On July 8th and 9th, some of the project partners from Net-Works finally were able to meet in Bucharest, Romania. Due to the current sanitary situation, some of the participants were able to join the meeting whereas others were joining the meeting online.
The meeting was an opportunity, first and foremost, to meet with the partners and to get to know each others, as it has not been possible since the beginning of the project. This was an opportunity to also make a point about the project developments and agree on the next steps.
During the two days of the meeting, the partners met with local work integration social enterprises (WISEs), that explained their work, issues they face as well as why they joined the RISE network, and what that has brought to them.
The first one was Organizația Umanitară Concordia, a WISE that hosted the meeting in their hotel and café. Alice Stavride, administrative Director at Concordia and Development Director at RISE Romania, explained that Concordia is a founding member of RISE and that being part of a national network allowed them to know other entities and realities of the countries, facing the same challenges. She underlined that the sector is very poorly financed in Romania and that RISE and its members are looking for financial tools to fund the network, such as with access to EU funding.
The second one was Ateliere Fara Frontiere, that presented two of its operations. The first one EduClick that deals with WEEE management, aiming to recondition as many computers as possible for schools in marginalised areas and offering a socio-professional path to vulnerable people for (re) integration on the labour market. The second workshop is Remesh which stands for a second chance for disadvantaged people that AFF supports to reintegrate into society and a second life for outdoor advertising materials, such as banners, that are reused by turning them into useful products.
The third WISE visited was Viitor plus, which is composed of two workshops. The first one, Atelerul de Pânză, aims at making environmentally and human-friendly textile products, reusable bags made of 100% cotton (untreated, unpainted, unbleached), reusable masks and various products created from pre-production textile waste. It also offers jobs to people with disabilities or social problems. Since 2014, Atelerul de Pânză has acquired the status of protected unit authorised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Justice, a status that guarantees that at least 30% of employees are people with disabilities. We also visited another workshop from Viitor Plus, namely RECICLETA, which is a social economy initiative launched in 2009, as a transport service for medium quantities of recyclable materials (up to 150kg & 1mc): paper, cardboard, PET plastic cans, box foil, aluminium cans. RECICLETA provides transport by cargo-tricycles and an electric car, by avoiding pollution, thus supporting green jobs. They operate in Bucharest, in the central and semi-central area of Bucharest.
The last part of the meeting in Bucharest consisted in sharing experience with RISE Romania and the project partners. Ancuta Vamesu, President of AFF and RISE Romania described how RISE Romania has been founded, in 2013, with 8 members and is now composed of 11 members. In Romania there is a social economy law regulating social enterprises, but WISEs are a new concept in Romania. The development of the network is fundamental to enforce all WISEs on a national level and access to funding: common values and representation supports empowerment, recognition and advocacy rights of WISEs. In Romania, there are a lot of social enterprises integrating disadvantaged groups into the labour market, but they are not all recognised as such by the law because of administrative and bureaucratic obstacles and issues. In Romania, the means used for disabled workers is sheltered workshops, which are receiving some funding.
Miodrag Nedeljkovic, from IDC, describes the mission of IDC and explains that the Serbian government financially contributes to the salaries of disadvantaged workers and the legislation foresees a certain amount of disadvantaged and/or disabled people to be employed.
Sreten Koceski, from CDI, talks about the mission of CDI and tells that the North Macedonian legislation is very similar to the Serbian one illustrated by IDC. There are a lot of social enterprises engaged in the lifelong learning programme to support disadvantaged groups. There is no law about social enterprises in Macedonia. The current law on NGOs does not avoid economic activity, so there are different opinions in the social debate about how to develop this status. Sreten thinks that a specific law may not be needed.
According to Ancuța, from RISE, one of the major potential advantages of having a specific law regulating WISEs is the eligibility to public funding particularly aiming at the professional integration of disadvantaged groups, whereas other SMEs are receiving funding. Enterprises with a social mission could be valorised for the added value and the social impact towards the society. Ancuța explains that the amount of money collected through the membership fees is not enough to financially sustain the network. No support is received from the Romanian government, but the EU funding is an important source of financing. A very interesting discussion that the Net-Works partners could face in the next meetings is: “How do you sell the need of being part of a network?”, “What can be the source of financing of WISEs networks?”.
Duncan Walker, from ISEN, explains that his network is not eligible for national funding in Ireland, but fortunately EU projects are a good resource. The comparison and mutual learning from other networks are key to develop new sustainable models.
Erika Kolumban, from Galileo, explains that there is no WISEs network in Hungary and the Hungarian legislation does not provide a good financial system supporting the work integration of disadvantaged people. People with complex disabilities do not have the chance to be employed, generally speaking, as it is expensive and often there is a lack of a good pedagogical model. People normally need a personal career path, in order to be closely followed and this is not envisaged by SMEs.
Filipa Cabral, from A3S, explains the story of RESIT, which was gathering 6 WISEs in Portugal, but whose activity stopped in 2020. A3S was then officially re-estabished in 2021 and it is now member of ENSIE. The EU dimension is very important as the support from other WISEs networks across Europe is visible. The national funding is only addressed to Continuous Vocational Education Training systems, so WISEs are not eligible for this. The Portuguese legislation does not recognise WISEs as such.
The meeting was productive and fruitful also thanks to the exchange and constructive comparison with different, even though similar, organisations operating in social integration and social inclusion through work experience.