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Leros Social Co-operative


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The Social Co-operative with Limited Liability, as provided by the Greek Law No. 2716/1999 (Article 12), is a specific form of a co-operative organization (work integration social enterprise), which serves both economic and social-theurapetical purposes. It aims, in particular, at the socio-economic re-integration and vocational re-insertion of persons with mental health problems, contributing in this way to their therapy and, to the great possible extent, to their economic self-sufficiency. In the pursuit of this overriding objective, Social Co-operatives are considered commercial organizations and can develop and perform any economic activity in an entrepreneurial way.

The first Social Co-operative with Limited Liability (KoiSPE) was established on Leros Island in November 2002 with the participation of mentally ill people from the Leros Psychiatric Hospital as well as people from the local community. It is considered to be among the most successful KoiSPE till now according to assessments of operation and impact. The following activities have so far been developed:

Farming. This was the first activity to be developed and still remains one of the basic ones. The products are absorbed by the Leros State Hospital (80%) and the free market (20%). 

Honey workshop. Honey production was initially developed with the financial assistance of the LEADER+ Initiative. It soon however proved to be very suitable for people with psycho-social problems.

Sweet and confection workshop. Products are absorbed by the Leros State Hospital, the canteen and the free market.

Lastly, a Canteen is operating daily, serving the needs of the residents of the psychiatric hospital, their visitors and the employees.



Even prior to the crisis, mentally-ill people, as well as other vulnerable population groups, exhibited much higher unemployment rates in relation to the remaining population, precarious working conditions, while often they were included in calculations of the inactive labour force. The crisis has of course deteriorated this situation, mainly through the reluctance of employers to recruit new workers in the face of uncertainty and increased dismissals. With salaried employment under pressure, the option of self-employment has come to the forefront for most categories of the labor force, including the mentally-ill and other vulnerable groups, as an option to counter balance the negative effects of the crisis.


A Social Co-operative is an initiative that takes into account both therapeutical aspects and the development of skills and activities of the persons with special needs. At the same time Social Co-operatives can contribute to the development of the local community and its economy. In the case of Leros Social Co-operative, the right options made regarding the productive activities during the first years of operation, have led to a successful start-up and eventually to the creation of a big capital reserve. As an end result this innovative attempt has managed to survive the economic crisis and even contribute to local development.

It must be noted that the operations of a social co-operative are mainly funded from the sales of products and services. The mentally ill participants are paid from the profits of the Social Co-operative, according to their productivity and the total number of the hours they have worked. The Social Co- operative is also obliged to provide social insurance coverage when the mentally ill participant is lacking one. It is important to note that many of the mentally ill participants in the scheme have eventually succeeded to become financially independent, working as employees or as own account workers in Leros.


Results observed:

The Leros KoiSPE has 441 members. Specifically, 198 members are people with psycho-social problems, 148 members are Mental Health professionals and 95 members are belonging to various organizations or are individuals. It should be clarified that membership does not imply engagement in paid work activities. In the case of Leros KoiSPE, the number of those employed is 44 persons, out of which 27 are persons with mental health problems.

For the year 2007, the honey workshop of the Leros Social Cooperative was chosen as Best Practice in Greece in the framework of the European Leader+ Programme, following a review of its contribution to the development of the rural area.

Challenges overcome:

The Social Co-Operatives, including the Leros co-operative, had to face a plethora of problems and difficulties, some of which still remain. The main difficulties and obstacles that have been recorded relate to access to credit, the lack of coordination between the various public departments and organizations, lack of managerial skills and difficulties in the mobilization and coordination of a wide range of stakeholders.


Lessons Learned:

·         A clear-cut legislative framework, enabling the combined use of policy instruments and the co-ordination of employment policies and social inclusion strategies.

·         A distinct target group, exhibiting ‘critical mass’, with known needs and capabilities.

·          The active involvement or at least the support of the dominant socio-political local actors such as professional organizations, trade-unions, employers, and NGOs.


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HRSE_BP - English

Human Resources
Social Entrepreneurship

Best Practice: 2


Social Integration, Job creation, vulnerable groups (persons with mental health problems)

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