smarter Cities

Jan 24 2024 | 00:35:30


Hosted By

Tamlyn Shimizu

Show Notes

This episode features Raffaele Gareri - Partner at Urban Innovators Global, CEO of Urban Futures and former CDO of Rome - and delves into various aspects of urban innovation. Key topics discussed include the importance of bringing key decision-makers together for community improvement, leveraging data-driven approaches for urban development, and the role of leadership in fostering urban innovation.


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Overview of the episode:

[00:01:47] Teaser: If you could magically solve one urban innovation challenge today, which challenge would you choose to solve?

[00:03:52] Raffaele's Professional Background

[00:08:44] What are the main goals of Urban Innovators Global?

[00:10:11] How can education around leadership in urban innovation generate an impact in communities?

[00:12:16] What are the qualities that every leader in urban innovation should have? 

[00:14:30] Data platform project as CDO of Rome

[00:18:19] Governance model for innovation with municipalities in the Province of Brescia

[00:22:29] What are the key challenges smaller municipalities and bigger metropolitan areas face?

[00:26:07] Roll With The Punches: our guest answer this or that questions quickly and with their first instinct.

[00:30:02] Ending Question: To you, what is a Smart City?


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View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: Welcome to Smart in the city, the BABLE podcast, where we bring together top actors in the smart city arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu, and I hope you will enjoy this episode. And gain knowledge and connections to accelerate and change for a better urban life. Smart in the City is brought to you by BABLE smart cities we enable processes from research and strategy development to co creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE platform at bable-smartcities.eu [00:00:46] Tamlyn Shimizu: So today is one of those episodes where I know the guests very well already, and I'm really excited to get them onto the podcast and introduce them to you all, all the listeners. So we are going to be diving a bit into Italy, which, if I'm not mistaken, is actually our first podcast episode with an italian guest. I was realizing that when we were planning the episode. So we'll be talking everything urban innovation in this podcast. So if you're a fan of urban innovation, stick around and we'll be diving into the topic of leadership in urban innovation, which is a really passionate topic of hours at BABLE and of our guests. So without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Raffaele Gareri. He's the partner at Urban Innovators Global and CEO of Urban Futures, a startup studio focused on urban innovation. And he's also the former CDO of Rome. So welcome, Rafael. [00:01:41] Raffaele Gareri: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here. So thank you for inviting me. [00:01:47] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, pleasure to have you on the episode, and I'm really excited to, I mean, we've talked many times, but I'm really excited to get into the podcast mode with you because we can really get to know you so much better this way. So I like to start off with a little teaser, and it's a light question. If you could magically solve, like wave a wand and magically solve one urban innovation challenge today, which challenge would you choose to solve? [00:02:19] Raffaele Gareri: That's a nice question, of course. And let me say that thinking, to my experience, the big challenge is always find a way to put the key decision makers in a community, in a territory, in a city, at the same table. It seems to be something abstract, let's say. But actually it's a very critical point, because then, if all the main stakeholders start to talk and share their knowledge, their projects, and their vision of the future, this important result is that step by step, there is a kind of convergence to the same vision of the future. And consequently, all the actions that will take place have more chance to be correctly executed and above all, to produce impact on the community. So that would be the first great result that I would hope have easily, let's say. [00:03:32] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. So wave the wand and have all the key decision makers at one BABLE, at one time, at any point in time, right? [00:03:39] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah. Even, let me say, in a kind of permanent way, with a regular meetings, with regular debate and planning also. [00:03:52] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, very good answer. All right, so I want to let the listeners know about you because you have an extremely interesting background. You've done a lot of really cool initiatives, really interesting projects. Can you tell us about your background? Where did you come from and how did you get to where you are today? [00:04:19] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah. Yes. From the educational point of view, let me say I had the background in computer science and local government management. I got a degree in electronic engineer and then a master in local government management. And then I put in practice, let's say this knowledge through my professional career, starting from a small company which was working with the italian space Agency on satellite image processing. So that was a kind of basic software development environment that reinforced my technical knowledge. And after that, almost by chance, I entered the public sector. So I started a career, first in the province of Breish and then in the city of Rome, with a different role, with a managerial role, all the time as a director of innovation and technology. But during that time, I had chance to get in touch with many practical activities on tourism field, as well as on planning or urban planning, but also internal auditing, communication and so on. And by the way, that time I had the opportunity to be the president of a european institution of the Council of Europe. It was named european network of a training organization. And it was a very nice experience because it let me be in touch with colleagues, employees of other local governments. Local governments. So in the countries beyond know, that Council of Europe includes countries such as Russia, Middle East, Turkey and so on. So it was