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Casa Asia: Barcelona's window on Asia

Casa Asia: Barcelona's window on Asia

Javier Parrondo, General Manager of Casa Asia

What is Casa Asia exactly?

Casa Asia is a diplomatic organization whose aim is to improve the general public's understanding of life in Asia. We do so through projects in the fields of culture, education, and economics. Our intention is to provide an open window onto the full diversity of the East.

In which year was it founded? When did you start working there?

The Casa Asia was founded in November 2001, so this year we celebrate our twentieth anniversary. The Casa Asia consortium is composed of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, on behalf of the Spanish state, the Generalitat de Catalunya, on behalf of the autonomous region, and the City Councils of Barcelona and Madrid, on behalf of the municipalities.

I started working at Casa Asia in October 2019, so most of my time running the institution has been during the pandemic. This has forced us to reinvent ourselves. Our activity originally revolved around face-to-face events, and the Casa Asia was— and we want to continue to be—a meeting place for all those interested in Asia. During lockdown and under the restrictions, new technologies have allowed us to keep in touch with our followers and reach new audiences. We have come through this test, if not strengthened, at least with a greater capacity to adapt. That, in my opinion, is the key to any organization: its flexibility and the way it responds to change.

What do you like most about your work?

The opportunity to reinvent myself every day. When you work in the Public Administration there are few opportunities to innovate and do new things without being tied down. I have enjoyed greater freedom at Casa Asia and realized that the opportunities are tremendous. People's interest in Asia is genuine, but they need to quash any prejudices and really get to know each other to ensure that relationships are profitable in the long-term.

And what do you like least?

The administrative burden involved, and personnel management, which is always sensitive. The decisions one makes may not please everyone.

What makes the foundation unique?

Its international exposure. It provides an open window on Asia, and undoubtedly strengthens the international dimension of the city. 

What is your main challenge?

To be the first to communicate the most important Asian issues, to break down stereotypes about Asia, and to demonstrate the riches of the continent. And like many other public and private entities, we also face the challenges of digitalization. There are limitations in working in a digital environment, but also enormous opportunities.

Where is the foundation located? Do you know why this location was chosen?

We are now based in the National Commission of Markets and Competition building, in the 22@ district. We chose a modern building, in part due to the problems we encountered in previous premises: the Palau Baró de Quadras and the modernist site of Sant Pau. They are both iconic buildings that put the Casa Asia on the map, but they did not receive the necessary financial support by the institutions of the Consortium. We hope to move soon to a building that will house not only the offices, but also all the activities we organize. For example, we need a media library, an auditorium, and classrooms. We are in contact with the City Council to achieve this in the short term.

What do you like most about the neighborhood where you work?

Its variety: there is a mix of public institutions, private companies, especially startups, and more traditional businesses. Poble Nou still has a neighborhood character that makes it unique. I particularly like the Rambla de Poble Nou, which is bustling with activity at any time of the day. And I love the proximity to the sea: Working near the sea is always beneficial. If I am ever worried about something, I go to the beach and the problems seem to evaporate... 

How important is Barcelona for your company? 

Barcelona is essential for Casa Asia This is its main headquarters and we have been part of the city since our beginnings. I believe that institutions like ours that have a clear international vocation strengthen the Barcelona brand.

With which city would you compare Barcelona to? 

There is a tendency to compare Barcelona with Madrid, but I believe that this is mainly due to local rivalries, and it is often misunderstood. Spain must learn to manage a city of Barcelona's dynamism and vitality. Barcelona is like other cities by the sea, Tel Aviv, for example, which has the same DNA. They are very similar cities whose inhabitants feel a deep sense of belonging to the place where they live and hold it in high esteem. But what makes them particularly attractive is the lifestyle they offer.

What model of city do you think Barcelona should be like?

For me, Barcelona should concentrate on what makes it unique: its creativity, its design, its ability to redefine itself. It should not try to emulate any other city; it should be itself. It goes without saying that the sun, sea and sand model and mass tourism are not right for Barcelona.

What best practices from other cities would you like Barcelona to adopt??

More effort should be made to green the city. When one walks around the city, one notices the absence of parks. We need to be more like some Scandinavian cities that have made great progress in this respect. The urban space is what it is, however, so possibly the solution is to attempt to bring more of the Mediterranean environment into the center of the city.

What would you ask of the Barcelona of the future? 

It should be an inclusive city that is open to the outside world. Barcelona has tended to become self-absorbed in the past. The 1992 Olympic Games shook it out of its lethargy, but we cannot live permanently on the changes inspired by the Games. A new impetus is needed: for me this lies in integrating external influences and getting the most out of all that being a Mediterranean city implies.

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