• The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    Be prepared for the future: start your own venture!

    Today’s youth is made up of incredibly talented individuals with the potential to use their knowledge and creativity to make the world a better place. Indeed, it is the most knowledgeable generation that has ever lived; moreover, completion of tertiary education keeps increasing. However, the job market is changing and a significant number of these students will never be employees in the traditional sense. The traditional concept of the full-time, permanent job in which a worker is contracted to work for a single employer in return for a guaranteed salary – as experienced by baby-boomers – is long gone.

    When is the perfect time to have your first entrepreneurial experience? The answer, in our opinion, is: during your studies!

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the average person born between 1957 and 1964 held 11.7 jobs between the ages of 18 and 48 and nearly half of these positions were held between 18 and 24. Millennials and, even more so, Generation Z are predicted to change jobs at least twice as many times as their parents did. Furthermore, a PwC report on the future of work indicates that 46% of HR professionals expect at least 20% of their workforce to be made up of contractors or temporary workers by 2022. Finally, the integration of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in most, if not all, economic sectors will lead to further disruption of the current job market.

    In this environment, where employment is less secure and in general less available, with machines performing most of the repetitive tasks, there will be a greater interest in entrepreneurial knowledge as humans’ competitive advantage will lie in creativity, soft-skills and problem-solving skills. Veronica Colondam, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of YCAB Foundation, who is an expert from the Forum’s Young Global Leaders community, declared that the most important skill of tomorrow is an entrepreneurial spirit – and the skills to know how to apply it: “It is not enough to be innovative or collaborative, it is also about knowing when to apply each of them, and how they can be used in a business context.” Indeed, corporations only have interest in recruiting young entrepreneurs as they bring in new perspectives and ideas as, in the end, even large corporations won’t exist in the future without innovation.

    A 2012 study of 11,000 MBA graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business showed that a career in entrepreneurship, more than any other business- related job, correlates with happiness independently of how much money was made. One of the primary reasons for the happier career is the perceived greater control over one’s own destiny.

    So now that you have all decided to start a career in entrepreneurship, the question that remains to be answered is the following: when is the perfect time to have your first entrepreneurial experience? The answer, in our opinion, is: during your studies! Not really a surprise, as we are the organizers, implementers and supporters of the Social Impact Award. Below you will find 5 generally accepted reasons that support our Claim.

    1. A valuable experience to add on your resume: the normal path to employment -study hard, get good grades, graduate and land your first job – is nearly non-existent. Now, more and more employers expect students to have at least one work experience, yet few are offering such first job experiences. A possible solution to these missing opportunities is for students to develop a small business or a side project during their studies. So, by starting your own project you will have gained valuable experience to put on your resume. Moreover, if your business is extremely successful, then you won’t even need to worry about getting a full-time job after graduation.
    2. Low risk: the objective of creating a social venture for a student does not lie in financial profits nor does (s)he have a family to maintain. The reason why the majority of start-ups fail is that most people never try to implement their innovative ideas! But even if students do fail, the experience gained is invaluable and well worth the time invested. Indeed, by becoming an “entrepreneur” student you learn to be accountable for your actions, nurture your creativity and develop your communication, teamwork and sales skills. In addition, the sooner you can test your ideas, the better; perhaps from an unsuccessful idea, a better one will be born and with the knowledge and experience learned, chances of success increase.
    3. An easily accessible customer market: family, friends and teachers are perfect potential clients. It is very likely that people will be interested and encourage the young adult to pursue his/her entrepreneurial project and support him/her along the way. This will also come in handy when doing market research as getting feedback from friends and teachers is relatively easy. In addition, trends spread quickly in a school environment and everyone is aware of them: creating a small business in response to a current trend can be easy and at the same time, meet a real demand. For example, Thomas Suarez, a 12-year-old app developer, created his app Bustin Jieber, a “whack-a-mole” game in which you pummel the Biebs. When asked why he created it, Suarez stated that “a lot of people at school disliked Justin Bieber a little bit, so I decided to make the app.”
    4. Access to knowledge: Successful entrepreneurs love to give advice to young would-be entrepreneurs. They will be happy to find some time and give you their best tips as they will see you as a student trying to learn more about their project(s) than a competitor trying to steal their recipe for success. Furthermore, Universities and other educational institutes offer an increasing number of entrepreneurship courses, incubation programs and funds for student start-ups. In addition, there are plenty of networking opportunities on campus. Conferences on issues or themes addressed by your start-up, companies scouting the best students, guest lecturers are among the best opportunities to make a first lead which might in the end turn into your first client.
    5. Access to company first needs: workspace, internet connection, meeting areas, printing tools, etc. Nearly all your basic needs as an entrepreneur can be met on campus. This will allow you to get your project running more quickly and with fewer initial operational costs. In addition, it will be easy to recruit volunteers or first employees as you have access to a pool of students working in different fields, with some free time on their hands and interested to have a first job experience.

