Mano Guru

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A salad bar in Vilnius gives young drug addicts a way to rejoin society, and is piloting a form of social enterprise that is new to Lithuania.

A second start in life

Mano Guru (‘My Guru’), a fashionable health restaurant in downtown Vilnius, offers young drug addicts a new start in life. For a six-month period, they can learn a professional skill while also continuing with therapy and/or education. They emerge with a qualification as well as an employer’s reference that should equip them to find a permanent job. Thanks to its mix of grant and trading income, the enterprise is already in profit and is establishing a new business model that other towns in Lithuania are keen to copy.

It is a myth to think that addiction to drugs or to alcohol touches only socially disadvantaged, marginalised and degraded persons – or to think that it will never happen to you or your relatives. As elsewhere, in Lithuania drug addicts are mostly very young persons from good families and upper social classes. In 2003 in Lithuania 4,689 people were officially registered as drug addicted, and the number, age and where they live has varied very little the last three years. But in reality there are ten times more dependent people who are not officially registered, and this number is growing dangerously. 82% of them are men and 94% live in urban areas. The population affected is very young – 23-24 on average.

The absence of proper professional skills, a patchy work history and the negative attitude of employers and society in general towards ex-addicts mean that even after successful rehabilitation programmes, they often take up narcotics again. Relapsing is a major problem, as even motivated people who have completed a rehabilitation programme have to return to a society where they face everyday problems, and meet up again with the companions with whom they used to take drugs. Reintegrating ex-addicts into society thus involves a complicated mix of psychological stabilisation, motivation, training and fighting negative stereotypes.

Rehabilitation through work

“The idea of work rehabilitation for ex-drug addicts came to the Mayor of Vilnius, Artūras Zuokas. Work rehabilitation is a logical continuation of the rehabilitation process, through which a person dependent on drugs receives a complete range of social services (medical, psychological, social and employment) which enables them to blend into society,” says Vygandas Raukštas, head of the city council’s Social Assistance Unit. “It is a way to present the problem of the employment difficulties of ex-drug addicts to society and to potential employers in a positive light, and a way to show that these people can be good workers, especially in the context of a labour shortage in the service sector.”

The Mano Guru restaurant is in one of the main streets of the Lithuanian capital and anyone can tell that it is popular because of the very stylish and fashionable atmosphere, good menu and exceptional service. It stands out by being alcohol- and tobacco-free and attracts young, dynamic clients. Its popularity is shown by the fact that the Minister of Health used to have breakfast with journalists there every week. Seventy per cent of its employees are rehabilitated drug addicts.

The enterprise is creating and testing a rehabilitation and social integration methodology for ex-drug addicts, which includes a motivation programme as well as practical skills training in bartending, cooking and waiting at table. Graduates will be tested and, if successful, will gain the City and Guilds International Vocational Qualification (IVQ) in Food and Beverage Service. There is a parallel training programme for staff working with addicts.

Of a projected total of 50, so far 21 participants have gone through the learning process and six are currently in work rehabilitation. Courses normally last six months, after which the trainees are supposed to find a permanent job in one of three professions – waiter, cook or bartender. Some participants, like Linas and Tomas, stay on at the restaurant to train newcomers, while others stay just because they like the atmosphere. Linas says that for him the restaurant and its personnel is a second family. Here, he can work and learn a profession but he can also continue his studies at the university. “Without ‘My Guru’ I could obtain a low-skilled and low-paid job as a docker or cashier and on top of that I would have to lie about being an ex-drug addict. Here I can be myself and everybody is tolerant and friendly with me, and I can have a second start in my life.”

Irina is one of the first people who went through the work rehabilitation course. Then, like many Lithuanians nowadays, she left for the UK. Today she is back and continuing to work in the restaurant. “I didn’t like living abroad, so I came back, and I was happy to rejoin ‘My Guru’. Meanwhile I got married, and I expect to have children one day. I’m also continuing to study accountancy.”

According to project co-ordinator Reda Sutkienė, this is not just a conventional enterprise with profit as the only objective. The project is trying to put in place a model of social enterprise, which puts the people who work in it at its heart. “Work rehabilitation also means that the people concerned have time to continue their group therapy or individual consultations with a psychologist. But they should also have time for other activities that are necessary to their personal opening-up. That’s why the work rehabilitation process should offer them time to study at university or in some cases to finish school.” This would be a luxury for an enterprise competing in the market and aiming to maximise profit.

Complementary partners

The ‘Overcome your addiction’ project won support from the EQUAL initiative of the European Social Fund, and ran from 2004 till 2007. It was managed by a development partnership among the NGO Socialiniai paramos projektai (‘Social Support Projects’, Vilnius City Council, Vilnius Centre for Addictive Disorders and Vilnius Co-operative College. Its success owes much to the city council’s commitment to addressing the plight of ex-drug addicts, which led it to make the necessary city centre premises available. Socialiniai paramos projektai provides materials and qualified catering and medical staff, the Centre for Addictive Disorders contributes its expertise in rehabilitation, and the Co-operative College its experience of vocational training and integration. The combination within the partnership of public health and education institutions, the local authority and a committed NGO ensures high-quality services as well as the relevance of the legislative changes proposed and the tools created, and the transferability and adaptability of innovation to other sectors and groups.

At the moment ‘social enterprise’ is understood in Lithuania as an enterprise where some employees’ wages are subsidised by the government. The Mano Guru project innovates by piloting a model that enables socially disadvantaged groups to create enterprises to employ exclusively or mostly persons from these groups, with some financial support from the national or local authorities, yet which will be encouraged to make some profit and become self-sufficient.

“The municipality gave us the premises, which we just had to renovate, and EQUAL enabled us to develop and deliver teaching programmes for our target group. Without this financial support we could never implement our idea of work rehabilitation,” says Reda Sutkienė. But two years after the restaurant opened, it started to be profitable. So the model of social enterprise relies on a subtle mix of financial support and empowerment to become profitable, meaning that it is not just a restaurant like others, but a place for rehabilitation.

A replicable model

The project is a good model for the integration of persons facing difficulties in finding and holding down a job. Its success means that other municipalities are already interested in collaboration of this kind to create similar places for the work rehabilitation of ex-drug addicts or other socially excluded groups. If the proposal that has been formulated for the amendment of the legislation on social enterprises is adopted, it will open the way for this. The awards it has won demonstrate the project’s success. In November 2005 it won first prize in the championship of the Lithuanian Social Services. The project has also been honoured by Vilnius city council, the Association of Social Workers of Lithuania, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and other NGOs.

“The ‘My Guru’ restaurant was my first step into an honest and good life,” says Jonas, one of project participants. “The experience I acquired here helped me to find a job. I am grateful to my colleagues working in the bar because they didn‘t condemn or reject me for of my dependence. Their support helped me to conquer my fear of a sober life and people without dependency problems.”

European Enterprise Awards

Mano Guru is shortlisted in the category Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship in the European Enterprise Awards 2011 - Rewarding excellence in entrepreneurship:


Reda Sutkuviene Project manager
Socialiniai paramos projektai (‘Social Support Projects’)
Vilnius str. 22/1
01119 Vilnius
Tel. +370 52 122399


EU Linking Local Actors best practice database, 2008