Czech social entrepreneur offers disadvantaged people a chance

Two persons shake hands. [Gerarlt/Pixabay]

This article is part of our special report EU in my region.

Profit is not the only reason to start a business. There are enterprises in Europe whose aim is to help other people, usually the less fortunate ones, with their career.

These so-called social enterprises provide jobs for long-term unemployed, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged people such as asylum seekers or people released from prison. Many of those enterprises rely on EU funding, particularly the European Social Fund.

There are 220 social enterprises registered in the Czech Republic. One of them is Semitam, a company providing cleaning services in the town of Havlíčkův Brod, southeast of the capital Prague.

“Our customers often don’t even know that we are a social enterprise,” said Martina Kadlecová, the founder of the company.

Semitam provides jobs especially for people with health disabilities and mental disorders. “For example, we employ a boy who cannot speak,” said Kadlecová.

Released prisoners deserve change

Her project first focused on former convicts because she had worked as a social pedagogue in a women’s prison before.

“Prison is a place where people have to follow strict rules, unwritten laws and restrictions, but after the release, there is no continuity. So I got the idea to provide an opportunity to those who have decided to change and devote their strength to work,” explained Kadlecová.

She started the business in 2011 and a few months later successfully applied for financial support from the European Social Fund.

“In the beginning, I had to learn how to effectively manage a business because with our employees it is not easy at all,” said Kadlecová.

According to her, EU funding is a great possibility to get financing for such projects. She participated in training courses and joined various platforms grouping social enterprises to learn as much as she could.

“However, I encountered some problems while reporting certain formalities.”

The labour and welfare ministry made different demands to the employment office and some conditions have changed over time. But it has worked out, and Semitam has been selected as an example of good practice.

Now the company is preparing for another project to diversify its portfolio – freeze-drying. “With this modern technology, we would process the products of local growers,” said Kadlecová.

According to the labour and welfare ministry, more than 120 new social enterprises were supported during the 2007 – 2013 programming period and more than €23 million was allocated to them.

Only a handful of applicants were successful

In the next period, 2014-2020, more than 200 social enterprises were interested in the subsidy but only a handful succeeded in their applications and were granted subsidies.

There were several reasons for the failures. “The applicants submitted intentions that did not take into account all aspects of social entrepreneurship. Some of them were only socially oriented, or they had a primarily economic motivation,” said the labour and welfare ministry.

Subsidies were therefore allocated only to those that combined a social dimension with competitiveness and sustainability.

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