5.1 Short description
The Croatian Employment Office has developed a grant scheme “Women in the Labour Market” within the Operational Programme “Human Resources Development”, financed by IV. Component of Accession Assistance (IPA). Projects funded through this grant scheme are designed to include in the labour market those women who are faced with special difficulties in employment, such as long-term unemployed women, unemployed women aged 40-65 years, unemployed single mothers, unemployed Roma women, unemployed women belonging to ethnic minorities and working women that are inactive. Project activities include participation in programmes of personal development and education tailored to individual needs, strengthening the motivation for participation in educational programmes and employment programmes, and providing psycho-social support.
Development Agency North has applied the project “Her Second Chance” in partnership with the City of Varaždin, Varaždin Open University and the regional office of the CES Varaždin. The value of the approved project to Development Agency North is 118,058.56 euros.
The very composition of the project stakeholders emerged as a new network of hybrid cooperation between stakeholders from different sectors. Here we have a city government that provides support for the project and demonstrates the political will for this type of project to take place in the city. The main organiser was the development agency North, which has considerable capacity for developing projects in the Varaždin area. They specialise in innovative projects, which they operate in the meso-environment of the Varaždin County. Stakeholders were also from the spheres of education and training. Open public college provided education services. In addition to supporting organisations that participated in the preparation and realisation of the project, CES District Office was also involved as a representative of a centralised national organisation, which is responsible for active employment policies. Already from the structure of the stakeholders we can see, given the size of the city, that a new type of project network has developed that includes local stakeholders and national institutions, development agencies and educational institutions.
The project aims to improve the socioeconomic conditions of disadvantaged women in the Varaždin County through their empowerment, training and development of business skills. Through the establishment of associations of women, they will seek to encourage them to actively seek work. The Association provides assistance in finding a jobs, raises awareness among members about the opportunities offered in the labour market and will provide a focal point for information exchange between women job seekers and potential employers. Social innovation in this case is a new form of organisation that was founded from the programme, especially regarding their knowledge and capacity in dealing with the problems of marginalised women. This is seen as an innovative way of self-organisation of one of the disfavoured groups in the labour market with the concept that it will enhance their chances for employment. A new type of organisation is created, with new forms of services that are clearly different from that which existed up to now on the ground. Women as a disadvantaged group in the labour market did not only get training and acquire new skills making them more competitive in the labour market, but are also provided relationships with people who are in similar positions. The association provides them support in a difficult employment situation but also provides new opportunities for activation and interaction in the development of new projects, increase of personal and group abilities and capacities.
This innovation has elements of top-down and bottom-up approaches. The IPA has launched a grant scheme and mediation of CES shows that innovation is somewhat raised by the guidelines of EU funding that is specifically allocated in some areas and thus opened up certain sectors to innovate. But innovation is bottom-up because the second part of the project, after the training and capacity building, turned into an association that is guided and controlled by the users themselves, and can raise effective incentives for the development of further activities in women’s employment area.
We can distinguish between the economic and political aspects of this invention. The economic dimension of innovation is the attempt to overcome the problem of female unemployment, especially in local communities. There is considerable lack of programmes to activate and assist women in the labour market, particularly in local communities. The political dimension of the action is realizing the project through the CES as a mediating factor, which is directed by IPA funds of EU but also in recognizing the needs and support local authorities who have proved willing to help in the realisation of the project.
5.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
For the purpose of capacity building, training was conducted in which women were educated for several occupations. Women received additional knowledge and competencies to compete for new jobs. In addition, research was undertaken to evaluate the motivation of women to participate in various aspects of the programme. By doing this, valuable information was obtained that enabled modification of the project to effectively and adequately meet the needs of programme beneficiaries. Initial training included most participants; 133 beneficiaries of the project were included in the education sessions on “Basic computer skills” and “Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship.” Here are some thoughts about the first users training, quotes that illustrate elements of empowerment, innovation and usefulness of the programme for capacity building and raising the labour market chances7.
The first day we started with a workshop “Fundamentals of computer”. It was almost, well, terrible. I kept repeating in my head, “I cannot do this, what am I doing here, will I’ll finish this?”, but after we became familiar with what we were doing. Now I am more than satisfied with participation in the project”
Lots of good topics and activities were covered that will later come in handy in employment and life in general. From education to the next project, I expect as much as possible from this – opportunities that will lead us to the employment.
These quotations were singled out as indicators of the participants’ thoughts about the visible impact of the project and training for women in Varaždin. Women with a lack of confidence may become more confident and start to believe in their abilities and chances for employment. There is also an element of friendship and unity, which shows that the project aims to support the achievement of women in similar situations.
The project’s participants were also involved with the training/workshop on gender sensitivity. Special attention is focused on empowering and encouraging women to actively work within their communities. Beneficiaries of the project received additional training. They attended the training programme to become certified nurses (15 beneficiaries), and were given a new title, which is entered in a work booklet. Also 48 members have passed the training programme for business – grower of medicinal and aromatic plants, accountants, and cooks of simple dishes and desserts. Over time, 63 beneficiaries successfully acquired new professions that made them more competitive in the labour market. Besides education, users were addressed in new way by providing to them association that arise from this project and their interest for self-organisation in local community to develop women capacities and enhance their chances on labour market.