    It is not enough to be innovative or collaborative, it is also about knowing when to apply each of them, and how they can be used in a business context.

    So by now you are ready to start creating your first entrepreneurial venture, right? Then, why not starting a social venture to do good for others at the same time? This social aspect to your start-up could also become part of your unique selling proposition and be used as a way to differentiate your start-up from competitors. If you are still not sure of what a social venture is, then don’t hesitate to take part in one of the 210+ events & workshops organized by the Social Impact Award throughout Europe and beyond during the spring.

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    Different Corner in Montenegro: The story about persistence

    Social entrepreneurship is young and in its beginnings in Montenegro. With Social Impact Award, in 2016 we market the start of focused efforts in enabling and supporting youth to choose social entrepreneurship as a path to impact social change and employment.

    Among our winners, we had a team of three dedicated young women from Bar, who started the Different corner. This is a story of their challenges, struggles and how they pushed (and are still pushing) through. While challenges are common among new social entrepreneurs, we offer this story to empower and inspire others to start creating despite the uncertainties that lie ahead.

     “A year before today, we believed in our idea. We still do, but we are aware that the idea itself is not enough.” – Jovana’s words marked our summer chat. Jovana is one of the three-person team behind the Different corner. Jovana, Violeta and Ajla always go together, they can rarely been seen without each other, and in the moment of uttering this sentence, we could see Violeta and Ajla nodding in approval.

    Initially, they come together with an idea to open a café that will bring more spirit and culture to slow winter days in the biggest coastal town in Montenegro. A regular café that will enrich the town of Bar with poetry evenings, classical or jazz music, and discussions about books or some wider cultural topics. They planned to earn money from café business and to invest it in culture. Noble, but is it possible?

    “Of course it’s not impossible. We do have a business plan that proves it. However, in real life, business plan sometimes is just not enough. Nevertheless, we are not only persistent, we are stubborn as well. We will do it!” says Ajla.

    Full of determination and spiced with a bit of anger, these words clearly show that those three girls are still challenged by obstacles in setting up the business. The biggest one is the space. They needed more than six months to find premises good and cheap enough. Then, they needed a good architect and additional fundraising for refurbishment.

    “The award money from SIA has been a great initial capital, but even more it has been an important motivation boost for us. When we won, we realized that if the SIA jury believes in us, maybe we can fundraise some money locally, where people know we are persistent and ready to work.”

    Although the new date for opening will not come prior to September of October, the girls are hopeful. Their story is a story of success. Sooner, or later.

     

     

    Author: Zeljko Veljkovic, SIA Communications Officer for BIH, MNE & KOS

    Editor: Vladica Jovanovic, SIA Regional Coordinator for BIH, MNE & KOS 

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    5 Reasons for Opening Healthy Food Restaurant as a Social Business Enterprise

    Freshys – the first take-out restaurant with a social business model in Macedonia

    – SIA winner 2016 –

     

    1. There are people that stay hungry for more than 24 hours (even in your local community)

    Can you imagine that in the 21st century there are still people that don’t have access to proper meals for more than 24 hours? In our local reality, in Skopje, homeless people have an opportunity to visit the open public kitchens that offer free meals only from Monday to Friday. So basically, throughout the weekend these homeless people are left without food. This affects their dignity directly – meaning they must beg for food or do dumpster diving. The restaurant Freshys, together with the organization Kindness and the informal initiative Retweet A Meal, decided to partly solve this problem by giving free meals to the people in need every Saturday in the center of the city.

