The Glad Foundation has two overarching goals: Enhancing the inclusion of people with learning disabilities into society and providing meaningful education and occupation for this group. The foundation is a social enterprise, and improving economic performance is an explicit goal. The philosophy of the Glad Foundation is, firstly, that creating a meaningful everyday life is crucial for all people (regardless of disability) to thrive and develop, and secondly that strengthening inclusion and citizenship can only be done by providing everyone with access to civil society, to the labour market and to cultural life. Thus, instead of simply ‘storing’ people with learning disabilities, the strategy of the Glad Foundation is to function as an actual workplace offering jobs and services. The foundation strives to show that it is possible for a company employing people with disabilities to produce high quality products and to compete on market conditions. The foundation works for social cohesion through the inclusion of the disabled into society and giving them a voice rather than excluding and institutionalising them. The foundation thus has a pluralist understanding of diversity (Syrett & Sepulveda, 2012). Additionally, it works for social mobility through the education and vocational training of people with a disability.
The Glad Foundation was founded in 1999 by two partners, one of which has a sister with a learning disability. The founders were indignant at the way that recent social political reforms had created a large, expensive institutional machinery, which, they believed, had failed in its objective to integrate disabled people into society: “We are probably one of the countries in the world, that has spent the most money on ghettoising these people”, the managing partner states. The Glad Foundation is organised as a commercial foundation employing over 200 people in four different towns, as well as a vocational school for 80 students. The first, and largest, office of the foundation was opened in Bispebjerg. About half of the financial basis comes from public grants to the education and employment of disabled citizens, 25% comes from mainly private funds, and the last 25% is income from commercial activities. The target audience of the foundation is people with different disabilities. The arrangement is thus people-based. The Glad Foundation started out as a TV station, and since then the range of activities has continuously been expanding to include everything from television, radio, design and theatre, to catering services and even the running of a zoo. The vocational school has training programmes in several of these fields.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is central to the work of the Glad Foundation in two ways. Firstly, for the lives of the students and employees: the philosophy of the foundation is to view the students and employees as more than just people with a disability; they are actors, graphical designers, kitchen assistants, and human beings in society – just like anyone else. The foundation thus recognises hyper-diversity. Secondly, diversity as such is central to the foundation: seeing diversity as a potential and a possible strength is an explicitly expressed element of the foundation of the arrangement. Diversity is used deliberately and strategically in the development of the different business areas, and it is considered a necessary tool in finding creative and innovative solutions. The foundation dismisses the idea of segmenting the disabled based on their diagnosis as they believe this will limit their socialisation and worsen their disability. Avoiding isolation and segmentation is considered vital for social cohesion, not only with regards to disabilities and mixing of disabled and non-disabled people, but also regarding the social stratification of society.
Main factors influencing success or failure
In recent years, the Glad Foundation has experienced a number of external success factors coming into play and improving the conditions of the foundation: social enterprises are currently on the political agenda; in 2007, people with disabilities were given a legal claim to a youth education; and this year the pension system was reformed to limit the number of people permanently receiving pensions and thus not working. While the Glad Foundation has generally always received moral and ideological support for its cause from politicians and the public, it has been more difficult to obtain financial support, but the way has now been paved for improving this. One of the most important internal success factors of the Glad Foundation is the creativity and unconventionality that comes from working with people with learning disabilities. Accordingly, rather than teachers and managers defining the goals and approaches, putting students and employees in charge of their own work is essential for the ideas and projects to carry weight. Along these lines, the Glad Foundation employs almost no social education workers, but instead professionals within the different business areas (e.g. chefs, designers, architects). This way, all students and employees, with and without disabilities, are working for a common goal: a high professional standard and high quality products. The interaction with the private market thus brings something different to the table than ordinary social work.
Cooperation with public authorities remains a major external failure factor for the Glad Foundation today. According to the managing partner, the social service sector is designed from the perspective of institutionalisation, transfer payments and little participation in decision-making for disabled individuals themselves. Furthermore, cooperation with Copenhagen Municipality is too bureaucratic thereby making it troublesome. A different line of external failure factors lies in the double challenge of running a commercial business on the one hand and working for a social cause on the other. The Glad Foundation has to compete on equal terms with other professionals in the different business areas, even though their employees have fewer competences than others. Furthermore, being a more or less non-profit organisation makes it difficult to attract investors to the foundation. Finally, the managing partner criticises the near elimination of manual jobs (such as cleaning assistants and dishwashers) in Denmark over recent decades: today, people on high wages have to spend working time washing dishes and preparing for meetings, when these tasks could instead generate several jobs for e.g. people with learning disabilities. Having become a large and established organisation, the Glad Foundation is faced with the risk of routinising and simply reproducing its work at the expense of innovation and creativity. This is one of the most important internal failure factors. Another is the risk of neglecting the ethics and values of the foundation (e.g. inclusiveness regardless of abilities and competences) in the name of maintaining a high professional standard in the business.
At the Glad Foundation the unconventionality and creativity that comes from working with people with learning disabilities is seen as a strength and a potential. The foundation considers this its weapon in the struggle for maintaining ethics, values and the social cause while competing with other businesses on market conditions. The Glad Foundation is grounded in an aversion to the institutionalisation and segmentation of people with disabilities and is based on the philosophy that ghettoisation hinders progress and creativity. Inclusion into society is considered crucial for leading a dignified and meaningful life. This unconventional perspective on social work shows the innovative potential of the Glad Foundation. The current political focus on the concept of social enterprises indicates that their approach is gaining ground.