Andar Farm: Enabling the Disabled to Become Independent, Active Citizens
Emilia, a 25-year-old blind woman from a poor neighborhood of on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, no longer has to depend on her family for money. "Working allows me to be independent," she said. "I don’t need to borrow money from other people if I want to buy something or go out with friends."
Emilia’s life changed completely after she began working as a baker at Andar Farm’s “Pan de Esperanza’s (“Bread of Hope”) Catering and Bakery” project, where she gained trust and self-confidence through her daily responsibilities. Known in Spanish as Granja Andar, Andar Farm employs 60 disabled young people and adults who help produce high-quality food and provide catering services throughout Buenos Aires.
Andar Farm was founded in 1985 by Ashoka Fellow, Raúl Lucero, with the goal of encouraging Argentines to support people who are disabled, rather than view them as a burdensome segment of society that needs to be isolated. Lucero believes that when the disabled are seen supporting themselves through small commercial enterprises, such as bakeries and educational farms, others will realize that their perceptions of the disabled may be inaccurate.
Lucero also applies awareness-building tools, such as radio shows and outreach programs to schools and families, in an effort to create broader change in the way Argentines perceive the disabled. Lucero is increasingly aware of the importance of running the nonprofit Andar Farm as a successful business.
“Thanks to Ashoka, I adopted the notion that a nonprofit organization can have economic value," Lucero said. “For us, Ashoka marked a turning point because it gave us the tools to focus on Andar Farm’s strategic plan and future growth.
"At the beginning, it was very difficult to use terms like ‘business plan’ or ‘wealth generation,’ but we knew that if we weren’t effective in these areas, we wouldn’t be able to pay the salaries of the staff. Here the workers´ income is not fixed. Instead, it is the result of a proportional distribution of total earnings.”
Lucero believes that money plays a symbolic but decisive role in the individual development of Andar Farm’s participants. Earning an income allows disabled people to become active members of society, changing for many, what may have been a passive social existence. Andar Farm’s jobs and programs give disabled individuals the opportunity to become independent "entrepreneurs of their lives.”
“A salary dignifies the relationship between social businesses such as Andar Farm, and the person.” said Lucero. “Earning an income enables these young people to make decisions that previously were not within their reach, when they only received state pensions administered by their families.”
Andar Farm strives to see that its members are recognized because of their capabilities and not due to their limitations. To achieve this, Lucero and his team incorporated concepts that initially sounded extremely odd to them in their early nonprofit existence. Now they are not afraid to point out “how the market works” and or the importance of being “service-oriented,” guidelines that now govern their non-profit activities.
Lucero describes a three-day Christmas fair catered by his team of disabled staff last year. “The first thing that guests did was to recognize the quality of the food.
"Although at first the guests had a distant relationship with the staff, when the event ended, guests had established a bond of trust. None of this would have happened if our product had not been of a high quality.
"Instead, the guests would have underestimated the work performed, as well as the people who carried it out. We believe that only once the food quality was established as superior, then the relationship was able to develop. And this is the value we are looking to generate.”
Lucero believes that the economic, social and environmental values created Andar Farm are key to enabling its members to become independent. “If any of these pillars fails, Andar Farm will not be able achieve its mission.
"Only when those three pillars are combined will disabled people be encouraged to see themselves as ´citizens´ and not as ´beneficiaries´.”
Among the most important projects for which Lucero is fighting is a new law that, if passed, will enable participants to retire as a result of their years of work and not as a consequence of their disability. He also hopes to expand Andar Farm’s bakery and catering services, and develop a new line of organic vegetables.
Lucero knows that his nonprofit initiative must use business-world models to be successful. “We understood that if we fail, we will end up being a poor reflection of the society that we want to change.”
Andar Farm’s “Pan de Esperanza’s Catering and Bakery” project was recently selected as one of 14 winners in the 2010 Latin America and the Caribbean Development Marketplace. The prize will allow them to buy new equipment, hire specialized staff, enhance marketing and brand development and, strengthen the institutional bonds between Andar Farm’s workers and board members. The Marketplace, which was sponsored by the World Bank, International Development Bank, and the Organization of American States, received 530 entries to the competition.