    The food business is natural way of solving the lack of food for homeless people

     

    1. Restaurant – a great place for promoting social entrepreneurship

    Macedonia is a small country with many social challenges. And we are still at the beginning of the journey called developing social entrepreneurship eco-system.  Many of the young people, and population in general lack the knowledge of what the social business is truly about. As a place visited by a lot of people on a daily base, Freshys is a perfect location where people can taste wonderful food and get better insight into the world of social business. Healthy food and education is a win – win solution for all youngsters.

    It’s a business where a lot of people come every day as a customer/client, plus is a good way of promoting social business and social entrepreneurship

     

    1. Work integration of deprived people can easily happen here

    Future plans and social goals are also directed towards work integration of these targeted groups. As no one needs high education and special skills in order to prepare food, these plans could turn into realization quite easier. A couple of trainings, patience and a lot of passion – and Freshys will be able to employ homeless people, single moms, youngsters that are long-term unemployed, people with disability…

    Work integration project for homeless people or other deprived people, easy to train potential employees from these groups

     

    1. Positive influence on people’s healthy lifestyles

    In Skopje, all fast food places that you can visit in your busy daily life are not really offering healthy food. A couple of years ago, there were only one or two places of this kind, though the food prices they had were high. Opening a healthy fast food restaurant with affordable prices shapes the behavior of people in the local community. It helps them to stay healthy, save money and still not spend their time on cooking! 

    Skopje doesn’t offer affordable healthy food options/ The owner, Ljubomir Stojcheski, is a big fan of healthy food

     

    1. Grab the market share

    With busy agendas nowadays, people don’t have much time for cooking and preparing their favorite dishes and meals.  Having healthy fast food restaurants as an option, they can save their time and do other favorite activities while still enjoying the healthy food. The market for ready-to-eat foods is constantly growing and this gives a chance for growth and a capture of a bigger market share.

    Market shares of food industry is getting bigger/ you don’t have to cook at home

     

    So, don’t hesitate – go for it… open your own healthy food restaurant, work on the habits of people around you, integrate the people in need and do something good for you and your society! 

     

    Author: Marija Matovska

    Editor/ proofreader: Dimitar Chatleski

    Chief-Editor: Tizian Müllritter

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    Fair Cycle – The Community Winner of Social Impact Award Austria 2016

    Fair Cycle produces bicycles and other products that make an environmental and social impact. Produced in Uganda and sold both there and on our market, they combat unemployment and support a sustainable lifestyle. Fair production, materials, price, and impact are the keystones of our philosophy and products.

    mobility. jobs. future.

    With a bicycle, a person can go four times farther and carry five times more than by walking. This allows farmers to transfer more products to the markets, children to have easier access to education sites, families to more easily reach healthcare units, and much more.

    dan-tragt

    THE BICYCLE – MOBILITY FOR EVERYONE

    We are developing an innovative process of joining bamboo poles with recycled plastic bottles to a bicycle frame. This allows people in developing countries to build quality bicycles at a reduced cost while also earning a fair wage in an otherwise struggling economy.

    We will begin production and distribution of the bamboo frames in Uganda and spread to different developing countries as well as western markets. This can be easily done because the needed materials are widely available and helps many people to benefit from it.

    With the prize money we will be able to finish developing our prototypes and plan on flying to Uganda to start building the first bicycles there in 2017.

     

    The four Keystones of our Fair Cycle: 

    FAIR PRODUCTION dsc_2486

    With above-average wages, good work hours, and safe workshops, fair working conditions are guaranteed. The satisfaction of the work results in our consistent high standards.

    FAIR MATERIALS 

    Our aim is to create products out of sustainable and reusable materials. We use natural materials like bamboo, cork, and biodegradable plastic, with other parts that come from recyclables.

    FAIR PRICE 

    We think that a product is only sustainable if many people benefit from it. Our goal is to develop and produce long-lasting products which most people can afford. We don’t want money to be the reason why people can’t choose fair production and sustainability.

    FAIR IMPACT flaschen-uganda

    Beyond fair wages, we also take a percentage of the profit from every sold product and return it to the producing communities. This percentage supports other projects such as the bicycle “Buy One, Donate One” program, house construction, and micro-credit loans.

