Stefan Zappa

Stiftung Blind-Liecht
Year founded: 

Through restaurants where guests eat in the dark, the Blind-Liecht Foundation works to create a dialogue and understanding between the sighted and the blind.

Focus: Communications/Media, Disabilities
Geographic Area of Impact: Switzerland
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 62 employees, 34 who are blind/visually impaired (2008)
Annual Budget: US$ 3 million (2008)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 85%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Switzerland, 2007

Around 180,000 visually impaired people live in Switzerland, and close to 3,500 are blind; most of them above the age of 60. Being blind is still equated with being helpless and dependent, and financial dependency and special treatment often hinder their integration into society. Stiftung Blind-Liecht (Blind Light Foundation) was set up to foster the integration, dialogue and mutual understanding between the sighted and the blind.

Innovation and Activities
The first undertaking of the Blind-Leicht Foundation was the opening of the Blindekuh “dark” restaurant in Zurich in 1999, and then one in Basel in 2005. The concept: all staff in the restaurants is either blind or severely visually impaired and the guests eat in complete darkness (although they make their menu choice in the light). The goal is to create an experience that would allow a closer identification with the world of the blind and thus reduce barriers between the blind and the sighted.

While dining in the dark, visitors experience a role reversal between them and the blind waiters, who become their guides. This reversal of reality stimulates dialogue and empathy between the disabled and the sighted. More than 90% of the visitors said that they are regular visitors and don’t see the experience as a one-time adventure.

Since its inception, more than half a million people have used the services offered by Blindekuh, which also includes concerts, plays and other cultural shows combined with a dining experience in the dark. In addition, companies or groups can book educational programmes offered by the foundation. These primarily consist of targeted team building or non-visual communication training.

Stiftung Blind-Liecht develops and supports projects, which create jobs for partially sighted and blind people. These projects should be self-financing, have a fair pay structure and grant employees the right to be consulted as the structure of operations permits. Blind-Liecht has 63 employees, of which 37 are blind or visually impaired. The foundation is the largest private employer of this group in Switzerland. All employees receive a salary at regular market rates, thus significantly reducing the dependence on state subsidies.

Blindekuh enjoys a strong brand name and a high recognition among the Swiss public thanks to a hugely successful exhibition during Expo 2002 in Switzerland. The Blind-Liecht Foundation does not receive any public or government subsidies. Close to 90% of the income is generated through the sales of services and the rest covered by private grants.

The Entrepreneur
Stefan Zappa studied design and organizational psychology, and worked as an independent interior architect. In 1998, he, together with Andrea Blaser, Thomas Moser and Jürg Spielmann, set up Stiftung Blind-Liecht and developed the idea for a “dark” restaurant. Zappa is currently the foundation’s president and vice-president of the Swiss Association for the Blind. He also founded a consulting firm in 2003, which offers advice for companies, public institutions and schools on organizational psychology. In addition to consulting, he runs seminars on communication, team building and leadership.