Making charity a viable enterprise
At the helm of Razzett tal-Hbiberija, Nathan Farrugia
has made it his task to integrate the runnings of a charitable foundation
with a viable commercial enterprise. He speaks to David Lindsay about
the difficulties and benefits of the challenge before him.
The Razzett tal-Hbiberija, or the Park of Friendship charitable
organisation has come a long way since its inception in 1989, when it
was set up through the vision of the Stubbs Foundation, which envisaged
a centre for the disabled.
True to its founding concepts, the Razzett tal-Hbiberija today still
applies its main focus on facilities and activities for the disabled,
but has also moved further into the commercial sphere in a bid to contain
the excessive costs faced by the charity, which, Nathan Farrugia explains,
amount to some Lm100,000 every year.
Given such overheads, some three to four years ago, and after investing
over Lm2 million in the Razzett, the Stubbs Foundation decided the Razzett
was no longer viable and that its fundraising activities were no longer
matching its expenditure.
Enter Nathan Farrugia, who, after a chance meeting with one of the Razzetts
governors at his former place of employment the Corinthia Athenaeum
health spa took on the task of rendering the important services
provided to the disabled viable by coupling them with commercial activities
for a larger cross section of the population.
Following a wide-ranging restructuring plan that involved changes in
the managerial team, bringing in people from different walks of life
and their fresh ideas the Razzett is finally finding an even keel.
Farrugia explains, "Last year, 14 years since the Razzett started
out as a farmhouse on a plot of land, was the first time it broke even,
effectively freeing the Stubbs Foundation from the need to support us.
"Although the main focus here was and still is on the disabled
and providing the best services possible, you cannot base an operation
of this scale on fund raising alone. Fundraising alone accounts for
50 per cent of our revenue and this level is not expected to increase
with todays high degree of competitiveness for charity. As such,
the other 50 per cent has to be created.
"The idea was to create commercial activities with the kind of
top notch services people are looking for today such as fitness, aromatherapy,
hydrotherapy, physiotherapy clinics and massage.
"This was accompanied by a streamlining of the business as a whole,
where a lot of waste of taking place.
"This also involved a change in culture among the employees, since
the Foundation was previously pumping in funding and as such the culture
of really watching what you spend did not exist. This was quite a paradox
you had a charity that was being ruined by excessive expenditure
while the people working here were not conscious that the expenditure
"But now taking this into consideration and the fact that the Stubbs
Foundation is no longer funding the Razzett, the staff and management
feel they have to perform now that they are running on their own steam."
The increasing viability of the Razzett is coupled with the fact that
some three years ago the Razzett had 4,000 people making use of its
facilities on a yearly basis, while last year the number had surged
to 15,000 and this years results are expected to top that.
In achieving the delicate balance between expenditure and revenue, the
NGOs management has applied a certain focus on its more commercial
aspects such as the gym and the conference facilities but, at the end
of the day, it undoubtedly remains a charity.
Despite the fact that the Razzett receives very little from the government
by way of funding, it still offers approximately Lm80,000 worth of health
care services for the disabled to the Department of Health, while a
number of other similar charities that receive more substantial funding
from the government also make good use of the Razzetts facilities.
Asked which of the Razzetts facilities prove the most popular
among the disabled children, Farrugia explains that the animal interaction
programme which includes horse riding and animal petting, including
rabbits, emus, goat and llamas. Farrugia adds that these activities
are organised in such a way that the children receive therapy without
even knowing it, having control of a horse while riding, for example,
works wonders for children with low self-esteem or confidence.
"There is also the interaction with able bodied children from the
schools that come on a regular basis. That social interaction is very
important, you are providing an added service to a person with a disability
but at the same time they are getting just as much out of it by being
with other children of the same age.
"The feedback we are getting from facilitators and parents alike
is that the children dont stop taking about the experience when
they get back home and that they want to always come back for more."
In addition to other similar activities, such as the art classes in
which children are left free to let their creative juices flow, there
is also the health aspect of the services offered to the disabled.
Many of the kids visiting the Razzett, especially those who have been
institutionalised, are confined to wheelchairs or are otherwise immobile
the whole day. As such, getting into a warm pool and stretching out
is of great value to their emotional and physical well being, while
many also bring their own physiotherapist.
"We also have members of the gym who pay a membership or pay each
time they use the pool," Farrugia explains.
