Remarks at the Italian-American Conference on Private Sector Initiatives in Venice, Italy

June 11, 1987

It's a pleasure to be here today at the first Italian-American Conference on Private Sector Initiatives. Yesterday we concluded this year's economic summit. I looked around that table at the leaders of some of the world's great democracies, and I couldn't help thinking how precious our common heritage is. It was a great Italian who said, ``the natural rights of personality, family, and society exist before the state.'' Those words, spoken by an Italian, are as American as the Declaration of Independence -- for that matter, as British as the Common Law and as French as the writings of Montesquieu. They could be called the common credo of every democratic nation across the Earth.

Yet if freedom, democracy, and the rights of man are to be preserved through the ages, free men and women must accept the responsibilities that go with their freedoms. And this is why I wanted to take some time out after the summit to meet with you, because as business men and women, as citizens, you've been leaders in taking up the responsibilities of liberty. Again and again, over the years, all of you have volunteered yourselves and your corporations to causes that have helped make life better for the people of both Italy and America and of people all over the world. When you've seen a need to be filled, a job to be done, you haven't waited for government to lead the way; you've set out and got the work done yourselves.

And let me say that we can see all around us testimony to the strength here in Italy of voluntarism and of private giving, of what we in America sometimes call private sector initiatives. It was a private sector initiative by Fiat that restored this magnificent building, the Palazzo Grassi. And just down the Grand Canal are the noble horses of St. Mark's Basilica, which through an initiative by Olivetti have toured the world, showing something of the beauty of Venice to many who will not have the opportunity to come to this great city.

Yes, in country after country, private sector initiatives are teaching children, caring for the sick, helping the poor build better lives for themselves, and searching for ways to cure disease. Whether people are in sickness, sorrow, or in need, private sector initiatives have been created to answer the call. Last November in Paris, at the International Conference on Private Sector Initiatives, men and women from seven nations showed that yours is an international movement. Yesterday in Milan you continued the work you began in Paris with a new exchange of ideas.

In the meantime, of course, I have been meeting here in Venice with the leaders of the six leading industrial democracies. We've held productive discussions on subjects ranging from East-West relations to terrorism to economic policy and free trade. These meetings are important, and they have received, as they should, a great deal of attention from the press. And yet I can't help thinking that any true history of our times will show that your work, and that of millions of free men and women all around the world, has done as much to build the future of our civilization as have all the statesmen in all the summits over the years. History has shown that governments alone cannot possibly meet the challenges of a growing world. I believe that private sector initiatives will provide many solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

They're already giving us lasting symbols of the friendships between democratic peoples and countries on which European and American peace and prosperity have been built over the last 40 years. In this regard, I'm pleased to commend the National Italian-American Foundation for their efforts in restoring a magnificent garden here in Venice. This Italian-American Friendship Garden will be a lasting reminder of this meeting in Venice. And Jim Robinson has just announced another step in Italian-American friendship. This innovative program will contribute to the restoration of other Italian national treasures. It's a fine example of private sector initiatives at work.

I want to thank all those involved in these projects as well as the members of my board of advisors on private sector initiatives and their Italian counterparts, who have made this conference possible. By shouldering the responsibilities of freedom, you are helping to preserve freedom, to preserve this great hope for all mankind that our countries represent. And the voices that thank you come not just from Italy and America, not just from Europe, but from throughout the world. And Frank, I have to tell you, in giving me this honor, which you've just given me, kind of makes things all right for the industry that I once was in, the motion picture industry. We had an actor there who was only being an actor in Hollywood long enough to get the money to come to Italy, because he aspired to an operatic career. And he went to Milan, and he studied. And then he was asked to sing in ``Pagliacci,'' the very spiritual fountainhead of opera. And he did an aria, and he received such thunderous and sustained applause that he had to repeat the aria as an encore. And again the same sustained, thunderous applause, and again he sang ``Vesti la Giubba.'' And this went on until finally he motioned for quiet, and he tried to tell them how full his heart was for this reception. ``But,'' he said, ``I have sung `Vesti la Giubba' now nine times. My voice is gone; I cannot do it again.'' And a voice from the balcony said, ``You'll do it until you get it right.'' [Laughter]

You know, all that we talked about, I just have to tell you one last little incident here that is really true of what brings us together here -- private initiative. I'm sure that our people have told you that there in Washington now, we have in the computers some 3,000 programs where some little hamlet or village or town has found a problem and a way to solve it themselves. And we keep this, because then when inquiries come from people that say what could we do about it, we go to the computers and are able to tell them how a program was set up privately by the people and made to work.

A little town in Texas had something for several years called Christmas in April. All year long the people of that town kept track and watched for homes of elderly people or homes of people that were handicapped or very poor; and if there were things like leaking roofs and plumbing that didn't work and so forth, they made a list during all the year. And then on April 1st the merchants that dealt in the products they needed -- building materials and paint and so forth -- would donate. But citizens of every calling, as volunteers, would show up on that April 1st, knock on the door, and say we're here to put a new roof on your house or paint your house or fix the plumbing or do what has to be done. That went on in that little town in Texas.

Well, a couple of years ago, I was amazed to see some people that didn't look like ordinary workmen in Washington, DC, nailing shingles on a roof and others painting a porch and so forth. I recognized a couple of judges among them. There were some professional people, some medical personnel and all. Believe it or not, Washington, DC, had discovered from that little town in Texas private initiative, and now had Christmas in April for the people, the poor that might be there in the Capital.

So, what's ahead for all of you, I think you're going to find, is most exciting, most wonderful, and just a blessing of freedom that a number of people in the world cannot have unless they see the error of their ways and turn to our way of life. Thank you all. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:26 p.m. at the Palazzo Grassi. In his remarks, he referred to James Robinson, chairman of the American Express Co. Frank Stella, president of the National Italian-American Foundation, gave President Reagan a foundation lapel pin.