VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Carlo Mazzi attends the "Shaping a Sustainable Multilateralism" conference at Fondazione Prada on September 01, 2020 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Fondazione Prada)

MILAN — Sustainability has a strategic role as a cultural lever to develop multilateral relationships and agreements, believes Prada SpA chairman Carlo Mazzi.

Keeping a focus on the topic of sustainability, despite the uncertainties connected to the coronavirus pandemic, Prada Group on Tuesday held the “Shaping a Sustainable Multilateralism” conference at Ca’ Corner della Regina in Venice, one of the Fondazione Prada’s headquarters. This is part of Prada’s “Shaping a Future” conferences and part of a two-day event promoted by the Soft Power Club, a new private organization whose goal is to stimulate diplomacy at a cultural level and multilateral relations between the public and private sectors to encourage social progress.

Mazzi, a founding partner of the Soft Power Club, said in a phone interview from Venice that the name of the organization hails back to American political scientist Joseph Nye, who popularized the term as the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce in politics. “It’s a reflection on the fact that power must be shared and legitimate, it cannot be imposed,” said Mazzi. “We thought we would use soft power because after a moment that was full of hope, as the world takes a step back [due to the pandemic], instead of seeing cohesion and sharing, we see sovereignty and repressive nationalism and power enforced through strength. The idea is to promote an apolitical and international representation on shared values such as art, culture and sustainability,” he noted, underscoring how the European Union is seen as a global actor in redefining soft power.

Mazzi said the Prada Group was “naturally connected” to the Soft Power Club, in light of the sustainable goals it has set and promoted over the past few years. The club was formed during the COVID-19 pandemic so this was the first meeting, inaugurated in Venice, “a unique and international point of aggregation.” To wit, on Monday afternoon, a discussion was held on the problems of oceans — a priority for the city of Venice — and a key focus as climate change and the rise in sea levels are a paradigm for potential new disruption, he said.

Earlier this year the Italian luxury company partnered with UNESCO on an education program for high school students worldwide to raise awareness of, and promote, more responsible behavior toward the oceans. This project is in line with the Agenda of the United Nations 2030 and 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The project between Prada and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission will stretch over four months and start in the fall, as soon as schools reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It is financed through a portion of the sale proceeds from the Prada Re-Nylon capsule collection, donated to UNESCO’s IOC.

Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores, director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, was one of the speakers on Tuesday, a panel that also included Italy’s Minister for Economic Development Stefano Patuanelli; Marzio Galeotti, professor of energy and environmental economics at the University of Milan; Matteo Lunelli, chairman of Fondazione Altagamma; Mariarosa Cutillo, chief of strategic partnerships, UNFPA, and Carlo Maria Ferro, chairman of the Italian Trade Agency, among others.

Prada is a signatory of the Fashion Pact and asked if he thinks companies are responding to the sustainability call in a concrete way, Mazzi was positive, saying that actions are being taken and companies are engaged with precise goals. “Concrete actions are always moved by an idea. When there is a concept, a thought that is perceived and ideas are matured, an effective reaction follows. The strength of an idea, it has an incredible power, it can trigger a movement of radical change,” Mazzi claimed.

For example, he said, the financial sector is aware of this trend and acknowledging it. “Big investors such as BlackRock have decided not to invest in companies with a negative ecological impact. They have realized that progress is going in this direction and this is very effective. Without investments you remain isolated,” he elaborated.

Mazzi said that, during the conference, Galeotti drew a parallel between the COVID-19 pandemic and sustainability, seeing the former “as a test of a global problem” — global as much as the sustainability problem. “Understanding the impact of COVID-19 [can help] find inspiration for the impact of social and ecological decay.”

Asked if other fashion brands would likely join the Soft Power Club, Mazzi said: “Why not? Already we started by sharing ideas and we expect there will be interest from fashion groups.” He noted that “fashion is a very important ambassador for Italy in the world, it represents a positive value for the country.”

Globalization, continued Mazzi, was already suffering before the pandemic, hurt by tensions on trade and a new race for strategic position, hence “the urgent need to recodify soft power as an instrument to spur global dialogue for an inclusive multilateralism. This is very much needed in this phase of resilient coexistence with the virus and, in perspective of a more equipped capacity to face future pandemics together with other challenges.”

Prada last year hosted the “Shaping a Sustainable Future Society” conference in New York, the third edition of the Italian company’s cultural conversations under the “Shaping a Future” moniker. It explored topics such as freedom, equality and justice within the workplace, and the impact of ethical assessments in people’s choices and behavior.

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