     

     

    “AFFORDABLE, RELIABLE TRANSPORTATION IS NO DOUBT ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE, BUT UNRECOGNIZED TOOLS OF RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT WORK. A BICYCLE IS AN INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION IN AN INDIVIDUAL’S LIFE.” – K. DAY, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, WORLD BICYCLE RELIEF

     

    In a box: What we learned from SIA in a nutshell: 

    • We entered SIA because we hoped to get the best support for our Idea – which we got.  
    • SIA supported us with a community of like-minded people. This motivated and helped us to stick to our idea and accomplish it– even in times it seemed that nobody else believed in it.
    • SIA helped us to focus on the important things – and not to get lost in details.

     

    Link: Fair Cycle

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

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    “This amazing social venture ecosystem changed a lot for us!” – Refugees Work

    Refugees Work is one of the new rising impact ventures in Austria. On September 29th they were among the winners of this year’s Social Impact Award Austria. Today, they explain what there venture is about and how the Social Impact Award helped them to accelerate their activities.

    Refugeeswork.at is an online job platform that connects refugees with employers & streamlines the whole recruiting & onboarding process for both sides by providing different online- & offline services. In doing so, we help employers to find hidden talents and increase their corporate diversity, while supporting candidates to access the labor market according to their skills and knowledge.

    “Our mission is to make refugees` potential accessible to the labour market & to break down negative stereotypes towards refugees.”

    The Social Impact Award 2016 helped us to accelerate our activities in a very early stage by offering us coaching support, a great network, workspace & seed funding – exactly what we – a young start up – needed. That’s why we applied for the program in the first place. Apart from making many new friends and meeting inspiring people, entering and being part of this amazing social venture ecosystem changed a lot for us!

    We will invest the three thousand euros in one of our projects that aims at breaking negative stereotypes towards refugees, particularly in companies, in order to improve the image of refugees generally, but also to grow our customer base, increase the number of placements and raise awareness towards the economic benefits of differences in corporate organizations. This will hopefully bring us closer to our ultimate goal, which is to create equal chances of refugees (and/or migrants) on the labor market.

     

    Contact: office@refugeeswork.at

    Website: refugeeswork.at/

    Facebook: facebook.com/refugeeswork.at

    Twitter: twitter.com/refugeeswork_at

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    It is our vision to build more inclusive communities! – ZIAG

    When in January 2015 for the first time 35 refugees came to the small village Berndorf bei Salzburg, hometown of Natalie Haas, initiator and project leader of ZIAG everything started by just doing it. What the community saw after some months was that a new inclusive community, together with the refugees, developed inside their village.

    “When after a few months other villages contacted us, invited us to share our experiences and asked what it was what we did, that it worked, that we are able to live together in a positive way, we finally realized, that it was not a big plan in the beginning, but rather an organic way of little ideas evolving one after the other, where everyone participated with their interests, ideas and resources, that led us together. We realized, that strength lies in differences, not in similarities. Everyone can contribute with their own ideas.“

    pb__7866In 2015 some 90.000 people sought for asylum in Austria. The first step for refugees in Austria is living in a community and waiting for their positive paper. Some people in those communities have reached out to help and are full of successful ideas for positive co-residency with refugees inside the community while others are fearful, maybe want to do something but just don’t know how and what. Regardless of ones opinions, refugees are here now and the only way to face the challenge is to include them into our communities.

    Community is the answer!

    ZIAG is the first platform with ideas for positive co-residency with refugees inside the community that workshopleiterinnenziag-1
    connects locals, refugees and mayors and gives them ideas, knowhow and support to participate actively in the community and the integration process. This happens online through the easy to use idea collection where everyone can contribute their ideas for positive co-residency with refugees inside the community and thus make it available for those who don’t know how to start. Offline we visit the communities, build local integration teams, coach them and support all parts of the community through workshops from our experts for mayors, from already integrated refugees for asylum seekers and from experienced volunteer coordinators for volunteers.

    Strength lies in differences, not in similarities!

