A company that starts at its end: creating social and labour opportunities

"Everyone could get everywhere if they had the support and resources" , explains Daniel Azaña, coordinator of the insertion company (a specific model of social enterprise) Llanero Solidario . He shares how this organisational model reverses conventional priorities and, above all, provides social solutions.

What challenge was the inspiration for your organisation?

We were born from the need to accompany people in a situation of social exclusion who want to change their reality. Albacete is a province with a very high index of poverty, and we know the situation that exists both in the capital and in the villages. The people who created the association have been working in the third sector for many years - 30 in my case - and we wanted to do our bit.

We set up insertion companies, stable economic structures where people in situations of exclusion can acquire or regain the greatest possible autonomy in their lives, carry out insertion itineraries and reintegrate into the ordinary labour market.

How do you innovate to better address social problems?

Our projects help to get out of vulnerability with resources designed so that people can decide which life path they want to take. The goal is for each participant to take the initiative. That arises personal fears and doubts that we face through the accompaniment of professionals. In this way, hidden or little recognized capacities are promoted. And we do it with respect, understanding and mutual recognition.

We do not have any magic recipe, but we do believe in people, their possibilities, dreams and effort. Also, we believe that acting cooperatively always adds more. In all our projects we generate social networks. We assert the importance of strengthening community life to make people feel less alone and so that they have somebody to lean on.

In addition, the activities that we undertake must be part of a sustainable development or the circular economy. Because we believe that all activities should favour the environment or, at least, not make it worse.

Our first project consisted in the sale and distribution of recycled cellulose. This type of material is extracted from cartons, like the ones containing juice or milk. It is possible to separate the cellulose, mechanically, of plastic and aluminium. Thus, the carton evolves from waste to resource, with a quality similar to that of virgin cellulose. Through this project, we train people in sales, storage and distribution of products. This type of activities is widespread in the city of Albacete, as a communications link with the whole southeast Iberian Peninsula.

Also, we carry out activities in the field of organic farming and this innovation means, in fact, returning to traditional agriculture, what did our grandfathers and grandmothers. Faced with extensive agriculture, which is widespread in Castilla- La Mancha, we recovered the traditional agricultural model, without chemicals. We recover, in many cases, abandoned spaces and there we produce quality food of exceptional taste, while teaching people how to grow their own food.

We have the experience of providing weekly vegetable baskets and 0-kilometre food, which is more sustainable for the environment. It is difficult to achieve economic profitability in this particular activity, but we are determined to achieve it and we will surely do so.

Another outstanding project that we develop is communication and management of social media. It is quite a challenge when the participants barely know how to use a computer and, in general, have a low level of training. But our experience shows us that each and everyone could get everywhere with support and resources. Many have been able to create their own blog or website, have made a weekly radio show and even ended 2020 with the creation of a Christmas story. It is written and narrated among all the participants, with a very positive result. We even have one person, Melani, who is writing a book and intends to create a trilogy.

Communication skills are one of the most important factors that helps us to understand what kind of relationship we establish in society. It is a tool key to work in customer service. Or simply to do a job interview.

Together with some municipalities in the province, we also promote workshops of adaptation of used clothing, where we transform them into new garments. Our main purpose is to improve the manual skills of the participants, develop their creativity and take advantage of waste materials.

Another example of the diversity of projects we undertake is our career guidance. It means that people who already have improved their skills do internships in local businesses and demonstrate to themselves that they are able to perform the jobs that they wished to do. At the same time, we support proximity shops in a context of economy and labour market difficulties.

What positive impact or contribution has Triodos Bank made for your organisation?

Triodos Bank was the first bank that we approached with the idea of our organisation, because we knew they were going to listen to us and offer the service that we needed. And so, it was. Few banks appreciate the activities that we perform. Triodos Bank also funded the construction of our own offices and classrooms, made with sustainable construction materials as mud, straw and wood.

Our organisation is relatively small, and our interventions are financed mainly through the public institutions. But these funds don’t always come at the right time. Having credit and loans from a bank is essential for us to function. Likewise, our dependency from public institutions motivated us to reach a greater soundness working as an insertion company, which generates business and revenue.

In any case, we cannot forget that all our activities have received subsidies from the Castilla-La Mancha region, the Spanish government, the European Social Fund, and several municipalities.

What would you highlight about the impact of your initiative in the field of insertion companies?

Until the moment, in Castilla-La Mancha, insertion companies are not common, but we want to start a change. We have spent several years with the objective of creating the insertion company Llanero Solidario, but we have not wanted to take the step until we have had enough economic strength, without risking the activity of the association of origin. This association is very important for the people involved in the projects. Finally, we just did it. In January 2021, the insertion company has become a reality.

This business model is the ideal format for social and labour inclusion because it allows people in vulnerable situations to develop an insertion itinerary. That is, to integrate personal and work goals chosen by each one into a real activity, with guidance, and advice from professionals from our entity. Insertion companies are in the ordinary market, with almost no difference with any other company and the only peculiarity of having specialised social workers who accompany the rest of the workers. We also have a relevant training programme for them, so that once a person has completed their work itinerary (between 6 and 36 months), they can go to the ordinary labour market with real chances to succeed.

Insertion companies must be the springboard so that those who are in a situation of exclusion can reintegrate into the labour market. Moreover, they are very profitable for the public institutions, because a person working in these businesses no longer collects any subsidy or aid and becomes a net contributor through social security, income tax and others. Of course, this also improves their consumption capacity because they have a salary. It is considered that an employee of an insertion company generates 6,082 euros per year for society on average.

What would you highlight about the impact that your initiative has had on your community?

Our greatest impact has been in the small towns where we develop the projects, places where vulnerable people usually find few opportunities.

We work from personal action to change the structural situation. Social services are always necessary, especially in a community as impoverished as ours, but in times of pandemic needs multiply.

In 2020 alone, we have developed a total of eleven projects in very different areas and in ten towns, where we have worked directly with a total of 175 people, of which 115 are women, an aspect that is also noteworthy because social exclusion is more female than male. These people suffer a double exclusion, because they are women and because of their own situation, which is why we select more women than men to try to find a balance.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

We have known Triodos Bank since it settled in Albacete and you have always supported social and environmental projects. It is reassuring to know that the little money that we save will be used in activities aligned with our vision of the world, and that it is not going to finance weapons or a big pig farm.

If we want our society to change, we need to be consistent and commit to what we think, do and what we want. Triodos Bank, for now, shows that it is possible.