Reconstruction after the 2012 earthquake: italy’s rubble women

One year after the earthquake in Reggio Emilia, women entrepreneurs are rebuilding their stores. The "EmiliAmo" network keeps them from despairing.

Togetherness puts people in a good mood: the women of the EmiliAmo network. Image: EmiliAmo

The earthquakes that shook the Reggio Emilia plain in May 2012 destroyed not only the historic centers of the towns – from Mirandola to Finale Emilia, from Cavezzo to Novi and from San Felice to Concordio – but also hundreds of small stores, ninety percent of which were run by women.

From one moment to the next, stores, bars and workshops collapsed or became inaccessible for safety reasons. However, the owners did not give up, but, on the initiative of 39-year-old Claudia Miglia, a career counselor and training manager, joined forces to form a network that grew in size over the months, giving over 500 businesswomen a task and thus hope. The network is called "EmiliAmo", a play on words from Amo l’Emilia (I love Emilia), expressing the desire of those involved not to despair.

One year after the earthquake, it can be said that the project was successful. Many women have reopened their businesses in containers, wooden huts or buildings like the covered square in Mirandola. "The day after the second quake, on May 29 (the first was on May 20, note. of the author)," Claudia Miglia recounts, "after many telephone conversations, a group of about fifty women owners of small stores, owners of fashion stores, beauty salons, barber stores, tobacco stores, all women who had owned the stores in the historic centers of the cities before the earthquakes, formed. We met for dinner on June 5 and decided to start all over again."

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Initially, they turned to the markets set up by the authorities of the regions affected by the earthquakes, Modena, Reggio Emilia and Bologna, in cooperation with the local municipalities. "We spent the whole summer of 2012 traveling from market to market selling our products. In the end, we had 200,000 euros set aside to keep our business going." When you are affected by such a huge event as an earthquake, what you need most is a lot of imagination and "the ability to run."

Through the contacts made and the buying groups, the women of the network managed to sell, for example, 300,000 euros worth of Parmigiano Reggiano. "We succeed because we are a team, one person alone can’t do anything." Claudia Miglia is the coordinator of the network, which has a contact woman in each city affected by the earthquake. The group is not just about business, but also about the psychological-emotional aspects of doing things together.

Against discouragement

"EmiliAmo immediately helped us to stop giving in to the urge to cry about our destroyed businesses. Because traveling from market to market or just eating pizza together just makes you feel good," says the founder of the non-profit organization. When autumn came and with it the danger of sinking into despondency, the women of the Mirandola network organized events such as "Beauty and Fitness" together with the city’s gyms.

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In Cavezzo there was a lottery in which ninety stores participated. For every ten euros spent there, one received a ticket with which one could win a discount for a purchase in another store in town. In addition, of course, there was merchandising: T-shirts, name tags, breakfast mugs, stickers, all with the EmiliAmo logo, the network slogans and the Facebook and Twitter user accounts.

A series of festivals is planned for summer 2013, the first one themed "Dal terremoto al tortellino" in Cavezzo, where you can make your own pasta. There will also be workshops on cake design and visual food, as well as cooking classes for stressed managers. In this way, Miglia wants to challenge people to design something compelling. "Even though houses may crumble like cookies," she says, "our experiences are repeatable."

Translated from English by Heike Brandt