Inclusion, valuing Difference

Inclusion, valuing Difference

The pioneering Centro Incluir is the only one of its kind in Portugal and Europe that offers people with disabilities the chance to find their place in the labour market. And to make their dreams come true.


When João Pimenta started working at Pingo Doce, he was far from imagining the change it would bring to his life. With a 95% degree of visual impairment, finding and keeping a job was never easy. Society is not organised so as to integrate people with disabilities and incapacities into the labour market, and his first experience of work only went to prove this. Having completed the 9th grade and specific training as a baker, he applied in 2018 and was given a job at the counter, serving coffee and cakes, and then later in production.

As part of a team that demanded him to work at the same speed and do the same tasks as his co-workers, he ended up not having his contract renewed. For two years he failed to find another job, but never became discouraged. He decided to learn how to play the bagpipes, carried on playing sport and never lost heart. Confident in his own worth and that his disability did not define him, his priority was always to find another job. He signed up for a project at the Santa Casa da Misericórdia and, to his own amazement, discovered that, now with a baby daughter, he was to return to Pingo Doce. This time it was a different story, with a happy ending.

black and white portrait of Susana Campos




Pioneering a new method of training and supervision, customised for each trainee and adapted to the jobs they might be called on to do in each of the businesses of the Jerónimo Martins Group, Centro Incluir first opened its doors in Lisbon in 2021. A model developed internally by the team working on inclusion in order to promote the employability of people with disabilities, or at risk of social exclusion. Jerónimo Martins has long-held aspirations in this area.

Susana Correia de Campos, Head of Employee Relations & Internal Social Responsibility for the Group, explains that the aim “is for us to be the most inclusive retail group, putting all our good practices at the service of the community and inspiring other companies to follow the same path. The employability people with disabilities and their inclusion in society as full citizens is not just an aim, it’s a leap forward in civilisation to which we need everyone to contribute.”

The Incluir programme has existed since 2015, and the first Centro Incluir added to the Group’s ability to respond to these needs. The centre was built from scratch to cater for different types of disability: signage and fonts chosen to be easily readable by people with visual impairment, a tactile floor plan and Braille translation for the blind, colour codes for the colour blind, a lift for those with motor disabilities are among the examples.

João Pimenta was part of the first intake at Centro Incluir, in early 2022. After two weeks of classroom training, with practical exercises, he went on to train in a work setting under the supervision of his tutor and his inclusion team. And everything changed. “When I joined the company for the first time, the training was the same for everyone – and I was the only person with limitations. Here, in contrast, they cater for each person’s difficulties.” As a result, the same Pingo Doce where he had worked in the past finally became “home”.

This time, not only was he fully prepared to work at the store, but the store was properly prepared to welcome him. Cláudia Varela, who was responsible for recruiting and training him, recalls that they worked on coping (the cognitive process through which people deal with problems or stressful situations), resilience, social and transversal skills.

Then they just needed to add what João Pimenta was already able to do in his job. In other cases, however, it may be necessary to extend the training period, make some adaptation to the work station or create devices to help people in their work. And the centre takes care of all these issues. Once he’d completed his trial period, João Pimenta was wired to work on filling shelves during the night shift. He is able to work independently, without needing any extra help, apart from his smartphone, which he uses to take and enlarge photos of the products he has to put on the shelves.


Such was the success of the Lisbon centre, that another was opened in Porto, in July 2022. Teresa Santos, Diversity & Inclusion Manager, makes no secret of her pride in this project, which has changed the lives of so many others. “We realised that the people arriving here had never had an opportunity in the job market. They were in great need of training and support.” The decision to expand the team with people specialised in social rehabilitation and inclusion “was a game changer. People now come into our stores with confidence, not just because of their classroom training, but also because of what they do at the training store. They’re not taken by surprise. They know the responsibilities they’re going to have, their abilities and their limitations”, added Teresa Santos.

Inês Ferreira, Inclusion Operational Specialist; João Pimenta, Pingo Doce’s employee trained in the Centro Incluir; Teresa Santos, Diversity & Inclusion Manager; Cláudia Varela, Inclusion Training & DevelopmentManager.Inês Ferreira, Inclusion Operational Specialist; João Pimenta, Pingo Doce’s employee trained in the Centro Incluir; Teresa Santos, Diversity & Inclusion Manager; Cláudia Varela, Inclusion Training & Development Manager.

If there is a secret to this success, explains Cláudia Varela, “it’s that we believe in people, we believe in more than just a diagnosis, we believe we can give them more opportunities in our company”. “Centro Incluir changed my life. I’m more confident now. The centre made me feel they were there to help me and I know I can turn to them if I need to”, says João Pimenta, always with a smile on his face, even after a night shift. “The company makes a difference through inclusion, it doesn’t exclude people because of their limitations. That says it all.”

Susana Correia de Campos is “at a loss for words to describe the feedback we’ve had from our trainees: the ‘before’ and ‘after’ in their lives, the opportunity to develop their talents, to realise their ambitions and dreams. And their families, who now find their children, brothers and sisters becoming independent, happy and motivated”. And she concludes that “disability and incapacity are things that can happen to us at any stage of our lives. Being aware of this is essential if we are to break down the cycles of prejudice”.