On October 28th and 29th, the project partners met in Bucharest, Romania, for the first study visit of the Net-Works project. The study visit consisted in two parts, first a “good practices transfer” session on the 28th with all the partners followed by a SWOT analysis of social enterprises networks. On the 29th, partners joined an advocacy meeting with the State Secretary of the Romanian Labour Ministry.
About the Hybrid Study Visit Methodology
Study visits are a crucial part of the learning process for Net-Works project, which has as one of its aims to facilitate the discovery of solutions and strategies to common problems shared by partners of different regions across Europe. This is done through the sharing and learning of good practices implemented in various regions that are part of a project consortium.
The Net-Works project aims to improve policy instruments supporting WISEs and Social Organizations’ capacity to establish new national or regional networks of adult education providers and facilitate their involvement in European Cooperation. For this reason, one of the tools of the Net-Works project is the learning process provided by first-hand information from study visits and the exchange of experiences and good practices.
About the Study Visit
The study visit was organized in 2 half days, the afternoon of 28th and the morning of 29th of October 2021.
Considering the pandemic, and the restrictions imposed by Romanian Government due to the wrong COVID situation in Romania, the event was organized hybridly, to allow all organisations to participate in presence or online, thanks to the streaming via Zoom.
About Ateliere Fără Frontiere (AFF), host organization
The event was hosted by the “Ateliere Fără Frontiere”, based in Bucharest, together with RISE ROMANIA, the Romanian Network of Social Insertion Enterprises.
Ateliere Fără Frontiere (AFF) – Workers without borders has been established to facilitate the access of people from vulnerable backgrounds to the labour market, in order to build their self-confidence, professional and personal independence. AFF has over 13 years of expertise in preparing, placing, and supporting people into life-changing professions that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The beneficiaries of social and professional support services are people who accumulate multiple difficulties, selected on the basis of their motivation to work and make changes in their lives and referred to Workshops Without Borders by public institutions and NGOs providing medical services.
AFF's social partners refer to people who have multiple difficulties and cannot be activated only with training, vocational counselling or career guidance and direct placement on the labour market, as they need integrated socio-professional support and prior employment to go to the conventional labour market.
AFF offers a stable job, insertion services and pedagogical support for skills training and work experience. The social and professional independence program lasts two years, being divided into several stages, and at the end of this course, its beneficiaries find support in securing a job on the conventional labour market or in social enterprises.
People in socio-professional integration programs also participate in a series of courses to be more aware of a healthy and independent life.
The Romanian Network of Insertion Social Enterprises (RISE) was established in 2013 and gathers:
- social enterprises, insertion social enterprises, accredited or not
- authorized protected units
- organizations providing resources or assistance to social economy entities, social enterprises, socio-professional integration of disadvantaged groups, grant administrators for the establishment of social economy enterprises
- experts in the field of employment, socio-professional integration of disadvantaged groups, social economy (individuals and legal entities)
The purpose of RISE is to promote the social, professional and economic integration of people in difficulty in Romania on the labour market, through the development of social enterprises.
RISE advocates for social and cohesion, economic and environmental policies that guarantee the full exercise, with respect for human dignity, of access to essential rights for employment, education, housing, maintenance, culture and well-being, including the excluded and marginalized.
Activities and methodology
The study visit was composed by three main sessions:
- Good practices transfer session;
- A direct experience on Advocacy, visiting a Member of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of Romania;
- A professional discussion on networking and cooperation between business sector and social enterprises with the French Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Romania.
In principle, it was the intention of the organizers to propose visits to social enterprises based in Bucharest. Unfortunately, this was not possible due to the pandemic: It should be taken into consideration, however, that during the Meeting organized in July 2021, also in Bucharest, the project partners had already been able to visit the social enterprises thanks to the organization of AFF. This extra activity organized in July was very useful to overcome the impossibility in October to carry out the visits in person.
28th October - Good practices transfer session
The 1st day was structured like an exchange of good practices, a discussion between professionals, open to the Net-Works project partners, to the Romanian social enterprises and interested organizations and
The aim was to share experiences and practices among participants, to know better about the story of the Romanian Network and social enterprises, experiences, difficulties and solutions, suggestions. The first event focuses on networking, social entrepreneurship, and European good practices.
