For more than 50 years, The Rockefeller Foundation has hosted leading practitioners from around the globe at our conference center in Bellagio, Italy to build and mobilize alliances of diverse stakeholders around a shared vision, empowering widespread collaboration, innovation and action; and enabling mutual accountability for progress. In the Spring of 2020, we for the first time closed the doors to our Bellagio Center, as it was in the epicenter of an initial Covid-19 outbreak. Closing Bellagio has meant many lost opportunities for leaders from across the globe to convene, connect, create, and work towards greater prosperity for all through new partnerships and collaborative action.
Recognizing the important role that Bellagio could play in ending the current pandemic and shaping the future, we decided to re-open the center following strict Covid-19 health and safety protocols in August of 2021. The initial cohort of residents included poets, scientists, public servants, nonprofit leaders, academics and artists. Over the course of their residencies, they have worked on individual projects that are diverse in subject matter but aligned in a common goal to advance ideas and actions that matter and can help build a stronger, more sustainable and equitable world.
Dr. Saleem Ali is part of the first returning cohort. He is an expert on environmental policy working on a project about the causes and consequences of environmental conflict and its impact on peacebuilding. During his residency, he wrote this beautiful piece in Springer Nature that captures the magic of Bellagio and the power of bringing people together to advance transformative ideas and action.
As Dr. Ali’s article testifies, Bellagio has been a pathway to transformative ideas and action, especially because of the unique opportunities to:
- Integrate multiple voices to lead to more productive, well-rounded solutions
- Experiment by connecting and considering diverse experiences and options
- Build trust through physical and personal connections on a walk, over a meal, or by sharing a recipe as the poet Maya Angelou did with a Bellagio Center chef
- Take time to create, decide, and build as the Bellagio convening journey did to create CGIAR which now has over 60 donors providing more than $450 million dollars per annum of annual support for 15 research centers and field presence in 108 countries.
A perfect example of the magic of Bellagio is a 1994 seminal convening that was instrumental in the creation of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). As Seth Berkeley, the former president and CEO of the International Aids Vaccine initiative, noted of the convening “[as people] walked through the garden and gazed across the lake, they became inspired to move beyond their normal limits…By the second day big daring ideas were emerging, and by day three participants had concluded that a bold new initiative was necessary.”
Dr. Ali and Dr. Berkeley remind us that breakthroughs are the product of collaborative action, made more possible by the unique attributes of Bellagio. In a time in dire need of collaborative action and breakthroughs, Bellagio’s doors are open, here to do its part convening leaders and innovators to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.