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KoiSPE - Mental Health Co-operatives

Author: Louise Pulford
Published Date: 22 February 2010

KoiSPErepresents a new pathway to social inclusion for persons with psychosocial disabilities and serves both therapeutic and entreprencial purposes.

As part of the broader reform of mental health services in the late 1990s, the Greek government introduced a new legal form, the limited liability social co-operative of ‘KoiSPE’ to help rehabilitate those with long term mental health problems and reintegrate them into the labour market.

The KoiSPE is a relatively unique organisational form in that it is both an independent trading enterprise and an official mental health unit, which means that it has access to national health services staff and premises. One of the other innovative aspects is that those who work for a KoiSPE may earn a wage without losing their benefit payments. KoiSPEs are exempt from corporate taxes, except VAT and fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and the Department for Mental Health. The law of 1999 also stipulated the make up of any KoiSPE – at least 35% of the employees must be those with mental health problems; no more than 45% can be mental health professionals and; a maximum of 20% can be other individuals and sponsoring organisations.

Its creation was inspired by the experience of social co-operatives in Italy. There are some 2,500 ‘type B’ social co-operatives in Italy which play a key role in integration various marginalised groups into the labour market – including adults with learning difficulties, people with physical disabilities and people suffering from mental ill-health.

KoiSPEs carry out a range of activities. These include, honey production, laundering, catering, baking, cafeteria operation, printing, carpet weaving, gardening, furniture manufacture, paper recycling and car washing. The first 9 social co-operatives to be set up employ more than 150 people with mental health problems and have over 1,500 members. There are plans to set up another 50 social co-operatives across Greece.

The largest KoiSPE is on the island of Leros, with 457 members and 54 employees. Previously, the island had been economically dependent on the island’s mental health institution. When the institution closed down, the new KoiSPE also acted as an important source of jobs for the local community. The KoiSPE in Leros produces honey, operates greenhouses across the island and runs a pastry shop. By providing opportunities for the community as a whole, the KoiSPE has played a critical role in supporting social exclusion and the reintegration of those with mental health problems into the community.