GUREAK. A Basque Social Labour Inclusion Flagship, ‘Here with Ours’. Churchill Fellowship Post 5

I’ve visited 100’s of factories over the years, as part of previous jobs, and in my leisure time (ask my wife). Sometimes I’ve been accused of getting a bit over enthusiastic. I love seeing things being made. However, I’ve never been so greatly affected at an emotional level as I was when I visited GUREAK in Donostia-San Sebastián yesterday.

GUREAK is an organisation deeply rooted ‘here‘ in Spain’ smallest Province, Gipuzkoa, which is part of the Basque Country. What GUREAK do is social labour inclusion, basically they create stable employment opportunities for people who require extra support, explained in the picture above taken from their website.

GUREAK aren’t a part of Government, a Government Agency, a Charity or a Cooperative (although that option was considered). They are a commercial company, who’s existence depends upon its ability to remain financially sustainable in a competitive world. GUREAK achieve that and have been successfully doing it for over 40 years.

A quick history of GUREAK. The history and development of GUREAK is very well explained on their website, link here, and in a video I’ll link to at the end of the post. Both links are well worth studying, I just wanted to emphasise a few things:

  • The origins of GUREAK are with a group of families of children with learning difficulties from across the Gipuzkoa Priovince.
  • They formed ATZEGI association in the 1960s to ‘fight for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities’ and are still very active today. Link to ATZEGI mission, vision and values here.
  • One of the things ATZEGI did successfully when they started was improve schooling for their children, ‘Ours’.
  • Then they faced the challenge of ‘what happens to ours after schooling finishes?’
  • ‘Why shouldn’t our children have the opportunity to work like everyone else?’ This is where GUREAK (which is Basque for OURS) was born.
  • Work is an important part of Basque Culture, with a widespread recognition that Basque people ‘work hard’.
  • Work is also key part of social inclusion. Alongside providing people with; wages, social connections, routine and structure, it also includes you in Basque society, where ‘working hard’ counts.
  • In 1975 GUREAK was created as industrial company and has grown to what it is now; a diverse business, employing over 5000 people (82% with disabilities) and an annual turnover of over €200 Million. You can read the details about GUREAK here.

Sustainability, Profitability and Social Benefit. There’s just five things I want to say that give a sense of just how impressive GUREAK are.

  • Economic Return. The picture above taken from the GUREAK website points out that they do receive some help from government sources. A €3.09 for every €1 spent is a significant return on investment, I suspect would interest anyone in government.
  • Quality Work Close to Home. GUREAK are present throughout Gipuzkoa. They have an objective to create employment close to home for people, and have a principle that 20km is the maximum distance anyone should travel to work. That’s something that could apply in so many other settings.
  • Balancing Profitability and Good Work. GUREAK are clear that any work they contract to do must be suitable, or adaptable, for the people who work there, and it must also be profitable. This balance is critical to maintain. To do work that was only about job creation and not profitable, would threaten the financial sustainability of GUREAK. To accept contracts that were profitable, but did not provide jobs for people with requiring additional support would go against the core reason GUREAK was created.
  • The Future of Work. Within their industrial sector most of the work is manual. That is the nature of how GUREAK create jobs to meet peoples capabilities. GUREAK are very aware of the implications of automation, robots and artificial intelligence on the world of manufacturing and work. They are thinking deeply about this, because it could impact on their ability to survive more so than other commercial companies. I think we could all learn something from GUREAK on this.
  • Personal and Professional Development. GUREAK do more than just provide a job. There is a huge emphasis on personal and professional development for all workers. They have a section of the business called ITINERARY, which focussed on this, link here. The video also provides a good explanation of how ITINERARY works.

Finally, I did say the visit to GUREAK affected me emotionally. Here is their corporate video which I encourage you to watch. It explains things about where they came from and what they do beautifully, it is also a great advertisement for Gipuzkoa. The bit that particular affected me was towards the end (7.20mins) where one of the workers Juan Carl is retiring and leaves the building, just as a young man enters…

GUREAK video (English)

Thank you so much to Maria Larraza Malkorra at GUREAK for sharing your knowledge and inroducing me to amazing people at GUREAK. I’m looking forward appearing to the video of GUREAK news. Also massive thanks to James Wilson from Orkestra, the Basque Institute of Competitiveness at Deusto University, for introducing me to Maria. Eskerrik asko to you both.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. People and communities have the ability to do incredible things. GUREAK came from a collective of motivated families.
  2. GUREAK as a private enterprise, in a competitive world and it achieves incredible things.
  3. As the video says, they are a ‘referent source of pride’ for Gipuzkoa. Rightly so. I think having an organisation like GUREAK would be a source of pride for any region.

Note. The pictures above have been taken from the GUREAK website.

The rest of my Churchill Fellowship blog posts can be found here:

This is my own picture, me with Maria.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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