It takes a personal experience to appreciate the talent and beauty hidden behind the face of a disorder. Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne, did not know much about autism and the spectrum of disorders until they involved him directly as a father. After an initial, steep, learning curve, Thorkil began to perceive his autistic child’s skills, especially an excellent memory and an astonishing eye for detail. On the other hand, he felt heartbroken at the paucity of his son’s life options, until he met an autistic teenager who was very bright and highly skilled at computers. A gift that he kept to himself. This sparked the idea of Specialisterne, which employs autistic people, who have ten times lower fault rate in software testing, programming, data-entry and other tasks. The positive impact is fourfold: expressing unharnessed talent, securing meaningful employment for the autistic and helping them break their isolation, while ensuring economic returns for the company.
Designed to harness the unique talents of autistic people, Specialisterne provides a neglected population with the tools to become an active, independent part of society. Drawing from Thorkil’s IT background, Specialisterne provides autistic people with coaching, a supportive work environment and the skills required to succeed on the job. His company is bridging the autistic community with the business world in an unprecedented way.
Specialisterne has operations in 32 locations in 15 countries around the world and is focusing on expanding in the US, Asia, Australia and Latin America. More than 1,000 individuals with autism have been trained and employed by Specialisterne and its partner companies. People with autism employed by or through Specialisterne between 2008 and 2012, generated a net value of DKK 13.5 M (ca. € 18 M) for the Danish State. In the next three years their goal is to create one million jobs for people with autism.
SCALING SPECIALISTERNE IN SPAIN
Over the past years, Ashoka Spain has been closely supporting Francesc Sistach and social investor Ramon Bernat to scale Specialisterne in Spain, by providing strategic advice, invitations to pitch in major conferences and events, to increase visibility and attract potential partners. Ashoka also connected Francesc with companies such as Accenture and Price Waterhouse Coopers. As a result, in 2014 during the startup phase, 13 consultants got jobs in data, document handling and software testing in companies such as Avnet, Everis and Sogeti-Capgemini. In 2015, Specialisterne provided a meaningful job to more than 30 individuals. Among the partners who support Specialisterne’s training courses in Spain: FSC Inserta, Fundación Once and the Employment Office of Madrid and Barcelona, the two cities were Specialisterne operates in Spain.