Thanks to the streaming connection, social enterprises from all over Romania, members of the RISE consortium, participated in the transfer session of good practices, offering a valuable contribution to the event.
An added value to the event, an enrichment of the exchange of good practices between social enterprises and networks, was possible thanks to the co-presence of the participants of another EU project: the Erasmus+ "Blueprint" B-WISE project, which develops a new strategic approach to sectoral cooperation on the skills needed to strengthen the empowerment work of WISEs.
These professionals were able to take advantage of the experience proposed by the members of AFF and RISE Romania, of the professional discussion, and shared their experience.
To ensure that the transfer of good practices was effective and complete, a few bullet points were decided:
- Presentation of all participants (project partners and Romanian social enterprises)
- How to look for new adult education providers, potential WISEs network members;
- Leading a network;
- Joint Advocacy and policy actions
The session was moderated by Galileo Progetti.
During the session, partners worked on a SWOT analysis regarding social enterprises networks, talked about network development and leadership, brought back in the collective memory of RISE and the debates for changing the Law on the Social Economy.
The leader of the project, the European Network of Social Integration Enterprises - ENSIE shared its background as a European network. Then, it was time for the sharing of the good practices, the experience of the host organisation AFF and the members of RISE Romanian Networks:
- CRIES - Resource Center for Ethical & Solidarity Initiatives
- Viitor Plus
- Canvas Workshop
After the presentation of the participants, participants used the methodology of the SWOT ANALYSIS, to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of social enterprises and social entrepreneurship, and of networking.
The session gathered a team of people from a range of functions and levels in European social enterprises, and used brainstorming techniques, such as the questioning/answering, to identify strength, weakness, opportunity, or threat.
Workshops Without Borders Association (Ateliere Fără Frontiere – AFF) is a Romanian non-profit organisation, established in 2008, for the social, professional and civic insertion of vulnerable, excluded and marginalized people. AFF is part of SOS Group – International Action, a global network that works to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The three main objectives of the association are:
- The fight against social exclusion
- Fight against waste and pollution
- Building solidarity and local development
The mission of the association is to promote the integration of people in difficulty on the conventional labour market, such as: victims of violence, people with addictions, disabilities, long-term unemployment, custodial sentences, homelessness, school dropout, etc.
CONCORDIA Humanitarian Organization is an independent, non-governmental and non-profit organization, active at the international level, whose mission is to support families in difficulty and the social (re)integration (family, school, professional) of children, young people and adults, towards an autonomous and responsible life. If at the beginning the organisation provided services in placement and shelter for street children, the organisation later developed projects of independent living, vocational education and professional counselling, culminating in the establishment of social enterprises designed to directly support the integration into the labour market of young beneficiaries.
In CONCORDIA, at national and international level, social affairs are seen as a strategic and effective direction in fulfilling the organization’s mission to help young people in need become autonomous and independent. Thus, through the social business structures, the organization aims both to increase employment opportunities for vulnerable young people by ensuring their access to other social support services, training and independent living skills, and to ensure a minimum of 50% of the costs of these enterprises from their operating profit. In addition, through these initiatives, CONCORDIA aims to engage in lobbying and advocacy activities to strengthen the social entrepreneurship sector in Romania.
CRIES - Resource Center for Ethical & Solidarity Initiatives
The CRIES Association – Resource Center for Ethical and Solidarity Initiatives was born in 2009 as a result of the implementation of the pilot project Territories of Co-responsibility, developed by the Council of Europe in partnership with Timișoara City Hall, Mulhouse City Hall, and other territorial actors in Trento and Paris.
The organization aims to promote a sustainable economy, facilitating the development in Romania of several pilot initiatives in the field of social and solidarity economy. Thus, the CRIES association has developed as a resource center for the social and solidarity economy, having as main areas of action participatory democracy, community-supported agriculture, fair trade, social enterprises, responsible consumption and ethical financing. CRIES is a founding member of the International Network of Social and Solidarity Economy, RIPESS Europe and a member of the RISE Network – the Network of Social Insertion Enterprises in Romania.
