Ivan Ciaburri is an Italian entrepreneur bringing social impact into everyday life. He’s co-founder and CMO at Citybility, a revolutionary platform which finances local community projects through local commerce.
How? Citybility promotes socially responsible shopping by bringing local retailers, non-profits and conscious consumers together on one platform. Through an Android or Apple iOS app, shoppers can select a local development project and choose to buy products from stores funding that project.
While shoppers make a social impact, local stores gain new customers, build their brands, and engage in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) like the big name brands.
Citybility is backed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 innovation fund. In May, it launched in Monza, a city just north of Milan. Since then, almost 60 local shops, restaurants and bars have signed up to the platform, funding local projects centered on healthcare and transport development.
It all started at MIP Politecnico di Milano. For over a decade, Ivan worked in brand strategy, managing the accounts of diverse multinationals like McDonald’s, Nissan, Vodafone and P&G.
Determined to keep pace with a rapidly developing business world, he decided to pursue an EMBA at MIP in 2010. There, he joined forces with a group of EMBA colleagues to start his first business.
How did the idea to start up Citybility come about?
Citybility has been a consequence of meeting the right people. The kind of people who feel that no challenges are too hard to take.
At MIP, I worked together with four of my present partners. The idea was born during the preparation of the final EMBA project that we had to present in order to graduate.
My partners had exactly the core competencies that I lacked to give birth to a complex project like Citybility; including IT skills, service design and social innovation.
What challenges do you face?
In order to work, Citybility has to satisfy the needs of different stakeholders. We had to balance the differences during the initial design phase. Now that we are testing the platform with real shopkeepers, real non-profits and real users, we have to keep this balance.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own social enterprises?
Be a believer. Socially-impactful businesses are not the most profitable businesses in town, so you’ll find lots of ‘experts’ - especially in finance - that will evaluate your efforts by the old world metrics.
The EMBA gave me the mental energy and the discipline to go through the ups and downs of a start-upper's life.
You have to believe that the business world is going in the direction of allowing the companies like Citybility to thrive. The alternative, in my opinion, is social disarray, the dismantling of the ordered societies as we know them, and the arrival of chaos.
Why did you decide to pursue an EMBA at MIP?
I felt that my competencies were going through a process of obsolescence.
I had to take the next wave of technological and human development prompted by social media, mobile internet diffusion, and financial crisis, so I chose to study in a business school with an engineering culture. By ‘engineering culture’, I mean a mindset that allows people to build bridges and railways where others see only mountains and gorges.