Intesa Sanpaolo is taking on economic and social challenges for a new perspective on growth

Intesa Sanpaolo’s conference on social responsibility held in Milan, January 28th, examined how the key to success is to put society, culture and the planet at the heart of how we do business

Giulia Rhodes


“A commitment to society and to culture is at the centre of Intesa Sanpaolo,” said Gian Maria Gros-Pietro, chairman of Intesa Sanpaolo, as he opened the bank’s social and cultural responsibility conference in Milan.

“When society suffers everything is put at risk and those who work in the economy must intervene.”

One year into Intesa Sanpaolo’s 2018-21 business plan – setting out the company’s ambition to strengthen its leadership in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and become the first worldwide impact bank– the event brought together a range of Italian and international experts to discuss the themes and challenges, generate ideas and showcase the bank’s projects and plans.

Intesa Sanpaolo’s work in the fields of circular economy and sustainability, culture, groups in need in the community and access to education and employment was presented.

Among those participating in the round-table debate was Rob Kapito, president of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset-management company. He described Intesa Sanpaolo as “a point of reference on an international level” in terms of social responsibility.

“A business needs a purpose which is not solely profit,” Kapito told the audience. “Profit and social purpose are two factors that are tightly linked.”

With investors increasingly vociferous in their demand for money to be invested sustainably, companies such as BlackRock and Intesa Sanpaolo must lead the way, he added.

Carlo Messina, CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo, chairing the discussions, agreed. “In an uncertain and fragmented global context, communities are looking to private companies to take on social as well as economic challenges,” he said.

“Today we are confirming the centrality of our projects, launching new initiatives aimed at the young, at their education and training. Creating the conditions for new employment is the priority for relaunching our country.”

Intesa Sanpaolo’s flagship Fund for Impact is widening credit access – totalling €1.25 billion – to key, frequently excluded groups including researchers, start-ups and female entrepreneurs.

The bank is also working with Generation, consultant McKinsey’s non-profit programme to combat youth unemployment globally.

Much of the credit released through Fund for Impact will boost much-needed innovation supporting the transition to a circular economy – one which is sustainable, socially beneficial, financially profitable and based on the principles of designing out waste, reusing products and materials and regenerating natural resources.


This is a long-standing commitment for Intesa Sanpaolo, which recently renewed its role as global partner for financial services of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation until 2021. The bank is the lead partner on the foundation’s Cities and Circular Economy for Food report launched at this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.


Speaking at Intesa Sanpaolo’s conference, Andrew Morlet, chief executive of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, highlighted the exciting opportunities of circular economics. “It is a vision which inspires people. It’s not just a story about reduction, it’s about new models and new values,” he explained. Intesa Sanpaolo’s key commitments include a credit ceiling of up to €5 billion for innovative circular-economy projects in SMEs and large companies.


As a bank with a global presence and perspective, Intesa Sanpaolo must ensure that its values have the same reach. The bank’s Circular Economy Startup Initiative acceleration programme has thus been held at its hubs in London, Hong Kong and Dubai, as well as in Italy.


“When society suffers, everything is put at risk and those who work in the economy must intervene”
Gian Maria Gros-Pietro, chairman, Intesa Sanpaolo

Recognising that Italy’s extraordinarily rich cultural heritage benefits the country’s society and economy as well as driving international cultural co-operation, Intesa Sanpaolo has a long tradition of investing in, promoting and sharing Italy’s artistic treasures.


Its dedicated programme, Project Culture supports a range of art forms including visual art, music, theatre, dance, cinema and literature. This work was recognised when the bank won the Innovation in Corporate Art prize at the Corporate Art Awards in December 2018.


Among those contributing to the discussions at the Milan CSR conference was Roberto Bolle, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and La Scala Theatre Ballet. Situated right opposite the latter’s famous Milan home, Intesa Sanpaolo’s public art gallery displays a selection of the bank’s 30,000 works.


In conjunction with its other permanent museum sites in Naples and Vicenza, the bank welcomed more than 330,000 visitors to 14 major exhibitions in 2018.

Here, too, international dialogue is key– and the bank has collaborated with eminent institutions including the Hermitage in St Petersburg and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (which recently displayed one of its Caravaggios)

“Progress is linked to the education of new generations, to cohesion, to the circular economy”
Carlo Messina, CEO, Intesa Sanpaolo

The “For Merit” initiative, launching in February 2019, aims to improve Italy’s relatively low rates of university admissions and high university drop-out (46 per cent of school leavers and 32 per cent respectively)– a real obstacle to the development of a skilled future workforce and economy. Loans of up to €5,000 annually, for five years with no guarantee required, will help more than 1.6 million university students to cover the potentially prohibitive costs of study, travel and accommodation in Italy. Italian students wishing to pursue their education abroad will be able to benefit higher annual limits within the maximum amount of €50,000 per loan.

Also highlighted at the conference was Intesa Sanpaolo’s work to combat poverty and hardship in Italy, though collaborations such as that with food bank organisation the Fondazione Banco Alimentare, which provided 8,500 meals a day in the first nine months of 2018.


All of these programmes are driven by Intesa Sanpaolo’s sense of purpose, Carlo Messina told the conference audience.  “Progress is linked to the education of new generations, to cohesion, to the circular economy. Intesa Sanpaolo is taking on economic and social challenges for a new perspective on growth.


“At a time like this, when the country needs to grow, we are here.”


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