Journey through the Italy-Senegal Partnership

October 10, 2023

The Paolo Dieci Award, now in its second edition, was created to remember Paolo Dieci, who tragically died in a plane crash on 10 March 2019, together with other cooperators of different nationalities, in the skies over Ethiopia.

Paolo Dieci, a prominent figure as president of the International Committee for the Development of Peoples – Cisp and of Link 2007 – network cooperation, as well as a member of the National Development Cooperation Council, was a tireless promoter of international cooperation for development.

Paolo Dieci, an award for those who know how to work as a team

The award established by Link 2007, Le Réseau Association and Cisp aims at recognising and valorising the most significant partnership paths in international cooperation for development between NGOs, Diaspora Organisations and New Generations with a migration background.

This second edition focuses on a number of themes, including the importance of partnership, the role of diasporas as central actors in international cooperation, the migration and development nexus and the importance of communication and information. Applications for the second edition are open until 5 November 2023 and the process will culminate in the final award ceremony scheduled for 30 November2023. All information on how to participate is available on the award website.

The story of Abdou Diouf: my journey in the Italy-Senegal partnership

The Paolo Dieci award for partnership in development cooperation between NGOs, Diasporas and New Generations Organisations with a migration background has great significance and a road to be travelled and developed more and more. I became aware of the Award thanks to a long-standing friendship with Cleophas Dioma, President of the Association Le Réseau and one of the organisations promoting the Paul Dieci Award. With Cleophas, we have shared many experiences in recent years, especially in the school context. On my return from Senegal, I met Cleo and told him about the project I was developing and the collaboration between the University of Dakar and the University of Florence. In that conversation, we talked about some of the obstacles that often plague projects. It was at that moment that Cleophas told me about the Paolo Dieci Prize. I chose to support this prize because I realised, through my own experience, that many young people of the new generation with migratory experiences have a wealth of ideas, but often lack the information and knowledge or even the courage to take the first step in developing projects. I believe that the Prize represents an extraordinary opportunity for these young people, offering them the chance to enhance and encourage partnerships between civil society organisations and the organised realities of the world of immigration and the new generations in order to achieve quality development cooperation that is effective, sustainable and of mutual interest. In this sense, the award provides visibility and the opportunity to connect with other generations in the diaspora who share the same values and passion for innovation, fostering the creation of new partnerships.

Having directly experienced valuable partnership experiences, I like to recall and recount them, as is my custom. Specifically, it all started with a project idea in Senegal, which only became concrete in November 2022 after a meeting with second-generation Senegalese students in Pontedera. In addition to discussing my novels, I discussed with them a topic that is particularly close to my heart: education. On my way back from that meeting, I invited my genetics professor, Renato Fani, with whom I had graduated five years earlier, and then maintained close contact, for a coffee in Florence. After listening to my account of the previous evening with the Senegalese students, the professor, who in the past had had experiences of international cooperation and collaboration with several non-European universities, raised an old question in me that I had asked him years earlier during my thesis: ‘Shall we do something with Senegal?

In 2012, this application represented little more than a dream. I dreamed of spending a few months studying in Senegal and of seeing Senegalese students come to study in my faculty. However, ten years later, the question took on a different determination: ‘Let’s do something with Senegal? With Senegal, not for Senegal’. The professor’s answer was equally decisive: ‘Tomorrow I will contact the university’s internationalisation office to check if there are any ongoing projects’. As promised, he kept his word. We discovered that there was already a cultural and scientific agreement between the University of Florence and a Senegalese university. However, there were still two challenges to face: the first was to extend the existing agreement to the field of Biology, and the second was to find the necessary funds to support these exchanges.

To extend the agreement, the first step was to get in touch with the university in Dakar. But how? My university education had taken place entirely in Italy and I had never attended a Senegalese academic institution. While reflecting on possible contacts, I recalled an event during my last trip to Senegal in October 2020. I had been invited to the Institute of Italian Culture in Dakar, which operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote Italian culture in the world. I then wrote to the director of the Institute and discovered that at the Italian Embassy in Dakar there was a figure dedicated to scientific diplomacy: Dr Eugenio Cavallo. Coordinator of numerous research groups and international projects, he was our direct link with Dakar and with the professors at Cheikh Anta Diop University. Thanks to him, we were able to quickly sign an agreement and extend it to the field of Biology, including Genetics, Microbiology, Zoology and General Botany. Dr Aboubacry Kane was designated as project manager in Dakar.

The second challenge was to obtain the necessary funds to carry out these exchanges. We noticed the existence of an Erasmus Plus 2023 call for applications that was about to expire, and we made it in time to submit our application based on the research project on which doctoral student Giulia Semenzato is currently working.

During this process, Professor Fani and I realised that what we were doing could not be the result of chance and that the time was right. In Wolof we say ‘Lu diot yombu’ translated as ‘When the right time comes for something to happen, it becomes easy to make it happen’.

In our Biology department, we have been studying medicinal plants and associated bacteria for years, focusing on the search for new natural antibiotics. The use of medicinal plants is traditional in Africa, but there is often a lack of information on the active substances present in these plants. This collaboration aims to intensify studies on them and to share results and ideas between the two countries.

Before knowing the outcome of the Erasmus call for applications, we decided to take an unusual step. In July 2023, we left for Dakar to meet professors and students directly. We visited several Senegalese universities, including the University Cheikh Anta Diop, the Université du Sine Saloum El-Hâdj Ibra hima Niass and the Université Gaston Berger de Saint Louis. During these meetings, I watched the professors and students with admiration. As we exchanged ideas, I reflected on a quote by Bernard Shaw: “If you have an apple and I have an apple, and we exchange them, then you and I always have an apple for one. But if you have an idea, and I have an idea, and we exchange them, then we both have two ideas’. This project is a true exchange of ideas, where we both contribute and learn from each other. I don’t believe in cooperation based only on “Let’s do something for…”, but prefer an approach where I always say “Let’s do something with…”. In that ‘with’ is the true meaning of cooperation, which makes us feel part of something bigger.

On our return from Dakar, we received the news that the University of Florence had obtained funding for all the countries proposed, an exceptional achievement worth around 850,000 euros for the international mobility of students, lecturers and administrative staff. This success was the result of three main factors. Firstly, my Senegalese origins, which fuelled in me the desire to contribute something to Senegal, despite the fact that I have not lived much of my life there. Secondly, I have a strong attachment to Italy, the country where I have spent my entire life and which has allowed me to study and work, and for which I have the same attachment I have for Senegal. This duality pushed me to seek a bridge between these two worlds. Finally, the meeting with my genetics professor, who was fundamental at the beginning of my university career. From these three factors came all the subsequent meetings that increased my dream of creating a tangible bridge between Italy and Senegal, between Dakar and Florence, between the University of Florence and the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar. We created a link between Italian and Senegalese students, between different cultures, different worlds and different languages, but with a common thread: biology.

The new phase of the Paul Dieci Partnership Award is starting. My advice to the Diasporas and New Generations organisations is simple: ‘Start with the first step’.

*Abdou M. Diouf, was born in Benin in 1989 to Senegalese parents. He grew up in Senegal where he remained until the age of five and then moved to Italy with his family. He graduated in Molecular Biology at the University of Florence and later obtained a master’s degree in Journalism and Popularisation of Science at La Sapienza University in Rome. Despite his studies in the scientific field, from a young age he has always been passionate about the world of literature and during his university years he wrote his first novel, “It’s Always Summer” published in 2016 by the goWare publishing house (Florence) and later, in 2020, “The Pianist of Teranga” by the same publishing house.

The article published in VITA NON PROFIT HERE