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Inequities and the Gelateria Sociale Project

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Ambrogio Manenti




Inequity is as old as humanity. The Gini index (a commonly used measure of inequality shows that global inequities have steadily increased over time: for instance, from 1820 (Gini = 50) to 1910 (Gini = 60), to 1950 (Gini = 64) to 1992 (Gini = 66) (Milanovic, 2011).
The trend towards acceleration of the increase of inequity is part of recent history. Over the last 20 years, a redistribution of wealth from public to private, from labour to capital and from poor to rich has contributed to the "widening equity gap". This phenomenon has spread all over the world.
In 2016, the combined wealth of the richest 1 per cent will overtake that of the other 99 per cent of people (Oxfam, 2015).


According with World Health Organization "Equity depends vitally on the empowerment of individuals to challenge and change the unfair and steeply graded distribution of social resources to which everyone has equal claims and rights. Inequity in power interacts across four main dimensions - political, economic, social, and cultural - together constituting a continuum along which groups are, to varying degrees, excluded or included" (
Considering economics, according to Amartya Sen, inequity is the consequence of the standard economic doctrine, based only on mathematic and econometric parameters. "Rational fool" or "social idiot" economists and politicians have been promoting a unique model of capitalism inspired to extreme utilitarism, individualism and rationalism. That which is oriented to pursue specific self-interest is considered rational; it does not foresee goals of a different nature. Self-interest is rational. Civic conscience, solidarity and generosity are not (Sen, 1977, 2009).
Particularly in the last decades, according to that model stigmatized by Sen, global development policy has been dominated by neo-liberal macroeconomic and social policies.
Globalization and the deregulation of international capital flows and trade has considerably narrowed the scope of governments to pursue expansionist and redistributive policies, forcing all governments to cut social and public expenditures and deregulate labour markets in order to make their countries competitive (Navarro, 2009). 
In addition, the difficulties of maintaining a welfare system have increased all over the world as a result of the current financial and economic crisis.


On one side the neoliberal policies have contributed to the increase of inequality, and this is clearly shown by the differences in income among and within different countries, on the other side the possibility for the single individual to change the situation is very limited.
In fact, citizenship and income of parents are the two factors that explain more than 80% of the income of an individual. The remaining 20% results from other factors, the majority over which the individual does not have control, such as gender, age, skin color and fortune, while other factors that on the contrary are under his/her power, such as strength of character and personal initiative, have minimal influence (Milanovic, 2011).


Under these circumstances marked by neoliberalism and structural differences among individuals, it is therefore quite difficult to hope for a change towards a more just world.
There is an anthropology supporting this trend towards inequalities summarized by Hobbes (1642) with the words "we do not look for friends by nature, but we go close to people from whom to get honors and advantages". According to this idea, man is moved only by motivations towards competition, diffidence and glory, applying the motto: homo homini lupus and conducing a solitary, miserable and unpleasant life.
However, there is another anthropology, linked with the thoughts of Plato and Aristotle, which is based on superior motivations. A human being has a natural social nature and his moral constitution is a combination of reason and feelings. The nature of human beings is also oriented to sympathy, sensible to suffering and humiliation of the others, open to freedom, capable of reasoning, arguing, disapproving and convening (Pennacchi, 2012).


The human development concept, which refers to this second anthropology, challenges narrow economic approaches that consider money and possession of goods as ends instead of means. In addition, the paradigm of human development is that it has not been proved that more (wealth and income) is necessarily better. The human development approach gives relevance to freedom, equity and fraternity. Freedom is expressed not only as an individual attribute but as social commitment, an idea of equity as equity in the essential capabilities , an idea of solidarity not as charity but as a responsibility of all men and women towards other human beings and towards society.
Human development with rights, labour and citizenship as central aspects of development (UNDP, 2010, 2016).


Following the principles of human development, the welfare state has been implemented in part of the world, mainly - but not only - the most developed one. The welfare state has been "the most extraordinary invention of social engineering of the last 150 years" (Pennacchi, 2008). Through it, social protection, previously delivered by religious institutions, extended family and feudal traditions, was gradually institutionalized under the main responsibility of the state.
Welfare states have therefore contributed to the development and wellbeing of millions of people all over the world by redistributing wealth and promoting social rights.
However, subsequent to this important development after the second world war, the welfare system has in the last decades started a critical phase under an increased influence of neoliberal policies.
The crisis of welfare states is at the central of the current economic and political debate. The welfare system has been in several cases downsized and in the best cases redesigned in a pluralistic way with a mix responsibility framework among public sector, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders. A vision, the latter, that aims to extend the responsibility of the redistribution of wealth from the state - which is, however, keeping an essential role - to the society involving non-profit organizations and individuals.
"Only a social planet can get the heritage of the welfare state". The vehicles of the social planet could be the non-governmental organizations and associations, which are extraterritorial and cosmopolite entities, and can target directly people in need who will be the beneficiaries of their initiatives. The principle of collective solidarity and collective insurance against misery and bad fortune (linked to utopist theories of the last two centuries) should be raised, on a global scale, to benefit the humanity as whole (Bauman, 2011).


This intellectual jump is possibly arduous.
However, the experience of the community project Gelateria Sociale, recently started in Cairo, is following the pattern suggested above: an anthropology inspired to solidarity and equity through a specific role of associations and individuals. A quality gelato is produced and offered with different prices following the old principle "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". The gelato is sold for 14 EGP - equal to one and half Euro - in a shop located in a rich area of Cairo, while the same gelato is sold to 1 EGP - 0.10 Euro - in the surrounding poor areas through a card. Who cannot afford even 1 EGP can take the gelato from shop offered by a generous client . The social ice-cream shop promotes equity and solidarity offering the "better-off" an opportunity to subsidize those less able to pay. Homemade ice-cream is produced with local products following an Italian receipt and creating new flavors according to the Egyptian and Middle East tradition. The Gelateria offers a physical and virtual space for social activities that bring people together.

The basic principles of the initiative:
- Quality gelato for all
- Who has more, gives more, for an equal product for all
- From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
(; facebook: Gelateria Sociale - Social ice-cream shop in Cairo)


Milanovic, B. 2011. The Haves and the Have-Nots. A brief idyisincratic history of global inequality. New York, basic Books. (Italian version: Chi ha e chi no ha. Il Mulino, 2012)
Navarro, V. 2009. Neoliberalism and its Consequences. The World Health Situation Since Alma Ata. Global Social Policy 2009.
OXFAM 2015.
Pennacchi L. 2008. La moralita' del Welfare. Donzelli Editore. Roma.
Pennacchi L. 2012. Filosofia dei beni comuni. Donzelli Editore. Roma.
Sen, A. 1977. Rational Fools: A critique of the behavioural foundation of economic theory, Philosophy and public Affairs, 6
Sen, A. 1984. Rights and Capabilities. in Resources, Values and Development, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sen, A. 2009. The idea of justice. Penguin Book. London.
UNDP. Human Development Report 2010. UNDP. 2011
UNDP. 2016.
WHO. 2008. Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Closing the gap in a generation, WHO


By the same authors:      Inequities, Partecipation and democracy. The Iran case 

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The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

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Last update: 26/11/2020

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