European forum and fair of social enterprises
and cooperatives of persons with disabilities
Type of practice:
Development of social entrepreneurship, exchange of experience, enlarging opportunities for employment of persons with disabilities and realization of business contacts.
The sector of social enterprises has an annual turnover of over 50 billion Euro within Europe. NUWPC is actively involved in strengthening social economy in Bulgaria. The Union’s policy includes support to the activity of social enterprises by organizing national exhibitions with their participation.
These events originated in 2003 – the European year of persons with disabilities.
Since 2012, the Union has organized an international event – a European forum, within the International Fair of Plovdiv, Bulgaria covering international conference, roundtable and European fair.
This key event became a reality thanks to the support expressed by the European Commission and financial support from DG Enterprise and Industry in the person of Mr. Antonio Tajani – Vice President of the European Commission. Mr László Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion inaugurated that Forum.
Other co-organizers of the event were CECOP, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Agency for Persons with Disabilities, National Union of Worker Producers’ Cooperatives, National Federation of Employers of Persons with Disabilities, Union of the Deaf in Bulgaria, National Union of Cooperatives of Persons with Disabilities.
The overall objective of the project is by participating in an international forum to make popular the active social position of the members of specialized enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities, their achievements in their jobs, in the process of integration into the social life of the country.
In the long term, the goals of the projects are to organize and hold national exhibitions for specialized cooperatives and enterprises of persons with disabilities and to overcome the low public awareness of the opportunities for persons with disabilities. We should overcome the negative opinion of employers who look with reluctance and distrust at the potential of persons with disabilities to provide wholesome labour and make earned money.
Through popularisation of their activity, in practice we achieve the integration of persons with disabilities into the labour process, acceleration of their rehabilitation and social integration and improvement of their socioeconomic status.
Total of 74 social enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities from Bulgaria and Europe took part in the First Exhibition. The participants from Bulgaria were 64 social enterprises and cooperatives. Participants from Europe: the NGO „Group 484“ from Serbia presented its social economy network uniting 24 organisations; the association ANSPL in Italy covers 893 cooperatives and 5 consortium achieving annual turnover of EUR 12.87 billion; Educational Agency from Toscana, Italy – specialised in education, retraining and development of projects for new enterprises and cooperatives.
As an extension of this very successful European initiative and in accordance with the implementation of the Social Business Initiative launched by the European Commission, NUWPC organized from 21 to 24 March 2013 the Third European Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.
During the Forum, a conference and round table on issues of social entrepreneurship took place. Experts from the European Commission (DG “Enterprise and Industry”, DG “Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion” and DG “Competition”), CECOP and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of the Republic of Bulgaria participated and presented new aspects of the EU policy in this field.
In the Fair held during the Forum in 2013, 87 social enterprises and cooperatives displayed their products and services (12% more than in year 2012), coming from nine Bulgarian national representative organizations and from based in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Norway, Italy, Poland, Romania, Malta and Serbia, covering an exhibition area of 950 m2. More than 27000 persons visited the Fair.
In 2014, for the third consecutive time, the European Forum of enterprises and cooperatives in social economy took place from 20 to 23 March in Plovdiv, covering again a conference, fair and roundtable.
The conference presented new aspects of the policy for the development of social economy, presented at the European Conference in January 2014 in Strasbourg, and had discussions on these issues.
Once again, representatives of social enterprises and cooperatives from EU Member States had the opportunity to participate in their specialized European Fair, offer their products and services, create new partnerships, share experience, best practices and strengthen ties.
In 2014, there was a growth of 7% in the number of participants in the Third European Fair compared to their number in 2013, namely 93. Representatives from Turkey added to the already traditional participation of EU countries. Especially increased was the number of visitors, namely 31000 persons (15% more compared to the preceding year).
In the opinion of CECOP and other European participants as well as of Bulgarian NGOs and the government, this event has an increasing importance for the future and the Forum became annual. It has established itself as a place, where the policy of the EU and the national policies directly meet representatives of real social economy, of social entrepreneurs from across Europe.
Summary of practice
The European Fair is a message to the entire European Union that we should actively support the cooperatives, social and specialized enterprises of persons with disabilities by implementing special programs to support this kind of firms.
Social enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities are very widely used in modern society, in applying business methods to solve social problems.
The European fair of social enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities is an innovative model for strengthening specialized employment and workforce development. It is a kind of mechanism for social inclusion of persons with disabilities.
It provides opportunities for sustainable employment of persons with disabilities in the country by popularising their work and establishing new contacts and business partnerships.
Upon an area of over 1,000 m2 of exhibiting space at the most famous Expo centre of Bulgaria – the International Fair of Plovdiv, products were exposed, made by persons with disabilities. The r of their work displayed at the exhibition, become available to a wide range of participants and visitors – governmental and public organizations, business firms and consumers in the country and abroad.
We should note that such large-scale events are not within the power of individual specialized enterprises of persons with disabilities. The enterprises participating in the exhibition are not just looking for playing field, but they also purposefully seek public recognition for the various products manufactured by persons with disabilities and the services. The national associations and specialized funds and agencies at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy are rendering essential support to them.
Within the framework of the Project, an international conference and a national round table discussing current topics in the field of social economy are organized. They attract representatives of various European institutions, governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
The participation in the European fair for social enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities is activating all processes related to the implementation of Europe 2020 Strategy by effectively utilising the available resources and improving the competitiveness, enlarging the numbers of the persons participating in the labour market. To persons with disabilities, securing the economic, social and territorial approximation is of great importance.
Based on the contacts with exhibiting firms from other countries, inclusive from EU member countries, we get the opportunity to accelerate the integration of specialised enterprises and cooperatives with leading Bulgarian and foreign firms for structural and technological renovation of production and expansion of the markets and new partnerships. Specialised enterprises, which participated in the Fair, will continue to work towards acceleration of innovations and the transfer of new technologies and rational utilisation of resources in compliance with EU standards. We expect that the popularisation of the activities of specialised enterprises among society will positively influence their sales and the sustainable employment and personal enhancement of disadvantaged persons.
Within the framework of the project, the managerial and organizational capacity for planning and coordination of international events was improved, both within the participating enterprises and cooperatives and within NUWPC and the organisations contributing to the realisation of the European Fair.
Effect and impact
Growing up of the national exhibitions into European fair for social enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities will intensify the governmental attention in many countries towards supporting sustainable development of social enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities. Popularisation, beyond national borders, of the potential of such enterprises, adopting and implementing measures to create favourable conditions for developing and strengthening the international cooperation will increasingly contribute to a successful integration of disabled persons into public life.
Practically, we are implementing the main tasks related to an accelerated integration of persons with disabilities into economic and social life of the country and their social inclusion; we make changes in the form and manner of communication, in enhancing public awareness of the problems and opportunities of persons with disabilities and implement programs aimed at solving such problems.
The European fair of specialised enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities supported the development of social enterprises and the improvement of social economy in Bulgaria and demonstrated the best examples of inclusion of persons with disabilities into the labour market. This forum contributed to changing the attitude towards persons with disabilities and strengthening the social capital in the country.
The benefit of the project consists in enhancing the social inclusion and personal fulfilment of a significant group of persons with disabilities, improving their quality of life, increasing the social credit and financial results of the firms employing persons with disabilities.
Of primary importance is the inclusion of partners (public and private) into the process of development and realization of such a forum like the European fair of specialized enterprises and cooperatives of persons with disabilities. The assessment and recognition are currently high and this provides an incentive to the organizers to do everything possible to continue this activity, because the motivation of institutions, organizations and businesses concerning persons with disabilities is very high.