City: Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria
Improving the livelihood and social status of vulnerable people by establishing a social enterprise: the project aims to establish and develop a municipally-supported social enterprise in order to provide secured employment of disadvantaged people in Dimitrovgrad, thus improving their quality of life.
Image courtesy of www.innova-eu.net
Holding Organisation: Social Training - Professional Centre, Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria Status: Municipal social enterprise Financing: EU Operational Programme "Human Resources Development" & municipal budget People involved in the project: unemployed lone parents, people with disabilities, members of minority groups, the enterprise team, volunteers Public Partners: Municipality of Dimitrovgrad Private Partners: No Creation Date: 13 November, 2009 Sources & Links: www.sp.dimitrovgrad; е-mail: sp.dimitrovgrad à gmail.com Contact Persons: Magdalena Vancheva, Manager
The purpose is two-fold: 1) to improve living standards and increase the opportunities for social involvement of vulnerable persons/groups; 2) to guarantee the supply of certain goods and services to municipal organisations. In this regard, the establishment and development of a social enterprise is most relevant.
The local context
Vulnerable and unemployed people living in the municipality of Dimitrovgrad have few opportunities for social integration. Meanwhile, a multitude of municipal organisations are in need of reparation services and tailoring services or goods. Thus, if a social enterprise provides domestic services to municipal bodies both problems could be addressed. As well as this, the funds for these types of services (previously paid to private companies) are instead directed to support the social enterprises. This investment therefore has a double effect: municipal organisations still use the services that they are in need of, even more so than before, but social capital is also created.
The starting point
Once the “Social entrepreneurship promotion and support of social enterprises” –pilot phase was announced, the municipality of Dimitrovgrad took the decision to apply for financing. The project, upon being approved, was put into action on November 13th, 2009.
How does it work
The social enterprise works in two areas: tailoring, and repair of domestic appliances. Vulnerable people on social assistance are selected and respectively trained before starting work under the management and supervision of qualified specialists.
The social enterprise is in charge of maintaining the municipal child-care services, municipal companies, institutions and others. The same customers obtain goods manufactured by the “Tailoring” division. In addition, a large part of the municipality's advertisement materials are manufactured by this social enterprise.
The particular orders and activities are organised depending on the respective necessities and in compliance with customer needs and the enterprise’s capacities. Its success is mainly due to its flexibility and functionality. Its stability is guaranteed by the municipality and is protected through the usefulness and efficiency of the performed activities.
Participation and governance
The enterprise is supported financially by the municipality’s budget; as well, the municipality takes part in the decision-making through the mayor and the municipal council. Stakeholders include all municipal bodies in need of the performed services. Stakeholders also encompass the Directorates of “Social Support” and “Employment Office” as this project creates employment for disadvantaged people.
In order to comply with customers' and vulnerable groups' needs, active dialogue takes place prior to any decisions made.
People, businesses and civil organisations are responsive and sympathetic to the cause and are glad to support the process of solving any problems related to consumers or activities of the social enterprise.
We still do not have any official partners except the municipality; however, social capital and social partners are accumulated over time.
Added value of the project
The social enterprise uses buildings and facilities provided by the Social Training-Professional Centre in Dimitrovgrad as well as project-procured equipment. It takes use of the popularity of the former Training-Professional Company “Labour” as a place to receive domestic services.
The services are used by child-care facilities, child dance and music ensembles, community centres, clubs and cultural figures. They have the opportunity to use the resources of the social enterprise, thus increasing their own opportunities for development and artwork. In this way some resources are released while other resources are generated, thus the effects of the establishment and operation of the social enterprise are multiplied and spread among more and more people and organisations.
Our major challenges are related to human resources and financing:
- People employed to perform our major activities come with burdens relaing to disability, marital status, financial or emotional difficulties. There have been cases when these particularities affect people’s work even to the extent of being unable to perform any work. At the same time, there are days when motivation can come from nowhere and this enables them to perform miracles almost. All these pose as challenges to the management staff who have to be completely focused and pay careful attention on a daily basis.
- Flexibility and the ability to react quickly, adequately and sometimes in unusual ways are a must. Copious amounts of patience, moral and mental stabilities are also needed. The social enterprise team has been so far successful in this regard.
- An important part of the financing comes from the municipal budget and to a certain extent is secure. However, being considered a social service, the enterprise is not allowed to carry out usual trade activities nor enjoy revenue from such an activity. However, being an enterprise, it should be allowed to sell in order to be financially sustainable. Moreover, people and companies are interested in the enterprise and the gathered capital could be used for the social activities performed by it.
The European Union is expected to keep on supporting the development of social economy during the new programme period. Should the financing scheme allow for the participation of existing municipal social enterprises, we will have the opportunity to create additional employment and begin new/ auxiliary activities.
Proposals for change
We need changes to the legislation regarding economic issues: the social economy is the third type of economy and should not be attached to the public or the private sector; it does need its own rules. Considering the cause and social orientation, grants, protected manufacturing, quotas and the possibility to trade should be regarded as appropriate. I do not consider appropriate the shift from project-established social services to something that is far away from the needs of people for whom the initiatives were first created. Once municipalities have obtained the opportunity to establish social enterprises, it is necessary to find a way to responsibly support them.
The choice of activity was unlimited in the pilot phase; however, in the next phase only five options were eligible. Considering the diversity of people in risk, I do not believe that the provision of equal possibility for employment within five types of activities is feasible. On the one hand, there are impressive social entrepreneurs creating innovations and innovative approaches, while on the other there are people who are severely limited in what they can do. Whatever the work, a basic job still employment and all types/levels should have the right to be part of the social economy. We have to find a way to promote every attempt of persons at risk to become active and make the effort to improve their lives.
In case of possibilities for (further) financing, we would expand our activity and open a carpentry workshop since, for the last three years, we have assessed the need of such a service and believe that this type of activity would compliment the repair of domestic appliances.
As for the tailoring activity, we need modeling workshops, specialised equipment and a warehouse. We also need a flexible model for calculating workers’ remuneration. In general the model works; the social enterprise is developing and people from our target groups evaluate the benefits to their quality of life. The enterprise is thus gaining popularity in the community and accumulating precious experiences on how to activate social services.
Other valuable projects
The municipality of Dimitrovgrad carried out the project “Social Enterprise – Public Laundry”. The project was realised under “New possibilities”. With the project's completion, it will now be transformed into a municipal enterprise. Although the project's sustainability contract requires that the enterprise provides secured employment to disadvantaged people for the next five years, it will be subject to the Trade law and the Municipal property law in terms of legislation.
All in all, the project has been successful and its objectives have been achieved within the terms of its execution. The project contributes to the engagement of the municipality of Dimitrovgrad to the social economy and to the creation of social capital.