Social Impact Projects have an impact, by Jessica Iachia

Written on December 14, 2010 by Roberto Arribas in Business, Law

Jessica Iachia, Internship 2010

Jessica Iachia, a second year BBA student tells us about her experiences working in a Social Impact Project.  “As I looked for a company that suited my interests I got familiar with San Patrignano’s community in Italy. San Patrignano was founded in 1978 and has become the largest drug rehabilitation community in Europe. Of those who complete the program, 72% are fully reintegrated into society and remain drug-free, 71% of which end up working in the field in which they received training at San Patrignano. Each person in the community is taught a real job, something that they can do in the future. Each day in the community is a fight for them and being there, seeing it happen, makes us think about our own lives. For two months I lived and worked within the community.”

As part of the BBA Program we were required to take part in the IE Social Impact Project by undertaking an internship oriented towards social responsibility. As I looked for a company that suited my interests I got familiar with San Patrignano’s community. San Patrignano was founded in 1978 and has become the largest drug rehabilitation community in Europe providing free care to those with serious drug abuse problems. Since its inception, this foundation has provided over 20,000 people with a home, medical and legal assistance. The numbers are impressive as 72% of those who completed the programme at San Patrignano are fully reintegrated into society and remain drug-free, of which 71% end up working in the field in which they received training at San Patrignano. This non-profit foundation was able to become a self-sufficient business with a percentage earned revenue of 50% by using its services and products both internally and sold externally. For these reasons, I thought an internship at San Patrignano would be a great opportunity for me socially and vocationally.

For two months I lived and worked within the community. The first step was to catch up on the community background, history and activities. This is why my first month was mostly among the communication, administrative and events offices. What struck me the most as I got there was the structure of the foundation, how incredibly organized it was and how it had grown in little more than 30 years. Today, San Patrignano has three sites: one in Trentino Alto Adige, another in Botticella, which I also had the opportunity to visit, and the main one, which is home to 1,500 people, near Rimini. I was a host in the centre of San Patrignano and was taught the rules, visited the vocational training workshops and the working structures.

I first was introduced to the background of the community, and was led to see what this foundation is actually fighting against. San Patrignano is the founder of Rainbow International association against drugs, a non-profit organization now comprised of 200 associations and rehabilitation facilities from all over the world fighting for the culture of life and against any form of drug legalization. This makes the community very influential in other countries and very knowledgeable about this problem. I learnt that Italy is, along with the UK and Spain, among the European nations with the highest consumption of cannabis, cocaine and synthetic substances. In the last twelve months 3.2% young people between 15 and 34 consume cocaine. Joints in Italy are considered stylish and teenagers who haven’t tried it are few.

As an NGO, San Patrignano has a consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and because the last General Assembly on the world drug problem took place while I was doing my internship, I had the opportunity to go deeper in this drug phenomenon by reading and debating with others about the results of this Assembly. At San Patrignano, addiction is not considered a chronic and incurable disease to be treated pharmaceutically. Instead, each person arriving there asking for help is seen as unique and is given the opportunity to catch up with their studies or get vocational training.

It was in 1978 that 20 volunteers helped Vincenzo Muccioli create the San Patrignano community. It began with a family that had decided to open its doors to other people’s problems. As more desperate families asked for help, the community started to grow. However, San Patrignano is more united than ever, and works as a big family. I am grateful for the experiences that were shared with me while I was there—experiences that showed me how much these people become more mature, real and stronger because of the struggles they went through. Each day in the community is a fight for them and being there seeing it happen makes us think about our own lives. Most countries believe that addiction is a disease and limit their intervention to the distribution of substitutive therapies. However, San Patrignano goes against all odds by showing each day that these people only need to be given a real opportunity of life after all the things they have been through…they just need someone to believe in them. This is why San Patrignano divided the people in the community into different groups of vocational training where these people work together to create something concrete. This includes producing handmade textiles, leather goods, wrought iron, wine and gourmet foods. All of these products have consistently been recognized, receiving awards in Italy and abroad. Each person in the community is taught a real job, something that they can do in the future. Some step out of the community as excellent cooks, hairdressers or cheese producers. The community also has horse breeding and training facilities, a kennel where there are sheltered dogs used for pet therapy, and an IT and printing workshop. In other words, you can learn almost whatever job you want at San Patrignano and at the same time continue your studies since there is an internal school. They also have a medical centre with the biggest lab of research for HIV in Europe.