very interesting also from the cultural point of view. Finally, in the last years, I moved back to the private sector, first in Tiscali, which is a national telco operator in charge of developing a new business unit focused on smart city matters. Of course, it was named future communities because the aim was to develop platforms, tools and services to take our community into the future, because of the digital transformation that is affecting our society. And recently I started together with other friends, Urban Innovators Global, which is a very interesting initiative and also a startup studio. Again focus on Europe innovation, because I think because of the speed of this transformation, we will have in front of us more and more opportunities that it won't be easy for the big institution and big corporation to take advantage of. And so this is a huge space for more tiny and flexible and powerful entities like the startups. But of course, those startups, and those startuppers, in my opinion, need to be more and more fully aware of the typical relationship and rules and context that there is in a city. So how the public set the rules in that environment, how the big players in the private world are a player you have to deal with, and so on. So how to develop, in other words, your business being inside this ecosystem of. [00:08:44] Tamlyn Shimizu: Really, really interesting background, as I said. Can you tell us more about your most recent venture, which is urban innovators global? Right. What are the main goals of the organization and what are you planning to do? [00:09:03] Raffaele Gareri: Yes, Uber Innovators Global is a company, but it's mainly a group of, let me say, global leaders, senior professionals that share the same aim of, as we love to say, drive the betterment of cities. So this is something that we learn through our personal experience. We are a group with different backgrounds, but this is in our opinion a richness and through a wide range of services, starting from traditional education, but also training, program, assessment, advisory, but also talent scouting and venture building. We want to help the cities and the regions, let me say, to improve their innovation capacity. So that's the main aim of this new initiative? [00:10:11] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, and that's also of course, where our goals overlap. BABLE and urban innovators Global we signed a partnership deal at the Smart City Expo this year and we plan to what we actually have already created the Urban Innovation Leadership program and that's launching now. How do you think education around leadership in urban innovation can really generate an impact in communities? What impact do you hope that this has? [00:10:41] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah, I think it can be very impactful. This is our feeling and hope, of course, because leadership is going to be a key aspect in the changes that are happening in our cities. So without leadership, I don't think that there will be the chance of changing the way, how we are doing things, how we are designing or implementing services, because there is the need to change the traditions and there is the need to be aware that we cannot do things as we were doing so far. And this is a huge effort also in term of mindset and also in term of involvement of people with the team, in term of how to experiment new procurement ways, how to develop new business models, how to be ready to failures and so on. So we need leadership to be ready to manage all these kind of things and to rethink our present and future and be ready to follow the new emerging needs that the society is showing us. [00:12:16] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. And maybe a follow up question here. What do you think are the qualities that every leader in urban innovation should have? What should people really work on and strive for? [00:12:30] Raffaele Gareri: Well, of course, I think we need someone that is curious about innovation, curious about how can this new emerging technology or current technology, and above all, how the emerging needs, because of the climate change, because of the different economic scenarios, can drive us to a different way of operating the city. Let me say so, first ingredient, let me say, is the awareness that we have to change somehow to be more effective and to take advantage of in general the resources, in a different way, of course, in a more sustainable way, of course. So then technicalities, let me say, can be learned, but the mindset is the real challenge, how to open your mind and how to be prepared, that the new challenge probably must be tackled not alone, but inside a group, together other professionals, and even more together and inside a community. So I think this is a starting point and I'd like to have people coming from different application field, because we don't need just technicians, we need in general officials, managers, politicians, so those that are in charge of managing current resources and because of that management can really affect the services for citizens and companies. [00:14:30] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely resonate with those thoughts. And speaking of leadership, you were a leader at the municipality of Rome, you were CDO there. And can you maybe walk us through a specific project that you did in Rome that you think had the biggest impact or maybe the biggest lessons learned or anything along those regards? [00:14:56] Raffaele Gareri: Yes, with pleasure. Well, let me say that when I entered the capital, I was fascinating about the idea of setting up a new smart city plan because we didn't have so far. And luckily I was supported also by politician at that time. And so that was very useful and fascinating path. But let me say that I like to tell you about the data platform project, because in my opinion it shows more practical effects, let's say. So it was a project that we started because of the need of develop an economic development program. And so the initial idea was to collect data sources coming from different departments inside the municipality, but also from different entity all over the city, the chamber of commerce, university, free sources on the Internet and so on. And then suddenly, let's say we went through the COVID experience, and inside those months it came out that all that information on activities, on companies were very usable to be connected with the existing presence of citizen