5.3. Internal organisation and mode of working
Innovative capacity is shown in the transformation of the project in which the association is still involved in education in order to increase its capacity and took proactive action in their environment. For this purpose, they have participated in courses on “Marketing and management of non-profit organisations” as well as the 5-day workshops that helped stakeholders to understand the importance of the associations. This showed orientation on further development and progress, taking the necessary steps to establish associations to be adequately prepared and competitive in their work. Their awareness of future challenges and opportunities for action in the EU funds and synergic performance networking are included in the workshop on “Networking and the development of regional partnerships.” After they have completed the theoretical and practical parts of training on the project Civil Society Organisation “Her Second Chance” (H2C) was established on 10 June 2011. The establishment of the civil society organisation is foreseen as one of the required activities within the project. Initially, H2C had 124 members8. A couple of months later the Office of H2C began with the work. It was anticipated that the office would apply for tenders to attract funding, perform office administrative tasks, and carry out a partnership with civil society organisations, local and regional self-government bodies, businesses and other organisations. The aim of the association is to support the rights of unemployed women through the implementation of their own and other programmes/projects, in order to raise their competitiveness in seeking and obtaining employment. Activities are addressed in order to achieve the following objectives: exchange information and experiences, creation and implementation of joint programmes and public initiatives related to the topic of employment and self-employment of women, promotion of employment and self-employment of women through formal and informal education, and cooperation with national and international organisations and institutions whose primary goal is employment and self-employment of women. Social innovation in this case is a new form of organisation that was founded from the programme, especially their knowledge and capacity in dealing with problems of marginalised women. Self-organisation of one of disfavoured group in the labour market is an innovative concept that will enhance their chances for employment and ensure continuing of the work on that goal.
They employed two people in office, to establish a central point in a small town where the women can go, get information, have support and will continue to implement projects. Unfortunately, after the first period, they did not manage to get funds to continue with the employment. As one of the members said
So it was planned that our salaries were funded for 3 months. Unfortunately, no more than that. In this period, we should provide some form of self-financing or continue without employed persons only on a voluntary basis. It was of course a short period of time and it seems to me that it was not really thought what objectively could be done in the 3 months period.
They did not manage to get funds for salaries due to the difficult economic situation during the economies crisis, but also due to their relative inexperience in developing new projects. They now operate on voluntary basis but they continue with the relative scope of the activities. As their member said: “My opinion is that it is not necessary that someone is employed at the association, but we must have enthusiasm and desire. For a while that stagnated. Now some new members have joined and a new president who has the desire and knowledge”. They lost some of the members over time and now they have 26 active members. Many more women are in some way associated with the organisation. Some of the women stop being members when they become employed, some of them just lose interest. Nevertheless, the association is in communication and open to larger numbers of non-members9.
5.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
To ensure future visibility and effective networking with key stakeholders involved in the employment of women, members of the association participated in various conferences and round tables that were thematically relevant. They achieved visibility for their efforts, including establishing goals, raised the interest of the public and made contacts that useful for further cooperation, facilitation of work and support for new projects. In addition, an association that was derived from the project has become a new participant who advocates women’s empowerment and to the specific perspective of women in the community. They were particularly actively presented in the local environment. They operated through word of mouth of satisfied beneficiaries involved in project but also on participation Špancirfest, which is the most visited and most important event in Varaždin and other similar events.
Sustainability on the local welfare system: After the completion of the project, the organisation that was established guarantees the sustainability of project objectives for the target group of women. It has emerged as a guarantee that the end of the programme will not neglect further work on encouraging and strengthening the capacity of women to be competitive in the labour market. Also it opens up new space for dialogue, cooperation and networking with other partners in all areas. Women have a new place where they can turn for support, to increase opportunities for employment and for the activation of new projects, which would bring job opportunities directly or indirectly by acting on the microenvironment and improving conditions of employment opportunities for all women. As said by their prominent member “Association holds us together in some way”10.
They showed the capacity to connect with local government and become one of the important stakeholders in the part of the welfare system dealing with active politics of employment.
In conclusion, social innovation in this case is a new form of organisation that was founded from the programme, especially their knowledge and capacity for new ways of dealing with the problems of marginalised women. The main result is self-organisation of one of the disfavoured groups in the labour market with an innovative concept that will enhance their chances for employment. This is a new way of addressing users because it was developed from the users themselves, the project activities were generated not only to educate but to empower women, increase their skills and also to create possibilities for employment opportunities for women in Varaždin. Such an approach carries the potential for innovation because it relies on new work culture. Unlike most previous centralised programmes, through self-organisation and association, proactive communities become the dominant aspect of the work and activities culture. Management style it is completely decentralised in order to let users to decide on the future work on the assembly with democratic principles. For now, the impact of new forms of organisation of this type on the employment system as a whole is not clearly distinguishable. Nevertheless, we can say that this is certainly a decentralised attempt to create new and innovative capacity at the local level. Taking that into consideration, it has the potential to be transferable to other cities as example of local initiative that has changed modes of operation and ways of addressing users in field of women’s unemployment. Its long-term sustainability depends on capacities of the organised women and their continues efforts towards achieving their goals.