October 16, 2019

Fondazione Foqus: Naples, Quartieri Spagnoli


Spanish Quarter seen from Renaissance Mediterraneo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0

FOQUS – literally FOndazione QUartieri Spagnoli – is an experimental project of urban regeneration based in Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarters), one of Naples’ most densely populated neighbourhoods. Built during the Spanish occupation in the XVI Century, the Quarters have a long record of poverty and marginality, reporting still today high rate of youth unemployment and school dropout, and the lowest availability of public green areas per inhabitants. FOQUS combines civic entrepreneurship, cooperation and sustainability with educational trainings and new models of community welfare, in order to foster community emancipation and social mobility of the locals.

The building in which the foundation’s activities are located use to be part of the Congregation “Figlie della Carità” activities, which carried out educational and assistance for children and teenagers in the Quartieri Spagnoli neighbourhood. In 2012 the religious Congregation left the space in favour of the non profit organization “Dalla parte dei bambini” with over thirty years of activity running innovative and experimental nursery and experimental education services for kids.

FOQUS activities started in 2014, when “Dalla parte dei bambini” decided to invest to renovate 10.000 meters of Istituto Montecalvario, the educational facility located in the convent and that seemed destined to be abandoned due to the lack of generational turnover of the previous owner and manager of the school: the Catholic Church.

The urban regeneration project has therefore immediately found its roots in solid educational principles, setting its mission in broadening access to knowledge and employment in one of the most problematic areas of the city.

Architects and artisans from the Quarters worked on the renovation of the building, contributing to the transformation of the convent into a modern educational and working facility. The team of professionals in charge of the project’s activities chose the legal form of private a Foundation and started working to set up public-private partnership in order to fund pilot projects of business incubation, apprenticeship and training. FOQUS Director Renato Quaglia described the competences of the professionals working on the project as “horizontal” : “flexible and interdisciplinary skills not related to specific fields of knowledge but open to innovation and creativity. FOQUS is a chance for the Quartieri Spagnoli to be seen in another light, an opportunity to face its challenges but also to develop its potentialities.”


Photo of the Cloister during the kindergarten activities. Source: Corriere del Mezzogiorno

In the first years of activity, the Foundation mainly focused on the Quarters’ unemployment and school dropout issues. Besides assessing the local needs and providing innovative training programmes, FOQUS also aimed to attract new companies in the neighbourhood, to break the Quarters’ isolation.

Today, 17 independent organizations are based in the building, constituting a flexible network that supports the mission of the Foundation while keeping an autonomous agenda. FOQUS also functioned as business incubator for two organizations: a kindergarten and a school of informal training, settled up and still run by educators and operators from the Quarters. All in all, approximately 350 children daily go to school or take dance and music therapy classes in the FOQUS buildings. FOQUS also hosts “Argo”, a programme devoted to people with mental disabilities. Through partnerships with Ferrarelle SpA and Fondazione con il sud, today this center of excellence in child, adolescent and youth training welcomes 32 children from 6 to 27 years, integrating specialized and pre-professional activities with leisure, sports and laboratory activities. Argo can be considered a socialization space that offers tailor-made support for young people with disabilities in order to support their vocational training in collaboration with the presence of a dedicated multi-professional team.


Photo of “, Ho perso il conto” art installation donated by the artist Mimmo Palladino in december 2016. Source: Artribune

FOQUS’ activities are mainly funded by private companies (through corporate social responsibility programmes), social enterprise and foundations. To date, 21 enterprises have contributed in investing in the project. The synergy between the social mission of the private and the Foundation vision of community emancipation is strong and generates solid benefits for the neighbourhood. “Openn”, a joint project of FOQUS and “Con i bambini” social enterprise, is a good example of this partnership. Thanks to a three years grant co-funded by Con i bambini e Fondazione con il Sud, “Openn” allows around 40 disadvantage children to attend the FOQUS kindergarten.

The project targets also the children families’, providing a career perspective to young mothers looking for a second opportunity: FOQUS selected 12 unemployed women who did not finish compulsory school and supported them to complete their studies and attend a vocational training for school operators. They are now creating their own social cooperative, from which FOQUS will buy services in the future. This is just an example of “a model that promotes networking and deep involvement of all organizations participating in the project – regardless of their different missions – in order to improve the interaction through competitiveness and specialization”.

Breaking the social isolation of the neighbourhood with activities that attract external people is part of the Foundation’s current objectives. Despite recognising the importance of strengthening the Quarters resources and of organizing initiatives that target its inhabitants, the Director Renato Quaglia claims that this is not enough: “Usually, those who work inside (of educational facilities and innovative projects) start to open a door to better relate with the neighbourhood and making their relationship more comfortable. We have an opposite idea: it is the city that must graft itself into the neighbourhood.”

This “graft” approach is what characterized the Foundation inclusion priority: this year, FOQUS organized in the neighbourhood a Spanish Film Festival in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain, and a Festival of independent publishing houses, overall attended by more than 10.000 visitors. Moreover, the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples decided to move its courses of graphic design, fashion and art inside the former convent. The courses allow around 500 students to cross every day the “imaginary border” that divides the city centre from the Spanish Quarters, opening them to a different public and so promoting intersection among social groups.

Just a few years ago, having a school at the centre of a regeneration process and using education to contrast marginalities and support the emancipation of peripheries was unimaginable. Started in an empty building in one of the most problematic areas in the city of Naples, FOQUS represents a relevant social innovation practice encompassing training, child care programmes, urban services, cultural initiatives, public and private synergies.

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About Chiara Missikoff

Chiara Missikoff

Chiara Missikoff is a social researcher and facilitator at Sociolab, a multidisciplinary research centre based in Florence. Experienced in action-research and community engagement, she has mainly focused her work on urban regeneration, gender issues and social inclusion. She collaborated with Città Ibrida (Rome), Fondazione G.Feltrinelli (Milan), West of Scotland Regional Equality Council (Glasgow, UK) and the Post-conflict Research Centre (Sarajevo, BiH). In 2015, she co-founded Chayn Italia, the italian chapter of a global charity that leverages technology to empower women against domestic violence through open source need-specific toolkits, web platforms and workshops. She holds a Master in International relations from the University of Bologna and a Master of Research from the University of Glasgow. During her studies, she has developed a specific knowledge on post-socialist divided societies due to her field researches in Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia.

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