One of the most interesting concepts I learned there is how the community is maintained. They do not accept money from any of its guests, their families or the government, but from profits earned through its goods and services and from private donors or companies that believe in the social value of the centre. Sometimes the companies’ help goes further than money, as TODS for example, who offered the community 15 professional sewing machines and sent their expert for a year to teach their methods in handling leather goods. All of the products are sold in their store and at events, which are very successful, and they created two restaurants where the people doing the program can work. Whenever there is an important event organized by the community, such as the 15th memorial of Vincenzo Muccioli, which I was present for, they support the event with sponsors. I was told that these sponsors are their biggest allies when it comes to their international projects or punctual activities such as the crops, sponsored by Mac Donalds. San Patrignano is ahead of the WeFree giant Italian campaign, designed to make the youth aware of this addiction problem. The peak of this campaign is the WeFree Day organized by the community who host schools from all around Italy. This day being in the beginning of classes, I had the chance to participate in the organization of the event and get to understand better all the logistics behind hosting so many people and organizing a sensitive campaign. Each year San Patrignano also organizes a “Squisito!”, a food and wine event where one may experience the finest in Italian and international culinary arts. This is an event which celebrates excellence, the excellence that has been achieved by those preparing to face the world once more, with dignity.

Finally I was introduced to the most recent international project they are launching called Good Goods. Created in 2007, this project goal is to raise awareness and show to the world those who believe in alternative crops as a powerful tool to fight drugs. In fact, many countries cultivate hectares of opium and cocaine because it is a very profitable business.  However, in recent years many countries have achieved important results by replacing drug crops with the production of “GoodGoods”.  Promoting the transition to not only sustainable food but any product of fields, plantations or farms: fabrics, furniture, valuable timber, or handicrafts is a way San Patrignano states that it can both reduce the drug production but also free populations from the slavery of drug trafficking. This project was the one that attracted me the most as I think there is a great vision behind it, if it works it could serve as an incentive for many to convert their crops. On the other hand I was forced to face all the difficulties they have to go through to develop this project, so it was interesting to see the little deviations and steps they took since 2007 in order to fight the cause.

While working in the communication office, I had the opportunity to study their work in this field and had some meetings with the members of their staff, who discussed with me the characteristics, relational dynamics and functioning modalities of their community. I realized how useful my ease with languages is, because while I was there I had to translate several documents or websites since they had some trouble in understanding them.

I also had the opportunity to understand how the community chooses their guests, how the people ask for help and how they integrate them in the community and follow their evolution along the program. Some of the legal issues behind the organization were discussed with me, especially concerning the transfer of those convicted of drug related crimes from prison to the community. In fact, the founder of the community is the one who fought for the Italian law that states that someone condemned for up to 6 years of jail for a drug related crime can ask permission to spend these years in a recovery program in the community instead. Not only has this saved the government more than US$150 million, but it has also saved the lives of hundreds of people who where reintegrated into society.

Finally, I spent the second part of my internship in their Summer Camp, working with a group of educators and specialized personnel staff organizing different activities for a group of young boys and girls (6 to 14 years old), both children from the community and from the neighborhood. This second part of my internship served me more socially as I learned to deal with problematic children, most of them with a dark past, either spent in the streets and in the middle of drugs or in associations.

If you ever have the chance to visit the community you will first be impressed with the infrastructure and with the people. The majority are between 16 and 30 years old and have lost at least 7 years of their life with drugs. But they seem to have lived much more than us because of their maturity and kindness. I will definitely remember this experience and what the son of the founder told me the day I left the community: “I hope you will always consider San Patrignano your home away from home”.

Jessica Iachia


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