The economic activity carried out includes a wide range of activities, among which:
- Training in the field of social and solidarity economy – organization of training programs, information workshops, study visits and mentoring for social entrepreneurs, teachers, staff from non-governmental organizations and public institutions.
- Education for responsible consumption – implementation in high schools and universities of programs to promote responsible consumption, fair trade and sustainable development among young people. Over 3,000 young people participated in organized educational activities;
- Research and production of specialized materials – research and resource materials on the social & solidarity economy, responsible consumption, fair trade, ethical financing, such as: studies, guides, brochures, textbooks, films. Among the materials we mention: Be part of CSA! Guide for community-supported agriculture (2016), Social economy for young people (2018), Guide for responsible cultural events (2018), Handbook for promoting responsible consumption (2018);
- Advocacy and networking – participation in local, national and international advocacy campaigns on the social economy, fair trade and community-supported agriculture.
Viitor Plus (Canvas / The Linen Workshop)
Atelierul de Pânză (The Linen Workshop) is a project of the non-profit organization ViitorPlus Association for Sustainable Development, organized in the legal form of a LLC. The Atelierul de Pânză (The Linen Workshop) started its activity in 2009, with 3 beneficiaries and a specialized employee (for training the beneficiaries and organizing the production). Since 2014, the Atelierul de Pânză (The Linen Workshop) has the status of a protected unit, which means that a large part of its staff is made up of people with disabilities. At present, out of a total of 15 employees, 11 are people with disabilities who benefit from a decent and stable job.
During the workshop, people with disabilities are recruited through job postings published on OLX or Publi24 platforms, BestJobs, eJobs and through DGASPC. Also, the beneficiaries have the possibility to address directly to the enterprise, through the contact form on the web page www.atelieruldepanza.ro .
The insertion process implemented by Atelierul de Pânză (The Linen Workshop) focuses on the principle of equal opportunities for all employees, creating a stable and inclusive working environment, promoting the fact that both people with disabilities and those without disabilities can work in cohesion, they can be just as productive and represent important team members. The company offers stable jobs, a salary package 75% above the minimum wage in the economy and a working environment that promotes the participation of all members of the company in the impact decisions of the organization.
In terms of economic activity, Atelierul de Pânză (The Linen Workshop) aims to reduce the consumption of plastic bags and offers consumers an alternative to them – cotton bags. Thus, the workshop makes reusable products with a long life: bags or accessories made of 100% cotton fabric, as well as accessories made of scrap material.
Moreover, Atelierul de Pânză (The Linen Workshop) aims to be a promoter of the circular economy using textile waste as a raw material in the production process – the Puzzletex product line. The company currently operates three production lines:
- bags / sacks / accessories made of 100% natural cotton fabric;
- accessories made of scrap material (promoting the circular economy);
- reusable textile masks;
The members of RISE Networks shared their story. When RISE network was born, the idea was to have a legal framework, in 2015, so this is the main advocacy campaign and reason why organisations decided to come up together. The campaign included action towards the Ministry of labour, consultation and involvement activities carried out in order to gather opinions and inputs from the ground, which enriched the legislative proposal through contributions. The network's action was successful, and the law was created, based on the French law.
Already in 2009, an informal network of social economy to share experience at the local level started its activities, like a “step-by-step” informal network thanks to informal meetings that started to be more formalised.
Now the formal network still organises meetings quite often, and contacts external speakers according to their own expertise to add a particular value.
RISE is active and reactive, and open to cooperate with other networks. For example, in the Recovery and Resilience plan, they consulted with other networks trying to improve the social economy sector.
RISE reacts and intervenes when they know that something is moving but not toward the direction they wish, but in other cases they are proactive, as happened for the legislation proposal in 2015, or in the most recent one, which was rejected.
SWOT ANALYSIS – Networks of Social Enterprises
The network is a single voice, but this is a “plural” voice, it represents many realities, it is stronger and can have more effect than the instances of a single organization.
Sharing knowledge and expertise helps the improvement of social enterprises.
Organizations and professionals feel more important as more supported within a network.
Networks can do a joint advocacy vis-à-vis public authorities and institutions.
A network can act both waiting for what happens at the political level, and react, and can also solicit policy-makers on new topics.
