Dina Franchi finds her calling in il bel paese

Dina Franchi, photo by Giulio Muratori

by AYAH VICTORIA MCKHAIL

We’ve all heard the expression: “All roads lead to Rome.” For Toronto-born Dina Franchi, this has proven to be true. In July 2004, the aspiring photographer, whose roots lie in Pietracamela, Teramo, Abruzzo, set off to backpack around Europe for a year. “Toronto started to feel stuffy, so I thought my camera and newly acquired dual citizenship [Italian] were my tickets to break free from North America for a while.”

Franchi’s intention was to explore her roots and do some soul searching; Intermesoli, Abruzzo served as her home base throughout that pivotal period. “I’d always visit and, during that year, I spent three months in the mountains milking cows, taking pictures of the local shepherds with their sheep and of course countless evenings in front of the fireplace chatting with the locals—drinking their really strong red wine—and playing cards until the wee hours of the morning. All of this was done in an effort to figure out how I could get myself to Rome on a permanent basis.”

She finally did. Since February 2006, the 39-year-old has been working at the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome. The specialized agency leads international efforts to defeat hunger. A project assistant in the marine and inland fisheries department, she’s responsible for leading and coordinating the preparation and implementation of exhibitions and events to promote sustainable fashion. “Ocean-sourced fashion, which is also known as ‘blue fashion’ is part of a sustainable future. I’d like to explore how waste can be reduced by using ocean-sourced material to build a more sustainable fashion industry.”

Blue fashion is an emerging sector in the “blue economy” and it’s based on the use of marine raw materials and by-products, such as fish skin for leather. One of her major accomplishments includes the successful execution of a fashion show in Nairobi, Kenya during the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference from November 26 to 28, 2018, which garnered international press.

She’s also been playing an instrumental role in developing a detailed database in order to provide offline access to retrieve information, publications and important bodies of work related to the fisheries and fish stocks of the South-West Indian Ocean.

The overarching goal is to provide all stakeholders, such as scientists and the 12 member countries of the Southwest Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC) access to information, including journals and reports dating as far back as 1954 to the present day. “We’ve found that there are many tools as well as solutions to issues related to fisheries that already exist, but they’re not readily available to the people who need them the most. This is seen as valuable, particularly in parts of the world where access to the internet isn’t always available,” she explains.

Franchi has also volunteered with a charity called Project Rome, which provides food, shelter and other support to disenfranchised people, be they Italian nationals, refugees or migrants. “I’ve volunteered in their kitchen and I’ve packaged boxes with supplies for the many homeless people of Rome,” she shares.

A social conscience was instilled in her from a very young age. “I grew up with stories of my grandparents and the hardships they faced as immigrants to Canada. I remember my paternal grandmother always telling me that when she’d go out and search for work, she’d be faced with signs on shopkeepers’ doors stating: ‘No dogs. No Jews. No Italians.’  These forms of structural racism stuck with me and always lingered in the back of my mind.”

Making a difference in the world and working toward greater equality and justice have always been important to Franchi. Her academic credentials reflect a deep love for people and their stories. She pursued studies in creative photography, completed an honours B.A. in sociology and is currently undertaking studies in social entrepreneurship—an evolving field of study, it’s driven by social goals and seeks to benefit society. “Living in Rome has been an extraordinary experience, and as an Italian-Canadian I feel blessed to be a part of two cultures.”