Pontignano cloister

The Pontignano Conference is one of the most important annual events in the UK-Italy bilateral relationship, each year aiming to bring together a select group of influential delegates from the worlds of Education and Academia, Technology and Innovation, Culture and Society, Business and Finance, Politics, Foreign and Security Policy, Government and the Media. 

The Pontignano conference started in 1993. It brings together current and future leaders from the UK and Italy to address common challenges and develop networks and close relationships. Organised by the British Embassy in Italy, the British Council and Siena University, the conference has developed a network that includes ministers, prime ministers, presidents and leaders from the business and academic.

The conference is designed in such a way as to provide a structured yet informal opportunity for conversation, debate and relationship-building, over the course of two days, in the quiet and beautiful setting of an old monastery outside of Siena. Most of the proceedings take place under Chatham House Rules – in other words, individuals cannot be quoted outside the framework of the conference.

A core part of what we do are the workshop sessions on Day 2, which are moderated by leading Italian and British figures in each field and which are highly participative, round-table occasions. There will also be a select number of speeches in plenary, including a Keynote speech before the opening dinner and a session for Ministerial speeches followed by Q&A.

The Pontignano Co-Chairs take an active role in the planning and the delivery of the event and we are delighted that Lord David Willetts, who has been involved ever since the first Pontignano 25 years ago, is this year joined by Italy’s former Minister for Economic Development, Mr Carlo Calenda.

The 2018 Pontignano Conference Theme is Bridging the Gaps.

2018 Pontignano Conference concept note

In a world of rapid and often overwhelming technological and social change, real and imagined divisions are at the centre of our daily discourse. We aim to discuss the pivotal role of Education, Innovation, Technology, Culture, Business and Defence in bridging the divides, forging partnerships and building a better world for future generations. At the heart of the proceedings will be the following workshops, chaired and moderated by leading figures in their respective fields:

  • Culture and Society: new technologies and social cohesion

What is the role of culture in holding us together – and does it also risk being a force that drives us apart? How will Artificial Intelligence and the gig economy alter the future of work and hence the structure of society? What will be the impact – for good or ill - of new technology on democracy and social cohesion? Will it change our democratic models? What interesting experiments in direct democracy might we learn from? How do we transfer best practice to bridge the gaps between young and old, cultures and ethnicities?

  • Smart Universities and Cities: reducing inequality

What underpins regional inequality in the UK and in Italy? What is the view from outside our capitals? How do we promote cross-sector partnerships and harness research to drive institutional and regional growth. How do we foster knowledge transfer between universities, industry and local government? How do we work together to increase access and fight poverty?

  • Business and Innovation: from idea to investment and impact

How do we cultivate talent, incubate ideas and invest in innovation, looking ahead to the Future of Work- where are the gaps and how do we fill them? How do we bridge the gaps between the top performers and the rest?

  • Defence and Security: futureproofing our shared security

How can the UK, Italy and the EU best work together to ensure our future security-with industrial and commercial advantages? Will Europe develop strategic autonomy in the security sphere? How will the EU/NATO relationship evolve within a changing landscape? What are the technological/ innovation gaps between Europe and other regions and between the defence and the commercial domain? How should we respond to a broad spectrum of new threats/challenges (hybrid warfare, cyber, terrorism, mass migration)?