In barely 10 years, the In Concerto consortium in Castelfranco Veneto has grown to become the biggest business in the area. Founded in 2002 and covering a zone with 100,000 inhabitants, the consortium has almost 1,300 employees, including over 200 with some kind of physical or social disadvantage, and provides rehabilitation services to over 1,000 users. The consortium has a total turnover exceeding 47 million euros, and even in 2010, a dark year for most businesses, turnover grew by almost 13%.

In Concerto is not, however, a colossus, but rather a large aggregation of cooperatives with a single mission. According by Bruno Pozzobon, its founder and president, “our idea is that social cooperatives should be as present as possible in the local area, in all possible activities. This virtuous mechanism produces income from the local area, provides employment and allows us to create conditions of inclusion.” Inclusion for the handicapped, former prisoners or anyone with a social disadvantage, including people in their fifties who have lost their jobs and are struggling to support their families. “Now, any time one of our cooperatives needs to hire someone, we first ask all the local social services to tell us who in the area has asked for help because they have financial problems, and then we hire them.”

This is possible because the 22 cooperatives who belong to In Concerto have decided that certain functions and decisions be managed centrally. Staff selection, for example, as well as contract and pay policies, accounting and financial management, purchasing, fundraising and sales proposals. The presidents and directors of the member cooperatives meet twice a month, forming a management committee. The relationships between the members are very close, and the decision to join together has allowed all the cooperatives, including small and medium enterprises, to develop and grow.

An internal fund helps the cooperatives introduce innovations. Cooperatives pay into the fund on the basis of how much work they do, because work, not profit, is the end goal and value that they produce and offer to the population and to society’s weakest members. The cooperatives pay a contribution of 10 euro cents for every hour of work, resulting in available funds of 150,000 euros every year. These funds are reinvested into the development of member cooperatives and allow them to create new jobs, including for people in difficult situations.

The In Concerto cooperatives work in many sectors, including carpentry, cleaning and social services like home healthcare, care for the elderly and communities for people with psychiatric problems. The consortium can present itself to big businesses as a “resolver”, taking care of the management of a complete production line, overseeing production as well as logistics, warehousing, personnel management and certifications. Collaboration between the cooperatives and the decision to favour the system as a whole rather than individual profit mean the cooperatives can offer great advantages to clients.

For example, said Pozzobon, “four years ago we entered the production chain for Nespresso coffee machines. We take care of everything, purchasing the electronic components, assembly and testing. The body is the only part added by the two brands, Krups and De Longhi. Our work has been greatly appreciated: we have introduced some technical improvements and reduced assembly times.”

He’s particularly proud of the fact that at a time when Italy is being flooded with imported Chinese goods, the consortium is exporting some of its products to China. In the end, he says: “We’’re not competitive because of low labour costs, but because we’’re flexible, integrated and innovative.”

This story was adapted and translated by Carla Ranicki from the book “Buon Lavoro” written by C. Borzaga and F. Paini published by Altra Economia