In many European countries, both EU and non-EU members, funding is very scarce for social enterprises, which cannot afford the expense of replacing a professional and effective network.
In many cases the network is an informal organization. The lack of legal recognition of the network weakens it in the face of decision-making authorities.
The lack in many partner countries of a legal framework for social enterprises and WISEs: there are no regulations on the type of organizations that can be considered 'social enterprises', nor on minimum quality standards.
The lack of legal frameworks makes it extremely difficult to merge between orphanages which, while working for the same general objectives, are different in constitution, methodology, specific objectives, sustainability, financial rules, and taxation
In some countries of Central-East Europe, cooperation between organizations is less common, and there is a basic mistrust that makes networking and lobbying difficult.
Acting like a network, it is possible to cooperate on business collaboration, improving each sector of activity. Many start-up WISEs were not having the funding to survive. Helping each other in this sense is key.
A network can provide learning and teaching opportunities to its members, allowing affordable costs and better quality.
It is possible to start the network from a very small group of enterprises, promoting at local level the inclusion of other new members.
Given that social integration enterprises are not the only actors operating in the social economy sector, it is important to define the scope of the network: are networks representing only WISEs, or should they advocate the whole social economy sector (including foundations, associations, NGOs)?
It is important to clarify that networking is a mutual cooperation. Members must consider both “what the network can do for my organization?” but also “what can my organization do for the network”? It must be a bi-directional support, and it must be a shared and accepted starting point.
Leadership is fundamental, in terms of persons: it is important to have a leader who is recognised by the stakeholders and who has a very good knowledge about social policies and social economy matters. In the beginning, especially, the leading role is very important to gather all organisations being part of the network. The leader can support a lot on keeping members who would like to give up as well.
It is very important to have good internal communication: without it, it is very difficult to have an easy cooperation between members, and the network could not be stable.
Partners agreed: politics, as wellbeing, matters!
29th October - Advocacy meeting: visiting a Member of the Romanian Parliament
The partners attending the event in presence in Bucharest had the opportunity to meet, on the 29th of October, with a Romanian Member of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of Romania, Oana-Silvia Ţoiu, Chairperson of the Committee for Labour and Social protection.
Ms. Toju welcomed the delegation in her office at the Romanian Parliament, after an introduction of all participants and their own organisations, Ms Ţoiu presented her role at the Romanian Parliament and her prior experience as social entrepreneur in Romania. She explained why it is important for WISEs to make their voices heard in defending the rights of the vulnerable, talked about solutions that these enterprises address and the legal framework of social economy in Romania. Topics such as social procurement policies and state aid have been discussed with a particular focus in Romania. Even though social procurement policy exists in the Romanian legislation, social clauses are not compulsory when drafting and publishing a tender. In other words, social clauses are not properly included, which constitutes a problem for WISEs. Ms Ţoiu explained that given that there is no clear and detailed mapping of social enterprises operating in several sectors across Romania, it would be an issue to make social clauses mandatory, whether it is not certain that social enterprises are operating everywhere and in which sectors à potential next step for AFF and RISE: providing a detailed mapping of WISEs in Romania, eventually together with other social economy networks or actors, in order to jointly advocate for better recognition and compliance of social procurement policies in the country. This can be inspiring for the other partners of the Net-Works project, taking into account features and characteristics of their own country/region.
Martina Paterniti, from ENSIE, explained that in the framework of another project a mapping of WISEs in several countries is currently taking place and Romania is indeed represented by RISE. This mapping will also provide clearness on social procurement policies across EU member states and state aid policies applying according to the specific context. Ms Ţoiu suggested the organisation of a roundtable when results of such a mapping are going to be available (, given that the topic is highly interesting for the MP.
Networking and cooperation between business sector and social enterprises
The project partners meet online Ms. Flavia Popa, member of CCIFER (Chambre Française de Commerce, d'Industrie et d'Agriculture en Roumanie) board.
The French Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Romania business community founded on French know-how is a leader committed to the sustainable development of people, companies, and Romania. Ms. Popa shared the point of view of the business sector representatives. Currently, the companies are the main customers of the services and products delivered by the social insertion enterprises. Moreover, the vulnerable people that are currently accompanied in social enterprises are a viable option to work conventional jobs in private companies.