BioAgriDeaf is an innovative project of Ergon in collaboration with the Turin Institute for the Deaf that intends to act as job placement for d/Deaf people in agriculture and catering. The goal is to offer a quality service, using biological products at zero kilometer, with a focus on artisan companies of the territory, and giving job opportunities to disadvantaged people.


It is a new business, thought after the training path made by a large group of young d/Deaf people in recent years in cooking classes, bar, reception, accommodation and in agriculture. It intends to organize the services and goods of the Institute for the Deaf, and make them not only more competitive, but also socially useful according to its statutory aims, including the accompaniment to independent living.


BioAgriDeaf and Associazione Ergon






What is the social innovation Associazione Ergon/BioAgriDeaf about?

In my view, social Innovation identifies new solutions to take in the chest the challenges and social issues that increasingly concern a growing band of the world population. Above all, the Social Innovation model is distinguished by its structural component: it is not limited to short-range projects, but has long-term objectives. In other way, social innovation is about projects to support the birth of companies able to respond to emerging social needs in different fields (from education to work, from mobility to quality of life, from health to social inclusion) and to transform innovative ideas into services, products, solutions able to create at the same time economic value and social value for the territory and the community.

So, to be innovative, these projects must be: relevant, addressing a problem of important dimensions; widespread, concerning the breadth of the audience of beneficiaries; but above all they must be long term.


Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?

We started this project because we see that today’s emerging biggest problems for persons with disabilities are related to their adulthood and the interconnected fundamental needs, that are mainly two: housing and work. However, existing services in these areas are not pretty much innovative and respond to a system that worked in the past century, too much related to a “welfarism” framework, instead of a project of independent life in mainstream communities.

The aim of our project was to support a group of young deaf adults in order to develop their entrepreneurial skills and make them more active in the workplace. The basic idea was to cooperate with the schools in the management of some facilities (basement, cafeteria) and to reinsert some unused assets into economic resources. All this in a perspective of growth also in the digital environment and with the introduction of innovative technologies in activities previously managed with very traditional formulas.


How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?

The idea came to us by observing that so many of our former deaf boys after having finished the schools found themselves at home without being able to work or experience a working experience. So, we came up with the idea of thinking about an activity that could be educational and in the same way give the deaf a chance to work and create an entrepreneurial vein in them. All the process of ideation and creation of the activities has been made in a collaborative process, that involved several colleagues and students of our organization.


What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?

Like any project beginning, our main concern was the economic sustainability and the balanced budget. In fact, one of our main challenges was to be independent of any public support and that the project could live “on the market” using its main resources. For that reason, we had to study the market well, make contests, start slowly in such a way as to allow the structure to take off at best.


What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?)

In our specific situation, the basic idea was to cooperate with the school in the management of some facilities (cantina, cafeteria) and to re-insert some unused assets into the economic track, such as a small farmland and some rooms formerly used for school purposes into a service for people with low skills and at risk of discrimination.


How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?

To draw attention to our business, we mainly used internet and social media (website, Facebook and Instagram). Instead for the opening of the activity, we organized a great event to which was present the mayor of our city and a local newspaper dedicated us an article within his newspaper.  We are now designing more attractive digital tools, such as QRCode and a YouTube channel, in order to involve young people in the project.


How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?

I think that in social innovation you cannot be sure of nothing, you have to challenge the mainstream design daring new visions. So according to that purpose and considering our experience and expertise with the target group on the project, we just believe and try to do our best to meet the needs of the users.


How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DYI fundraising?

In our case we were lucky, because the project is a guest of the Foundation Istituto dei Sordi, that is also the owner of the building. We also accessed a tender from a foundation of banking origin that support social innovation in our region. Then we want the project to live on its own life, without any external help.


How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?

To improve our project, we participated in the contest Made In Research 2016, held by the business incubator of the University of Turin, aimed at supporting innovative ideas In the social and entrepreneurial field. Our participation in the Contest was an opportunity for growth, to meet with other social professionals, who were also pursuing their innovative projects.

In my opinion the fundamental thing is to believe his sounds and give himself the possibilities of making them real. Obviously, you need to always study the market well and make sure that you actually respond to a need.


How do you change the whole system?

I’m not sure I really changed the system; however, I think we proposed a new model of business and we showed that it can work.


What it the one advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?

A social innovator has to be a bit “bipolar”: one must be visionary dreamers and economists at the same time.

Interviewed by Manon van Leeuwen

Enrico Dolza, has a PhD in Special Education at University of Torino and he has extensive experience in the field of education and training, mainly related with disability studies and politics.

Executive Director at the Turin Institute for the Deaf, president of the association Ergon a favore dei sordi, he is adjunct professor of Special Education at the University of Torino.

Enrico has over 10 years’ experience in developing and managing EU projects and he has been involved in over 16 EU funded projects.

His specific research interests include European disability politics; culture, art and museum accessibility for disabled visitors; Sign languages linguistics and deaf people’s communication; Adult and VET.


Would you like to learn more from other inspiring social innovators?  

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