Student Buzz

Among Italy’s Beauty, Stories of Struggle and Survival

The assignment was in Italy among all its colors, tastes, and beauty. But even in this picturesque place, burdens wait to be lifted and overcome.


On assignment in the Italian hillside are (front, from left) Mason Pastore, Kristen Ulwelling, and Smitha Gudapakkam, all MBA’13, and Elisa Rubini of San Patrignano.
Back Row: Professor David Hennessey and Davey Randa, MBA’13. Not Pictured: Yair Gross, MBA’13

Photo courtesy of Smitha Gudapakkam MBA’13

In the fall, a Babson team of five MBA students and their faculty adviser came to San Patrignano, located in the hills near Rimini, a city on the Adriatic Sea. Surrounded by stunning views of rolling vineyards, the community is a rehabilitation facility where 1,400 people, most wrestling with heroin addiction, work to put their lives back together. “On the one hand, it’s a beautiful setting,” says Kristen Ulwelling, MBA’13. “On the other hand, they’re in rehab. They have to face their demons every day.”

Under the guidance of adviser David Hennessey, professor of marketing, the Babson students worked as part of a Management Consulting Field Experience, or MCFE, project. The mission of the team, which also included Yair Gross, Smitha Gudapakkam, Mason Pastore, and Davey Randa, all MBA’13, was to find ways to reduce a shortfall in San Patrignano’s budget. For a week, the team members toured the community’s sprawling facilities, met with administrators, and talked with its residents, who passed on their personal stories of pain and healing. “They shared so much of themselves,” Ulwelling says. “They were inspiring.”

Recovery for these residents is not fast. Ask them how long they have been in San Patrignano, and they answered quickly, just like a prisoner counting time, Hennessey says. In all, residents spend about three to five years at the facility, where life is regimented and privacy nonexistent. Detoxing before arriving, residents aren’t allowed cell phones or computers, and they’re placed in groups of eight to 10 people, who become their ever-present companions. They wake up together, eat together, work at one of San Patrignano’s many work areas together, and even go to sleep together at the same time in the same room. Isolation and time alone with one’s thoughts aren’t allowed. Despite the challenges, residents are grateful to San Patrignano. More than 70 percent of its residents don’t relapse, Hennessey says, and since opening in 1978, some 20,000 people have gone through its program.

For all their success in helping recovering addicts return to society, the facility’s staff doesn’t have much business experience, which is why the Babson team’s expertise was badly needed. San Patrignano has an annual budget of about 30 million euros, half of which comes from fundraising, which isn’t easy, given that Italy as a country has a low level of giving. The community also won’t accept money from residents or their families, and not wanting bureaucratic interference, it only accepts limited funds from the government.

Revenue from the more than 30 work areas (cheese and wine making, textiles, iron work, baking, graphic arts, etc.), where residents make goods or provide services for sale, supplies the other half of the budget. These areas are well-run, but the staff is more concerned with the well-being of residents than with maximizing profit. For the Babson team, the challenge was to figure out how to make the facility more self-sustaining. In the weeks ahead, the students hashed out their recommendations, examining marketing, management practices, and the possibility of increasing revenue in the work areas.

After returning home, team members found that San Patrignano had left its mark on them. San Patrignano is a place of hardships, but it’s also a welcoming community full of people who care for each other. “The energy and positivity from everyone we met was more than any of us expected,” Randa says. “It made us not want to leave.”—John Crawford