VSD field visit to the gad Foundation, Berne
The VSD group’s Tuesday morning is dedicated to a social enterprise working with long-term unemployed in Berne. Social firms and their approach to labour market integration is a very interesting topic for development cooperation. Social firms can be one instrument to create jobs and incomes for disadvantaged people – and creating jobs and improving self-esteem is one of the key social activities of the private sector. Social firms popped up in Europe and the US in the early 20th century. They often disappeared after World War 2 and then re-emerged quite recently mainly because since the 1980s there are less and less remaining jobs for disadvantaged people in the “normal” private sector firms.
Manuel Haas (head of integration division, Canton of Berne) explains that in the Canton of Berne, only 46’000 of about 1 million inhabitants are welfare recipients; 10’000 of them are unemployed. Social welfare is collectively governed by the Canton and the communes. Labour market integration programmes (BIAS) are offered on three levels:
- Offers for social stabilization
- Offers for stabilization perspectives and professional integration for youth and young adults
- Job offers and promotion of key competencies for the labour market.
Additionally the Canton of Berne works with entrepreneurial social firms whose target groups consist of long-term unemployed that have not yet succeeded in other labour market integration programmes. Ideally these market-oriented social firms not just create jobs in a second labour market, but really aim at integrating its beneficiaries into the first labour market.
Rolf Zumstein (founder, foundation gad) introduces to the gad foundation’s objectives, which include social and economic integration as well as vocational skills development for youth. They offer on-the-job training in bicycle repair, sales, laundry, gastronomy, CNC training, and many other sectors. One example is the gadPlus restaurant “& Söhne” in Berne, where very experienced chefs work together with former long-term unemployed people.
GadPlus was founded 2012 as a market-oriented subsidiary of the gad foundation to provide business-oriented jobs for long-term unemployed. GadPlus was initially financed by the Canton of Berne. At present they have a framework contract; the Canton finances the effective labour costs within integration projects, operating costs are funded by the value added. The participants mainly do simple tasks such as mailings or assembling at relatively low cost. Beneficiaries however have real employment contracts (as it’s not just an employment programme) and they earn a basic salary. Most of them still need additional social welfare payments. To get enough orders for social firms, it is very important to ensure high quality standards of products and high flexibility as social firms mainly compete with outsource production in Asia.
The people working with gadPlus usually do not obtain training diplomas but they of course get reference letters for the work they do. Most of the beneficiaries have completed vocational secondary education and became unemployed later. In that case the fact that someone has updated his skills on the job is often sufficient to obtain a new job, especially for the elderly. About 10 percent of the participants can successfully be reintegrated into the first labour market, 60 percent remain with the social firm for a long time.