in the cities or where the people were gathering. So we managed to do this kind of things thanks to data coming from mobile phones and provided by national operators, as well as data from cameras that were placed all over the city. So to understand traffic, roads and viability, we widened, let me say, the spectrum of sources that we were able to manage. And the interesting thing is that even after I left the municipality, this project went on and growed. And today is part of a kind of platform for all the other projects, innovation projects that have been developing. And it's a hub of collecting data and cross correlate data coming from different subjects, different pro topics. So it's important, in my opinion, because it helped the managers and the employees to start thinking on the data driven approach. And as we know, data driven approach and policies is the basis of a real smart city development. So that's why I like to remind and to mention this project. [00:18:19] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, thank you so much for walking us through that, really. I love the projects that you really see the impact when they continue on and grow and develop more and more. So really positive to see that. Also before Rome, you were also working in the province of Brett, and really doing a lot of cooperation between various stakeholders. Can you talk a little bit about your experience there and what else you learned from that? [00:18:51] Raffaele Gareri: Of course, Brachia was a different cost context from the big metropolitan Herald, like Rome, by the way, Brett is one of the biggest province in Italy, to more than 206 municipalities, most of them small municipalities. When I say small, I'm saying that 75% of them is under 5000 inhabitants. [00:19:19] Tamlyn Shimizu: So. [00:19:22] Raffaele Gareri: From the beginning, because I was in charge of managing technology and innovation in the province, but also I had chance to start a new initiative to support local, surrounding small municipalities in taking part to this innovation process. And so what we learned through our experience is that only joining altogether those small entities can have access to these new words, these new opportunities, because in the end, we managed to create a kind of shared service center, where all those municipalities took part, paying a fee, but above all being part of a single project. And we experimented with relative good success and joint eprocurement among those people, among those entities, as well as joint projects that in the end were able also to attract investment from other regional or national, or even Internet european institutions. And for example, we launched a smart lighting project for more than 28 municipalities altogether. And we practiced the project financing approach, which was quite uncommon for small entities like those. And for example, we managed to develop in 21 an IoT infrastructure. So imagine that those rural areas, because bracia territory varies from lake to land to mountains, and it's a very rich area, but in term of economic values indicators. But of course, there are also lots of small villages. So the good result for my experience, and I hope also for the territory, was that we find a way to experiment, to practice a kind of governance model for innovation. And by the way, this experience was followed also by the National association of Provinces, and still today is something upon which other private entities develop their business. So again, I'm happy to see this kind of transformation, evolution of this initiative. And as you were saying, the fact that something continues after you started is the best. [00:22:29] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. Yeah. We also have a project right now, as BABLE called SMC net zero, and it's focused on small and medium sized cities. And a lot of those learnings are also around how can you join forces. So I think we'll have to touch base on that also at a different time because you have so much expertise in that area. So to kind of sum it up from all of these experiences that you have different experiences with smaller municipalities, a massive metropolitan area, all of the different private and public sector endeavors, what stands out to you as the key needs and challenges that they're facing and we're facing? [00:23:13] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah, I think that one important output is that innovation, usually when you introduce attractive in term of words, in term of idea, but then it turns, that is something nice to have, but not all the times is in the real priority list, let's say, and this is because most of the times, again, people say, but we don't have special fund to go through it or we don't have skills and so on. So in my opinion, the way we have to put it is if we want to really practice and understand innovation, we have to start from what we are doing now and to honor ourselves, which is the next step of changes that we can introduce to the daily, to the existing services, step by step, trying to, let me say, fund innovation in the financial resources that you currently have for that specific responsibility. So that's the way that usually helps in testing the real readiness to innovation, but also not only to test, but also to support and to push the people that are responsible of an office of a department of service to find a way to introduce, because it could be a way to be more effective in the current task and the current duty. And this could of course should be go in pair with a commitment from the top level decision maker in the organization. Either they are managers, but we also need commitment from politicians if we are talking about the public sector. But in general, let me say we see a lot of experience where we try to train employees, but we need also to support and to create a generation of managers or leaders, again, that drive these people and drive through a different use of the resources that are available in a given space, in a given organization. [00:26:07] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. So important in this context. So that's all for the main interview part that I have for you today. Now we get to play a little game. So you've given us some great insights and all of that, and now we're going to move on to one of my favorite segments. It's called roll with the punches. Roll with the punches. Answer this or that questions quickly and with your first instincts. I wanted to play