CADIAI is one of Italy’s most established social services cooperatives. It was founded in Bologna in 1974 by 30 people, 27 of whom were women. The founders had experience in care, whether as informal workers, home carers, in nursing homes or private rest homes or assisting children and the elderly. Their aims were to ensure more stable employment and to protect and promote the job of caring, increasing its professional content and social value.

The cooperative was founded mostly by women and for women, during a period when women struggled to enter the labour market, particularly if they had a family. CADIAI helped women, particularly those with a low professional profile and minimal educational qualifications, to find a “regular” job rather than having to resort to precarious and illegal employment.

In its first two or three years, CADIAI’s activities were mostly in the private sector, which did not receive adequate support from the state, particularly in terms of looking after children and the elderly.

Between 1977 and 1980 the cooperative experienced significant development, following an agreement between Italy and Libya to allow Libyan patients, mostly children, to be cared for at a hospital in Bologna. An agreement was drawn up between CADIAI and the Libyan embassy in Italy for the cooperative to provide assistance to Libyan citizens in hospitals and nursing homes.

In 1979, CADIAI signed its first contracts with local governments for home care for the elderly and disabled, and launched its first operations in local facilities for the disabled. The first collaboration project gave public authorities the chance to try out agreements with cooperatives and private businesses, using their staff while maintaining control over organization and management of the structures.

Over the next years, the cooperative expanded its scope, providing staff to residential homes for the elderly, managing a day centre for disabled adults and starting a project to de-institutionalize patients from Bologna’s psychiatric hospital. In 1986, the cooperative began managing a community for the recovery and rehabilitation of drug addicts, and in 1989 it started a service for occupational medicine and environmental health. Today, the area with the highest turnover is the educational and childcare sector; the cooperative runs nurseries and play areas for children.

CADIAI operates primarily in its home province of Bologna, developing projects outside the province by creating partnerships with local cooperatives that share its spirit. CADIAI is constantly working to improve the quality of its services, through the supervision of a committee of experts, research, surveys and, importantly, training.

Many CADIAI employees are also members of the cooperative. But employees and collaborators are under no obligation to become members: membership is a matter of free choice, a way to play a more active role in the cooperative’s activities. Out of 1,296 employees, 65% are members, and 86% are women. Women are also well-represented on the Board of Directors (10 out of 13 members) and at the management level (both the President of the Board and the CEO are women). The spirit in which the cooperative was founded still lives strong.