CRESM has represented the evolution, in an openly southernistic key, of the Valle del Belìce Study Center, founded in 1969 by Lorenzo Barbera and other collaborators who had previously operated with the Centro Studi e Iniziative per la Piena Occupazione nella Sicilia Occidentale promoted in 1958 by Danilo Dolci and Lorenzo Barbera.
Danilo Dolci was a sociologist, an activist and dedicated his life to improving the social conditions of underdeveloped areas in western Sicily and to the use of civil disobedience as a means of affirming human and constitutional rights. In 1957 Dolci obtained the Lenin Prize for Peace and, with the money received, he founded the Centro Studi together with Lorenzo Barbera. The center enjoyed international fame thanks to the popular initiatives promoted from 1958 to 1969 for the development of Western Sicily, including the Law for the development of the Belìce and the construction of the Jato and Garcia dams.
In those years the Belìce Valley was the scene of one of the first national bottom-up development planning experiments and, after the earthquake of 1968, it became the epicenter of non-violent forms of struggle to support reconstruction and to combat oppressive inefficiency of public institutions, sometimes colluded with the Mafia.
From these experiences, in 1973, Lorenzo Barbera together with a group of development agents, experts and volunteers who had shared the work of the Centro Studi, founded the Centro di Ricerche Economiche e Sociali per il Meridione – C.R.E.S.M.
The work of the Centro Studi and the one of the CRESM has long been funded through international fundraising committees (in particular in Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany). These international committees were attracted by the charisma of Danilo Dolci and the effectiveness of Lorenzo Barbera’s organizational skills. Even today, some of the leaders of international committees are in contact with the CRESM. In 1980 the CRESM also settled in Irpinia to organize, based on the Sicilian experience, the popular committees for reconstruction from below following the earthquake that devastated this area of Campania. Even today, numerous cooperatives promoted by CRESM are present in Irpinia.
After 1987, CRESM began working with public funds provided by the European Union, the State and the Regions, for social training and business creation projects, in particular after the launch of the European LEADER program, partly inspired by the CRESM work in Irpinia. Meanwhile, in 1994, the registered office was moved to Gibellina, in the province of Trapani, where it is still located.
In 2004 Alessandro La Grassa, a student of Lorenzo Barbera, was elected president of the CRESM Assembly.
Since 2009, CRESM has started working with the Fondazione con il Sud, which has contributed to updating the approach to new projects not only with reference to specific activities but also for the self-sustainability of CRESM itself.
In 2014 CRESM becomes a Social Cooperative to better respond to changes in society, starting to develop its own model of social enterprise and incubator, supported by Confcooperative along this path.