Laia Serrano: “The economic crisis has made a lot of people more socially conscious”

Inspiring people


Laia Serrano (Barcelona, 1973) is the founder of Barcelona Actua, a community that encourages people to help each other and get involved in social issues.

Soon it will have been five years since this adventure began. The number of volunteers has grown from 100 to 11,000. They are all committed to building a better world.

Laia is the public face of a project born from a desire to take action. She had an idea and turned it into a reality.


What exactly is Barcelona Actua and what are its main goals?
It is a community that encourages people to help each other and participate in social action. The goal is to make it easy for people to get involved and help out in their immediate environment.


How did BAC get its start?
We began as a group of 100 people made up of friends, acquaintances and family members, and now we're more than 11,000. About four years ago—in August, in fact—I read an article about a Valencian couple who made macaroni for about 100 people every Sunday. That's when I thought that if two people had managed to mobilize a hundred people, we—at that point we were around 600 volunteers—could do so as well.


And you did...
Yes, we got in touch with an organization in the Raval called Nova Vida, which provided meals to socially excluded people in the neighborhood, but were closed on Thursdays. So we thought we could provide meals for the people who would otherwise go without food that day. And that's what happened. We began serving meals in the square in front of the Filmoteca and now, four years later, we're still doing it, but in a space that Finques Grau is letting us use.


As I see it, the most important thing is taking that first step, right?
I absolutely agree. That's why we want to make it very easy. There are so many people who would like to help, but don't know where to start.


The way you make it easy is through your platform...
Yes, we are an online community of over 11,000 people. The platform has a space that we call Ágora (similar to the Facebook wall) where people can comment on their personal experiences as volunteers or propose social actions in their neighborhood or outline ideas that eventually become a reality. The strength and courage to take action comes from the users.


What challenges lie in BAC's future?
Our goal was always to export our model to other cities, but for now we're trying to reach more neighborhoods within Barcelona and offer more socially-oriented activities.


If you're offering activities, it points to a growing number of people in need, but also to more and more people willing to help...
Yes, unfortunately there will always be people in need, but on the bright side, there are also more people willing to help. The economic crisis is really tough, but it has made a lot of people more socially conscious.


What does it mean for you to be the head of BAC?
Barcelona Actua is my life, but I don't feel like I'm in charge. BAC is a big ship that is steered by many committed individuals.


How has your life changed?
This is my life's work. I spent ten years in marketing and communication and reached a point where I had to stop. I wasn't happy with what I was doing. I made a marketing plan for my life and realized that what I really enjoyed was working on social issues. I went to Columbia as an aid worker for 4 months, but wasn't sure of what direction to take...


Until it all became clear to you in 2011...
Yes, I was listening to a radio show. One section was called “Question of the day,” and that day they asked, “What will you be giving up this Christmas, because of the economic crisis?” A woman called in, offering food for Christmas Eve and presents for the kids. Hearing her talk got me thinking about how we needed to connect people willing to help with people who need help. That was the beginning of Barcelona Actua. If I hadn't listened to that radio show, there's a good chance none of this would be happening.


How important was social media in spreading the word about Barcelona Actua?
Essential. After all, BAC is a social network and without this new technology, we wouldn't have been able to connect the people who want to help with the people who need help.


In other words, BAC wouldn't have been possible 15 years ago...
Not in the way it exists now, no. It would've been smaller in scale. We wouldn't be able to cover all of Barcelona. We would have to focus on a specific neighborhood.


Luckily, BAC is a reality. Do you think there is a need for more projects like yours?
Yes, we need more projects like BAC, and we need more companies to get involved. Not only in terms of money, but by getting their people, their employees, involved in social action.


What role do volunteers play in BAC?
Their role is crucial, and our volunteers are very diverse, because we reach a lot of different groups. We reach people between the ages of 50 and 60 with activities aimed at seniors, and people between the ages of 25 and 40 with actions aimed at kids.


Do women outnumber men?
Yes, they do. 60% of our volunteers are women. We are the majority, but we're working to balance it out, as well as getting more young volunteers involved, people under 30.


I understand that getting young volunteers is quite a challenge...
Definitely, but we're working with high schools and universities to encourage students to enter the world of volunteer work. We're happy with how it's going so far. The schools play a significant role in making this happen.




Do you like wine?
Yes, a lot.


What is the best moment to enjoy a glass of wine?
A good dinner in good company.


A song to accompany a good wine.
Any jazz number.


A place to get lost in.
Plaça Virreina, a square in Gràcia (BCN).


If you could be reincarnated, who or what would you be?
Any person who was happy and knew how to make the people around them happy too.


What do you do in your free time?
I like reading, walking, spending time with people I love.


A flaw.
I'm very sensitive.


A virtue.


What did you want to be as a kid?
A teacher.


And when you're older?


Find out more about the actions and activities organized by Barcelona Actua on their website:

Categorías: Inspiring people