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Case Study of L’Arcolaio Società cooperativa sociale – Italy

Irene Falconeri, Università di Catania

Abstract: L’Arcolaio Società Cooperativa Sociale - hereinafter L’Arcolaio - is a type B social cooperative established in 2003 with the aim of providing work training programs for social and work integration to the inmates of the Cavadonna Penitentiary in Syracuse (Sicily). The cooperative manufactures and markets high quality typical Sicilian confectionery products under the brand "Dolci Evasioni." The production exclusively uses local organic crops, such as almonds of Avola, lemons of Syracuse and carob. In 2015, L’Arcolaio founded a social and organic agriculture start-up, "Frutti degli Iblei", which comprises a processing plant for drying and packaging herbs, medicinal plants, and vegetables. The activities of the cooperative are the first work-related project in the Syracuse prison and initially aimed at the recovery of drug users held there. Its mission is to counter a punitive view of imprisonment, to offer training and professional programs focused on the human and emotional dimension of the inmates and to foster their individual predispositions and abilities. Although it operates mainly in the penitentiary, L’Arcolaio also pursues an environmental mission and is active in local, regional, and national networks of associations and social enterprises that operate in the fields of legality, organic agriculture, and solidarity economy. L’Arcolaio originated in the collaboration of its founder, Giovanni Romano, with the administration of the Penitentiary and the consortium of social cooperatives Con.solida.s, who are experts in the field of managing of job placement programs for underprivileged individuals. At the end of the 1990s, the consortium, already active in the organization of training activities for inmates, started a job placement project based around the production of bread and pastries, and encouraged the creation of the social cooperative, entrusted with the management of production activities. Over the years, the production of bread was progressively abandoned due to poor financial performance and replaced by the production of pastries and snacks. Since the beginning of the program, one hundred prisoners were able to have a regularly contracted and paid work experience, benefitting from training opportunities and psychological support. Currently, the social cooperative employs 22 people, divided in descending order between the bakery, the herb processing plant, the administrative office, and agricultural work. L’Arcolaio does not have its own local sales point. The products branded Dolci Evasioni are marketed throughout the national territory through specialized organic shops, fair trade shops and GAS (ethical purchasing groups). Although L’Arcolaio has, over time, acquired a good public visibility and a compelling reputation in the world of social entrepreneurship, it has been in crisis since 2015, leading members to make important personal sacrifices. Currently, they strive to ensure the cooperatives financial sustainability and to develop business and organizational strategies to increase efficiency and product market placement.