"You also have the temporary disabled, who suffer from severe back
problems, for example, which is preventing them from working, or others
who have had car accidents and are in rehabilitation. They can have
a physiotherapy consultation or regular therapy if they wish, where
our physiotherapists are fully qualified so they can have their insurance
cover refunding them as well.
"Then you also have the permanently disabled doing their own thing
and the purely fitness element. As such what we have here is a mix of
everyone from all walks of life.
"The problem in the past was that the facilities were always marketed
for the disabled, so people with bad backs, who would not consider themselves
disabled, would not come to use the facilities. People were, and still
are, somewhat stigmatic about people with disabilities and might be
somewhat reluctant to come here.
"However, this is not the case. The ratio of disabled to able bodied
is always in favour of the able bodied with regards to the gym and pool,
while the horse riding and the other activities are more oriented to
"Awareness on this aspect has improved, now when you speak to people
they have a much clearer idea of what we do and what we are all about.
"Its really a question of getting people to come down and
see what we have to offer, which is why we organise a lot of open days
and free access activities. That in itself is selling the product, when
people see features such as easy parking, the fact that we are open
from seven in the morning to nine at night, our off peak special offers
for shop owners between one and four. Were constantly trying to
build on our business processes and ways to sell our services and facilities."
The Razzett is also becoming increasingly active in the conference sector.
Farrugia explains, "Look at the pool and gym, for example. Their
level of saturation shows that we have enough members to make them viable
to offset the cost of the disabled using them at no charge.
"However, we also have a five star conference facility that includes
a kitchen, an outdoor barbecue area with its own kitchen and conference
"The facilities are there and I think that when clients are getting
a good service, they really dont mind what is sometimes perceived
as a long travelling distance to Marsascala. It is, after all, just
10 to 15 minutes from Valletta.
"This is a niche market that we need to look at very closely. But
our focus is on the smaller scale one to three day conferences from
the local market as the hotels have practically monopolised the larger,
overseas conference market as they have the accommodation.
"The word spreads and people are appreciating the fact that we
have these facilities to offer."
The Razzetts conference facilities are also gaining ground, particularly
in light of the corporate social responsibility buzzwords.
The Malta International Airport, the Drydocks and the Freeport have
all combined this responsibility with securing a venue for company events.
On his own management team, Farrugia explains, "We have a more
recent approach to management, through which we try and instil the proper
culture. I train the management team on a regular basis because you
get much more out of people when they feel they are doing something
worthwhile. We also have an added benefit here in that at the end of
the day you can say that youre not working just to receive your
pay, but youre also helping people at the same time. Not many
companies can make a similar claim.
"I think the philosophy is working, now that people feel more responsible
about the work that is being carried out, we are being much more productive
than before. So our idea is to pass this on to even people that come
here for team or management training."
The Razzetts next big project is a multi-sensory room a
bombardment of sensory input for all the senses. The idea is to create
different rooms with different types of stimulation effects such as
soft lighting, relaxation, vibrations, interactive colour, lots of soft
furniture, padded floors for jumping and running and a host of other
similar features aimed not solely at children but also for adults. The
Razzett plans to break ground on the project in early May.
Farrugia explains, "The idea had started in Holland in 1975 and
the interactivity it inspires is ideal for those with communication
problems, such as autistic children.
"However, we have people with so many different types of disabilities
coming in that we wanted to find something that would cater for everyone.
When I did some research in the UK I saw not just children but
also the elderly suffering from chronic pain and cancer maybe not using
the equipment but sitting in the ergonomic ball pools and using other
features as well.
"So were building a large extension to the Razzett with rooms
for different ambiences and we will also allocate additional space with
which to increase the size of the gym, which will be adjacent to the
"Now that we have the proper structures and management in place,
we are in a position to make these improvements and look ahead with
confidence, whereas when I first started here there was a great deal
more emphasis on cost-cutting procedures and changes to the environment
"Our services are always our priority and our philosophy is to
provide the best possible service to as many people as possible."
Farrugia concedes that linking the charitable and commercial aspects
of the Razzett is something of a balancing act, but he is adamant that
as long as you have the right people on board it can be done successfully.
However, at the end of the day the Razzett needs all the help it can
get to continue to make ends meet, as it managed for the first time
"The benefits of using our facilities are that the ultimate goal
is that you are using a charitable organisation that is helping people
that need us to provide the services they cannot find anywhere else,
Farrugia explains. "But at the same time you are getting a professional
service and a five star facility."