this one with you because it's my favorite, as the listeners might know. So it's very simple. We will just go through it quickly and you just have to decide. You just have to choose one and then at the end you can explain your decision if you like. Are you ready? [00:26:58] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah, let's hope so. [00:27:01] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. Don't worry, it's easier than it sounds. Okay. Pizza or pasta? [00:27:08] Raffaele Gareri: Pasta. [00:27:12] Tamlyn Shimizu: Data driven decision making or human centric design? A human centric design for venture building. Global expansion or niche market domination? [00:27:26] Raffaele Gareri: Niche market domination. [00:27:29] Tamlyn Shimizu: Walkability or smart transportation system? [00:27:34] Raffaele Gareri: Smart transportation system. [00:27:38] Tamlyn Shimizu: Big data or citizen engagement for urban development? [00:27:44] Raffaele Gareri: Citizen engagement. It's tough because most of all, alternative, meaning. So it was not easy actually. But this is part of your job. [00:28:02] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yes, exactly. Bottom up initiatives or top down impact strategies. [00:28:11] Raffaele Gareri: Top down impact strategies. [00:28:15] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. Embracing tech trends or slow adoption for inclusivity? [00:28:24] Raffaele Gareri: Embracing tech trends. [00:28:27] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. Okay. Espresso or macchiato? [00:28:33] Raffaele Gareri: Espresso, definitely. [00:28:37] Tamlyn Shimizu: For me, the ones that were the hardest were the choosing between big data and these things. But pasta and espresso you feel confident about, right? [00:28:49] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah, that's part of our story. So it's a pizza, but it works this way. Good. [00:28:57] Tamlyn Shimizu: Wonderful job. Do you want to explain any of your answers? Was there one that you were really wanting to, you were stuck on the big data and citizen engagement, right? [00:29:10] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah. Because you can understand that there is somehow this fighting in me from my technical background, coming from the engineering, but also from my experience on the field that showed me how important is, especially in these kind of things, to build something together with people. And because of my character, let's say in the end, I always try to find a balance. So I think they would need both of them. [00:29:47] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, same with the data. [00:29:52] Raffaele Gareri: Actually, the best answer for me was half and half. It was not possible according to your rules. [00:30:02] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yes, exactly. We try to make people choose in the well, knowing that we need to have both, but. Exactly. I tried to appeal to your character, which I know is, of course, having this tech data background, innovation background. But also I know that you're focused on really the human aspects of what you do. And I had to throw in a couple of italian questions because I haven't gotten the chance before. You're the first italian guest. All right, now we come to one final question, and it's a question we ask every single guest, and it's to you, what is a smart city? [00:30:49] Raffaele Gareri: Yeah, it seems to be an easy question, but it's not. Well, I think it's a place where there is the culture of innovation, or there is the research of the culture of innovation, because of course, smart city is different from the other one, even from the neighbor one. So that means that it's not the formal result that makes the fact, but it's the process itself. And in the end, in all the recent years, I found that the attitude of people, so the culture of innovation is the key aspect. So if you are open to rethink your knowledge, your way of doing, your way of designing or executing, in other words, you want to be more open minded and want to understand what the Others are doing. That's important. If you are ready to do something in cooperation with others, that's again, something that we cannot avoid if we want to change and to take advantage of the current scenario, but also cultural innovation, meaning that we needed to facilitate new experiments, new tests, and we need to be ready to failures, especially in the public sector. That's not easy, because if you do it right, okay, if you are doing a mistake, so there is a kind of punishment. So that's refrain people from experimenting new things. And finally, culture of innovation also means that we need to listen a lot from the others, from the final users, and we need also to understand how different can be the final user. So this is another way to approach the inclusion. We want to develop services, but how to which specific needs and needs of which group of people, in which area, which coming from which other different regions and so on. So a smart city is a place where there is at least this awareness of needs. And then we can move from the existing point and define the specific process of improvement. But without those basic ingredients, I think it could be very difficult. [00:33:55] Tamlyn Shimizu: Very good answer. I also really love the culture of innovation thought there. I've had people phrase it in different ways, but I think, not anyone say it in that way. So thank you so much for those thoughts. And also, that's all we have for you today. So thank you so much, Rafael, for coming on. It's always a pleasure to speak with you, but even more so on the podcast. So thank you so much for all your insights. [00:34:25] Raffaele Gareri: Thank you, Tamlin. It was really a pleasure to discuss with you about these things that I like a lot, and I can see from your questions that you are also inside this field. So really nice. Thank you so much. [00:34:42] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much. And thank you also, of course, to all of our listeners. Don't forget, you can go into the show notes, you can see more information about our urban innovation leadership program that we have going on our partnership, and you can always create a free account on babodash smartcities EU. You can find out more about smart city projects, solutions and implementations. Thank you very much. Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.

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