Cristóbal Colón

La Fageda
Year founded: 

Competing with some of the world’s largest food producers, La Fageda offers high-quality dairy products while ensuring social and labour integration for people with mental disabilities.

Focus: Enterprise Development, Health
Geographic Area of Impact: Spain
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 280 (2010)
Annual Budget: US$ 14,127,000 (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 100%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Spain, 2005

In Spain during the 1960s the majority of psychiatric hospitals rarely provided health services. Instead, they were places of confinement, where work therapy treatment programmes for the mentally ill or handicapped were aimed at keeping them busy. In 1982 psychologist Cristóbal Colón came to the conclusion that these people needed to be given real work, paid jobs that were meaningful and involved making products recognized by the market. He began La Fageda as an independent organization located in a rural area in Cataluña, Spain, founded at a time when Spanish legislation did not consider that people with disabilities could work. Things have changed since then, but the labour market continues to regard people with mental disabilities with suspicion and fear.

Innovation and Activities
Cristóbal Colón created La Fageda to provide dignity and meaning to individuals suffering from mental illness, using an unconventional mechanism given the target population group. He created a social enterprise that is now known for its excellent dairy products, particularly yoghurt and flan. Its annual turnover was € 10.8 million in 2010, competing for market share with Danone and Nestlé. Each month La Fageda sells 3.5 million multi-flavoured yoghurts, all made with natural ingredients. La Fageda differs from its competitors because the former wards of mental institutions run its dairy production.

La Fageda is a cooperative of 280 workers, of which 160 suffer some form of mental illness or handicap. The dairy production centre is owned by the workers, who become shareholders by paying € 60 upon entry. La Fageda also has a support programme comprised of a group of psychologists who follow each worker's personal and professional rehabilitation. This support group oversees the residential halls where workers without families stay, as well as the occupational centre for those with the greatest level of incapacity.

In addition to dairy production, La Fageda manages three other areas: vegetable gardens for jam production; a landscaping service that maintains gardens and parks; and a cattle care facility that feeds and cultivates hay for almost 500 cattle.

La Fageda has been certified according to ISO 9001:2008 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environment), and is categorized by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture as a Priority Agricultural Enterprise.

The Entrepreneur
After finishing his military service, Cristóbal Colón joined the staff of a mental hospital, seeking a job where he could be useful to others. He worked for 10 years in several institutions initiating work therapy programmes. In 1981 he came to the conclusion that real jobs for mental patients can only be created in a real enterprise and decided to put into practice what had long been his dream. When Colón spoke to the mayor and authorities in the region about starting La Fageda, they thought that he too, was crazy. As Colón points out: “Imagine someone wanting to set up a business, except it will be employing crazy people and is run by a psychiatrist whose name is Christopher Columbus!”.