    We’ve entered the SIA program, because we wanted to realize our idea, we knew that it is the right thing to, but didn’t know yet how we can achieve our goal and which steps we need to take to realize it. 

    ziag_teamThe SIA helped us to further develop our idea and the publicity we got through it helped us to build a strong team, a network of partners, supporters and advisors that is crucial for our sustainability. With the 3000€ we will fund our integration program in the first 5 villages. It makes us proud to see that our work is worth it and that people do believe in us and our project and to know more individuals and projects now that are giving their best for social good with the same passion that we do.

     

    It is about the small ideas to reach great impact!

    The great support we received from all around while the SIA incubation phase and to be within the winners now is a proof of our project and it helped us finalize our concept and starting to implement.

    We want to encourage everyone to get involved in their communities as much or as little as one can. If you are wondering what difference you could possibly make, it is a huge one! Little by little, together we can all contribute to a big positive change. 

     

    Everybody can contribute!

    Contact: hallo@ziag.at 

    Website: www.ziag.at

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ziag.at/

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    Prevent Group – An example how shared value is created in Bosnia and Herzegovina

    In times of changing business models, in which social shared value plays a more important role, Prevent Group is a good example how to persist as one of the largest private sector companies in Bosnia and leading automotive suppliers in Europe while supporting social needs.

    The Prevent Group strives to be a valued corporate citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are highly committed to creating shared value (CSV) and believe that companies are expected to invest in societies and build better local communities.

    In order to create this shared value they invest in business development, education, philanthropy and environmental sustainability. Supporting 1393 scholars of Hastor Foundations in whole Bosnia and Herzegovina, they give chance for education to youth in rural areas and those in need. They support them all the way through their studies in order to help them achieve their goals. At the end of that road, they become experts and contribute to further development of education system, economy, politics, and laws and so on.

    Prevent Group introduced its manufacturing operations in 1999 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Group commenced in Visoko with a production of seat covers. The Group’s manufacturing system follows the just-in-time model, which requires continuous and strictly synchronized delivery of parts to minimize inventory and optimize speed and quality of production.

    This applies to Prevent’s own products and to the delivery of parts to the Group’s customers. With a proven and successful commitment to the economic and social development of Bosnia and Herzegovina and an enviable record of success in production, Prevent is a model of best practice and a magnet for foreign investment.

    Prevent maintains the highest standard of social responsibly throughout its operations. It is committed to transparency and follows a zero-tolerance approach to corruption.

    The Prevent group is actively committed to maintain absolute respect for human rights across the whole spectrum of its employment policies, production operations and corporate citizenship initiatives. Prevent is actively engaged in developing new techniques and new technology to prevent any environmental damage arising from its production operations.

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    The wandering café – an opportunity for homeless people to get back on track for good

    Zsófia Folk (26) is a law student at Charles University in Prague. She worked as a volunteer at the Endre Ady Student Club, at the League of Human Rights, at the organization FairArt and – as a visiting student – at the Budapest law firm Réti, Antall & Partners. She co-operates already with František Kusy in creating a culture portal www.magyarbohemia.cz. This time she talks about her new project.

     

    VB3VeloBloud is a tricycling café in style, offering premium coffee, something like ice-cream vendors of the past century, with a difference, however – the employees are homeless people.

    SIA is a very good opportunity for young organisations to gain experience, to get inspired and to improve their projects.

     

    We’ve entered the program because we wanted to realize an idea – the Wandering café, and we hoped that SIA could help us to achieve our goal. We were right, we’ve not only made progress in our project, but we’ve met some fantastic people with great ideas.The goal of our project is to make these people and their world visible to others. For one thing, we are trying to take away the prejudices of the society about this social group, and for another, we want to help homeless people to get back on track for good.

     

    VB4

    Thanks to the contacts we have established with coffee roasting companies, our coffee is of exclusive quality. Currently we have one VeloBloud, with one employee – thanks to the project she is not  homeless anymore. Our plan is to employ two other people by the end of this year. 
    After a great start in Prague we would like to improve the project, that is why we are launching a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo – our plan is to build another tricycle for Prague and to open a cafe in Budapest, too.

     

     

    Our team:
    Zsófia (26), law student,
    Karel(30), postgraduate in economic geography,
    Fero (35), graphic designer, technician
    Sára (25), co-worker

    Wish us good luck! 🙂

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    Coccobello – an idea that saved a village

     

    Guzel Sanzhapova is a 26-year-old girl who has decided to revive Maly Turysh, the semi-abandoned village of Tartar.

