What’s a good programme like, where countries and towns cooperate with each other? It should focus on topics that are relevant and current for each participant, it should allow them to exchange good practices and it should also offer a potential for long-term partnerships. The Municipality of Gyula now attempts to build such a supporting network through its granted project, called Network for Successful Social Enterprises.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISES FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Town Twinning Meetings
Applicant organisation: Gyula Város Önkormányzata / Municipality of Gyula
Project title: Hálózat a társadalmi vállalkozások sikerességéért
Action: Network of towns
Year of application: 2016
The conference series organised under the Europe for Citizens programme involved seven countries. The great-scale international discussions focused on the role of social enterprises in creating sustainable and inclusive communities – an issue which has received increasing attention in the past decade. It’s a five-stage project whose first event was held in September in Italy, and the rest will last until next May.
"It was back in 2002 that we came to the decision that we need to change the way the foreign relations of our town are managed", city marketing consultant and project manager Edit Hajnal explained the background. "We wanted town twinning meetings to be an opportunity for a meaningful exchange of experience, not only formal meetings. Owing to our limited resources, we weren’t able to implement it for a long time. Then, when we first won EU funding, and a considerable sum, too, new opportunities opened up for us."
The money was soon allocated: both the town leadership and the profession were thinking in terms of conference series. However, the programme goes far beyond that, since partnerships have been continuously developed since the first study trip. "Everybody was happy that something new had started. They thought that if we cooperated it could only turn out right. We wanted high-quality events, with a different theme each year. We wanted them organised in a way that all our partners could benefit from them, not only us. Not only municipalities should get closer to each other, but also the representatives of the civil, cultural and social sectors."
CAN IT BE ALSO DONE LIKE THAT?!
The representatives of Gyula first travelled to Budrio, Italy, in mid-September. There they got to know one of the town’s most successful and recognised social enterprises, Cooperativa Pictor. The organisation – celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and operated without any funding from the state or the municipality – seeks to find employment for people who live in the Bologna region and struggle with various difficulties. The 130 people employed include young people with mental or drug issues, single mothers and people over 50 who are unable to find employment in the labour market. The employees of the company do various kinds of work in the region, from cleaning to municipal services, gardening or operating school canteens.
Besides, they also installed a number of alternative energy sources around Budrio. They do not seek profit but to give people hope and support to help them get back their self-respect.
At the opening of the Budrio conference, Mayor Maurizio Mazzanti emphasised: the citizens of Gyula and Budrio are working on a common plan which serves the unity of the EU. Dr. Ernő Görgényi, Mayor of Gyula, thanked for the EU’s support, and then talked about the importance of a change of approach required by the current economic processes.
The participants could also learn why social economies are the very organisations which may be suitable for renewing European market economy. "The citizens of Europe must hold together and adapt to the changed employment structure", one presenter pointed out. They also talked about what really made an enterprise 'social', and how it was possible to balance between financial and social goals. Then the Italian partner presented the activities of Dolce Social Association. Established in 1988 and counting nearly 2,000 members, Dolce is an organisation which makes everyday life easier for over 3,500 people. They help take care of the elderly and support single parents. Without exaggeration, without their help, "life would stop in Bologna County", the Italian participants wrote in their summary of the programme.
The delegation from Gyula presented the 'fairy garden' programme of the Wenckheim Krisztina Public Foundation. The foundation from Gyula established a nursery garden of native fruit-bearing plants, serving not only as a gene bank, but also as a community space. Also among the speakers was Boglárka Erdei from the Hungarian Interchurch Aid, who presented one of the most important organisations engaged in supporting the homeless in Hungary. Later on, the representatives of the institutions and civil organisations shared their experience informally with each and the broader public.
ACTIVITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
"Italy has decade-long good practices that work, so there’s a lot to learn from them", says Edit Hajnal. "In the Year of Active Ageing, for example, we learnt about the activities of Magnolia Social Centre: the municipality provided them the building where the residents do various jobs. For example, former teachers teach again, and the Centre also has its own bar and travel agency. It means they are self-sustaining and they cleverly assert their interests. We were very impressed by this active involvement. This year, we got to know an organisation which functions as an employment agency, only specialising in disadvantaged groups. Since we wish to adapt these good practices, we always try to send experts from the relevant fields to the meetings, too."
Besides Italy, similar local relationships are also built with Romania, Germany, Slovakia, Serbia and Poland. Next, the fifty-member delegation from Gyula will be visiting Arad in December to work together on issues like education and social economy. The delegation will include professionals from the municipalities, as well as representatives of companies, institutions, schools and non-profit organisations. In spring, they will be visiting Komarno to study local models related to local social changes; in Covasna in April they will focus on legislation, and finally in May a great-scale closing conference with 300 participants will be held in Hungary again. "What really matters is that a constructive dialogue has begun between the twinned towns and their organisations, as a result of which the network is continuously developing and expanding with the involvement of new partners", summarises the results Edit Hajnal. "The short-term goal is discussion and experience exchange with the municipalities, but we also have a longer-term goal, which is strengthening civil societies and involving them in decision-making. It is only a side-benefit if, while implementing the projects, we also get to know the cultures and lifestyles of other regions. It’s always a great pleasure for us."
Interview: ZITA KEMPF
Last modified: 10-04-2018