ORGANIZATIONAL AWARD WINNER:
37 years ago, as the SALT Psychiatric Hospital in Spain prepared to close, one man started a project to provide a meaningful alternative for the patients who would be displaced.
That was the beginning of an incredible evolution that embodies, in so many ways, what it means to see others as people. The project began as a handful of volunteers doing gardening work in a small town. The company it grew into, La Fageda, is now a 400-person strong dairy business competing with multinationals in the area—and succeeding; the company has approximately $20 million in annual sales and sells approximately 100 million yogurts each year in Catalonia. La Fageda dedicates its resources to improving the lives of its nearly 200 mentally handicapped employees. Located in the Fageda national forest in Girona, Spain, La Fageda incorporates natural beauty into its mission of rehabilitating and empowering these individuals.
The founder of La Fageda, Cristobal Colón, firmly believes that every person has a place in the community. Everyone has different capabilities, skills, and gifts—and everyone needs a chance to live to their maximum potential. Each employee at La Fageda is placed on a tailored development plan. Step by step, employees take greater and greater responsibility for their work and each other, with many aiming to secure an independent livelihood outside of La Fageda’s support system. This process has helped many of La Fageda’s mentally handicapped employees redefine their lives, framing their identity in terms of their potential instead of their disability. La Fageda has shown that those with mental handicaps are just as capable as anyone else and, if given the chance, can contribute meaningfully to their organizations and their communities.
La Fageda’s impact extends far beyond its 400 employees. Every year, the company hosts more than 50,000 visitors from around the world. Its unique model and achievements have attracted attention from academics, philanthropists, and business leaders. Closer to home but perhaps more importantly, homelessness in the region has dropped dramatically as those who would otherwise end up on the streets are invited to La Fageda to begin a different life. Within the community, people are familiar with La Fageda and are happy to see its employees being empowered to lead more meaningful lives. Finally, employees’ friends and family report that their lives have been deeply enriched by their loved one’s connection to La Fageda. Parents in particular report peace of mind knowing their children have a place to work and live productively.
Recently, La Fageda has begun expanding its influence by hiring at-risk youth and former criminals. The hope is that by creating a meaningful work environment and providing relevant training—the same process that has been successfully used with mentally handicapped employees for decades—La Fageda will enable these individuals to launch a better life for themselves. There are plans to build a school in the village where La Fageda was founded to complement the work experience these young people will be gaining.