Real Leaders

The Art of Addiction

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Whether you like it or not, you’re affected by addiction. Do you have more than four employees, four friends or four family members? If so, the odds are that you’ll encounter this problem sometime in your life. Statistics show that one in four families are touched by addiction, meaning that most of us will need to face ongoing challenges with this growing epidemic.

A unique drug rehabilitation center in Italy is giving the world hope by showing spectacular results, by transforming lives through creating amazing art and businesses that fund much of their overhead. Drug addiction can be a lonely and desperate place for a young  person, caught in a spiral of self-loathing and rejection by society. Many degenerate into crime, either from a need to financially fuel their habit, or because bad company and drugs always seem to find each other.

This drug rehabilitation center in the Rimini province of Northern Italy is showing that traditional ideas around the treatment of addiction no longer needs to be about deprivation or punishment. San Pantrignano runs its free rehabilitation program like a business, and the human dividends are showing.

The organization welcomes young men and women with serious problems linked to drug addiction, completely free of charge. They do this without requesting any kind of contribution from their families and without any state funding.  The organization also practices no ideological or social discrimination when admitting residents, who come from around the world. Letizia Moratti, former mayor of Milan, and an Ambassador and President of San Patrignano, is extremely proud of a recent achievement: presenting their impressive statistics to the World Bank.

The figure that raised eyebrows was the 72 percent success rate of people who had fully recovered after completing the rehabilitation program. She is working on raising awareness for their work, at the world’s largest drug rehabilitation center in the world. The current success rate in the U.S. is around 30 percent, where rehabilitation is typically short and expensive.

Moratti is keen for other countries to adopt their winning formula.  “Since our inception, 25,000 people have been successfully treated,” says Moratti. “We also make a concerted effort to help our residents acquire a professional certificate or diploma, that can be used to help rebuild their lives.”

It must be working, as 96 percent have found full-time employment upon leaving San Patrignano.

Calling the residents “guests” and  teaching them commercial skills within disciplines such as food, wine, home design, publishing and event management, might also be a reason why the waiting list to join has grown. Residents arrive with a bleak future and leave with skills that make then employable. Two other branches of the project have since been established in Novafeltria and Trento, enabling more young people to be accepted.

The value of their work has culminated in the community being recognized and accredited by the United Nations with the status of “Special Advisor to the Economic and Social Council of the UN.” They also received a visit from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon,and were honored to address the General Assembly of the UN in June, to mark the worldwide day against drugs. Empathy and compassion have existed around San Pantrignano from the start. In 1985 the owner of the property, Vincenzo Muccioli, renounced his ownership of the 300 hectares of land and donated it to the San Pantrignano Foundation, in which he himself had played a part in establishing.

Muccioli’s family had a history of caring for the sick and offering alternative medicine to people as part of a cooperative they’d set up on the property in 1978. Moratti’s family joined him in 1979 and they’ve grown the organization into a social enterprise that currently houses 1,300 young men and women.

Residents at San Patrignano learn how to produce goods that are sold around the world. A collaboration, earlier this year, with leading architects and designers, such as Daniel Libeskind, Chiara Ferragamo and Arnaldo Pomodoro, has culminated in an exhibition of high-end furniture and décor that made its way from New York Design Week to cities across America. Other lines of goods produced by residents of San Patrignano are impressive as well.  They’ve produced 500,000 bottles of wine and attracted Japan as a major client, currently contracted to export  100,000 bottles a year to that country.

They produce cheeses, meat, ham and salami and run two restaurants, one of which is a Pizzeria, one of the most successful Pizzeria in Italy, and currently showing good profits. A textiles division produces scarves, bed linen and leather objects such as bags and belts. To add to the diversity, they also breed dogs and care for lost and abandoned animals. Not content to just keep residents busy, Moratti continually reminds them of their overriding goal: quality. “This is how we give our residents pride and dignity – quality is essential.

We give them the best teachers and training to produce the best quality,” she says. The community generates Eur15 million of revenue per year, but productivity remains low, due to young people wanting to leave the organization to practice their skills in the real world. This fact does not bother Moratti much. “We run a non-stop training process, that’s why productivity is not high.

We teach people to reach their potential and the work they do here is a tool to help them regain self-esteem, responsibility and dignity,” she says. “This is not something we can put a price to.”

While San Patrignano far exceeds most rehabilitation centers, with its innovative revenue generation by residents, it’s the human capital that excites Moratti the most.

“Two hundred of our residents are currently spending time with us as an alternative to jail time,” says Moratti.

“They are offered a home, healthcare, legal assistance, and the opportunity to study, learn a job, change their lives and regain their status as full members of society.” A policy decision they have taken is not to accept money from residents, their families or the state. It even extends to former residents who have left and want to donate. “We believe in this strongly,” says Moratti. “All the boys and girls find themselves equal and don’t feel different from each another.

The rich and poor, the ones who can pay and those who can’t, are all treated equally. As a result, when they have a crisis or face difficulties they are more willing to listen and trust in the process.” The fact that San Pantrignano is free, is very important for the success of the community, yet the staff turnover rate is high, probably due to the fact that the model they’ve adopted is a long-term recovery program, and can take it’s toll on the 109 volunteer staff.

Moratti values the donors and partnerships they have in place, yet also works hard at alternative fundraising ideas. The beginning of November saw six former drug addicts representing San Patrignano in the New York Marathon. Besides the runners pursuing their dream, it was also an opportunity to create visibility for their cause and make their small village in Italy known to people in need around the world.

“We have more than 100 boys and girls that have come from more than 30 countries,” says Moratti.

“From the U.S., Canada, Russia, Brazil, Columbia and  Eastern Europe, so we are truly an international facility for anyone in need.” The rest of the world is coming to this Italian coastal town for another reason too, Moratti regularly hosts government representatives from other countries seeking to replicate the San Patrignano success at home.

An agreement with Qatar to train volunteers at their facility is underway and discussions with Indonesia have begun. To attract interest, Moratti also hosts a yearly delegation of NGO’s from around the world to receive training, which might even teach us something from their perspective. “We don’t believe we’re the only answer, we love to share our  experiences with others,” says Moratti. In addition to the commercial projects at San Patrignano, there’s also a huge hidden saving that is directly linked to keeping residents off the payroll of the state.

“Over the last 25 years we’ve prevented our residents spending a total of 4,000 years in prison. This equates to a saving of Euro 300 million, or Eur16 million per year,” says Moratti.

Last year San Patrignano saved the state Eur32 million. This makes San Patrignano a likely candidate for the new social impact bond concept. Goldman Sachs in New York recently floated a $9.6 million bond for the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience program, a new curriculum that seeks to bring down the number of youth offenders going back to prison.

In 2012 the New York City Department of Corrections created a sensation by asking for private, corporate investors. In a new way of thinking about financing social goods, private capital is used to finance a government-sponsored program. Based on the success of the service, the government pays a dividend based on the level of impact achieved.

“This is a new frontier in financing, because it will help the state to pay for success,” says Moratti.

A few pilot projects in Italy have seen the percentage of repeat offences committed by incarcerated youths drop from 98 percent to 19 percent. The basic principles on which San Pantrignano is founded are respect for life, oneself, others and the environment, are universally recognized by various religious faiths around the world.

Moratti believes that this universal approach, combined with strong leadership, is where many organizations and companies should be heading. “Motivation, passion and an ability to convey to others what you believe are signs of a good leader.

I don’t believe in stand-alone leaders, only collaboration,” says Moratti.

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