An Interview with Karen Mangia
Create continuity — so that your initiatives become a tradition and people look forward to them. We do the same events at the same time every year, but we add in new features, products, people, and opportunities so that there will be an opportunity of newness.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luigi Diotaiuti.
Luigi Diotaiuti is the founder of the Italian non-profit organization Basilicata: A Way of Living. He is also an award-winning chef and the owner of Al Tiramisu Restaurant in Washington, DC. The Certified Italian Sommelier was named Ambassador of Italian Cuisine & The Cuisine of Basilicata in the world by the Federation of Italian Cooks.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
The fact that I grew up on a farm in the country is responsible for shaping who I am today. I was always integrated and harmoniously intact with nature. Every waking moment was an example of the relationship between humans and nature; flora and fauna. The way in which we lived promoted biodiversity and sustainability naturally. It was the way that we lived which gave us the philosophy that everything had a role — even rocks were used for specific tasks. That type of upbringing makes you respect humans, animals, and mother nature in a different way. It was a metaphor for life because the fragileness of the environment mirrored the same fragile equilibrium that human lives have.
I was also privileged to have been able to travel, not only through Italy, but also in Europe and the rest of the world. It helped me to grow and learn from different experiences where I was able to develop my own personality. I would be a completely different person, and it would never have occurred to me to do so much for my region if I never left it.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
1. Personal beliefs
The conviction behind the philosophy of what I do created a solid base of our mission. That is what my non-profit is built upon. For example, Basilicata: A Way of Living, was created with a scope of promoting the culture, traditions, and creating business opportunities, and it is still that way.
Knowing how to run your organization and hiring and training the right people is crucial. I learned this in running my restaurant, Al Tiramisu, and translated the knowledge into the non-profit world. I now have more than 50 volunteers who work for free and who can’t wait to help because they feel that they are part of something successful that is helping their region. They enjoy seeing national TV and projects which improve our home region. The entire community looks forward to the event.
It was my motivation that helped us to gain international reach and success. If I wasn’t inspired to make our vision a reality, it never would have happened.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
I learned that when you go out of your comfort zone and even enter into the unknown, if you do it because you’re inspired and have a strong desire to continue to grow, it will be the key factor in success.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
We have a significant social impact for many reasons, but the most tangible is that we are able to generate 120 million dollars of business for the community during a two day event. Many students, both in the US and Italian colleges used our nonprofit as a topic for their theses. Some young people in Basilicata, who were ready to emigrate because of a lack of employment opportunities, decided to take over their families’ farms and initiate successful startups. We intend to continue generating additional revenue, creating ways for young people to make a decent living without needing to leave their homes, and develop new strategies for startups in addition to promoting sustainability, our local cuisine and culture.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
I feel the most passionate because this is the only way I see that we can help the agriculture of our region. Agriculture is a key to both our health and livelihood, no matter where you are in the world. I want to promote the way I lived as a kid, a healthy and harmonious way, by combining it with the great resources today. Our region is unique because of its’ strategic position and for the beauty and biodiversity of the land, and it deserves to be celebrated everywhere.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
For the young people who decided to take over their families’ farming businesses….one bought a butcher shop and specializes in the Podolico breed of cows which we are promoting and raising awareness about because it is unique to our region. Each year we have events which promote this particular breed to save it from extinction, and our activities inspired him to take up this way of life.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
The problem that Basilicata: A Way of Living is trying to resolve is to help young people be able to stay in their region and to make a living there. The action steps that we take are the following:
1. Identify underappreciated resources.
We are fortunate to have products that are unique which could be a way for them to do so, but prior to our existence there was no way to make a living by specializing in these items which weren’t appreciated enough in our own region, let alone the rest of the world.
2. Show ways in which to use those things to generate revenue.
Identifying startups, collaborating with co-ops and restaurants, increasing tourism, exports, etc. are all ways that we have shown can be profitable and support young people economically.
3. Demonstrate the value of the resources.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Identify your scope of action — why did you start your nonprofit — what’s the purpose?
I chose three things that are emblematic of our region the Podolico breed of cow, the caciocavallo cheese it produces, and our pasta- making traditions. These are all unique to us. In addition, the customs that are needed to make them — the ritual of taking the cows to cooler pastures in the summer, for example, was an event that not only helped the cows, but also us as humans. I saw the sea for the first time as a kid while taking our families cows to cooler pastures, and these were important cultural and community enhancing rituals. One of the world’s most expensive cheeses, caciocavallo Podolico, is made from milk of this type of cow so it reinforces the importance of the traditional ways of raising them. Everything started from this core idea.
2. You have to present and promote your idea
I had a conference with local government and the local press and residents, and showed a power point presentation that highlighted all of my ideas in order to generate interest and take the next steps to develop them.
3. Develop the idea — what you are going to do and how
I created events based on the ideas and products that I wanted to promote. I thought about festival-type events that all people and ages would be interested in attending — things that was never done before but really needed and would help us to re-instate our community values that are no longer a part of our daily lives. We have cooking shows, mountain excursions, folkloric dancing, children’s’ competitions, food stands, tasting of local products, panel discussions, handicrafts, etc. I get the local schools, colleges, and chefs involved. Even though we are surrounded by beautiful mountains, for example, no one ever appreciated them as much as they should. Now things are starting to change.
4. Grow the concept
I invited national TV, local, regional, and national government officials and celebrities which increased our visibility and helped to encourage future sponsors, etc. Locals are filled with a sense of pride when they see places and things that they took for granted being appreciated by celebrities.
5. Create continuity — so that your initiatives become a tradition and people look forward to them
We do the same events at the same time every year, but we add in new features, products, people, and opportunities so that there will be an opportunity of newness.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
In this case, it reinforced and helped our mission. During the pandemic, and because of it, people have a renewed interest in the countryside, in rural life, and clean spaces. What’s more, because of a flawed industrial agricultural model, people are more interested in sustainability and community than ever before, and that is what we are all about.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
For me, the results I want (providing valuable employment options for the young, and making people proud of our homeland) are so satisfying, that they make the sacrifices and the frustrations worthwhile. We have a lot of setbacks, in Italy there is a lot of bureaucracy, and it is not as easy to start things as it is in America. When you add in the fact that I do events internationally, and in various languages, it becomes even more complicated. What I love is when people tell you that they enjoy what you are doing, and that they are looking forward to the next one. It makes it all worth it.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would like to talk to Carlo Petrini, who started the Slow Food Movement, I am sure that he could give me great advice, and since I have been a member of Slow Food for many years (my restaurant Al Tiramisu was awarded the Slow Food Snail of Approval), and together we could do great things.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Instagram: @chefluigidiotaiuti and @basilicatawayofliving
Facebook: Chef Luigi Diotaiuti and @basilicatawayofliving
You Tube: Luigi Diotaiuti
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.