     

    coccobello7Maly Turysh is a little village. There were 50 houses in the Soviet period. Right now there are only 16. People don’t have any job because there is nothing to do there. It is a typical scenario for Russia when villages die because of urbanization. Old people of these villages do have a pension but it is too small. They could buy only the most necessary things so as not to die because of hunger and cold.

     Guzel’s father inherited an apiary from his mother in the Village of Maly Turysh. Guzel loves her parents very much that’s why she bought her father a tractor. He used it in order to produce honey in the apiary, but it didn’t help him to sell the honey successfully. Guzel doesn’t like typical honey because it is too sweet and simple. Perhaps, the reason for this dislike is that her family overfed her with it, as Guzel said. After some time she decided to take over the honey production. She decided to produce cream honey by adding berries to make it less sweet and tenderer. She started a campaign on the Boomstarter platform to buy bee families and special equipment for the apiary. The focus in the story that Guzel has developed during the campaign was that this honey production would give jobs to the population of Maly Turysh and, thus, revive the village. People liked this story. The project got 454 000 rub instead of expected 150 000 rub on this crowd finding platform.

     

    coccobello3This is how Guzel Sanzhapova started her social business. She saw the employment problem in the village and decided to solve it. Coccobello company hires mostly old people. Now they have jobs. People are happy to understand that they do something that people want and are ready to pay for. In 2013 Coccobello hired 7 people, in 2015 Guzel hired 18 what is really good for a social startup of that kind. Of course, Coccobello’s honey is more expensive comparing to regular jar of honey. The transportation of the product from Maly Turish and the making of the cream honey need much more expenses than a regular honey manufacturing. However, people buy Coccobello’s products. Guzel thinks that the story is attractive and thus is what pulls people to do so.

    Guzel’s business is 3 years old. She wants to expand it. Her tender love to her parents (who work there) and this place make her to do more and more good things for the Village of Maly Turish. She built a playground for kids and has started to develop eco tourism there. Golden youth from Moscow and hipsters from St. Petersburg are interested in these unusual tours and are ready to be her first clients. 

     

    All in all, Guzel revives the Village of Maly Turysh. Her actions prevent typical villages’ fate and actually change the history of Russia.

     

    coccobello2

     

     

    http://cocco-bello.com/

    http://boomstarter.ru/

  • The stories of some of the best projects from the previous years

    A personal experience on Shades Tours

    In 2012, a group of students in Prague won the Czech Social Impact Award with their idea to offer tourist tours run by homeless people. The idea turned into a great success story and Pragulic is today one of the strongest, most-known social businesses in the country. Inspired by this and a few other examples across Europe Perrine Schober from Vienna developed her own social business called SHADES TOURS with a slightly different approach. We now took part in a SHADES TOUR in Austria’s capital and… hell, we loved it!!

     

    Working with social entrepreneurs, one meets people with incredible ideas and businesses.

     

    Image-1-1One such person is Perrine Schober of SHADES TOURS. For any person that has not met Perrine, or heard of SHADES TOURS, here is a bit of background. SHADES TOURS offers activities and tours that discuss homelessness in Vienna. Recently, the first tour given in English. The tour is a highly interactive experience led by one of Vienna’s homeless (or houseless). The English tour stopped at three locations in the fourth and tenth districts of Vienna, the main station, outside Caritas Peace Haven, and a local park.

     

     

    The tour started off at Vienna main station.

    A group from Impact Hub were on the tour that beautiful, sunny day. Initially, the tour met in front of the train station but it was warm and sunny, so the group moved through the train station to the other side, where it was shady. While walking through the train station, a homeless man with all of his possessions attached to a bike passed by the tour group, it was a sharp contrast to the beautiful sunny day outside and the camaraderie of the tour guests. Standing in the shadow of the train station our guide asked questions about how people became homeless and what homelessness meant. The tour group and the guide discussed why the train station is a gathering place for the city’s homeless population and the stories that unfold there daily.

     

    At the train station the concept of the Street Management Teams was introduced. These teams comprise of dedicated social workers, who help those at risk access the social services available to them. These red jacketed social workers can be seen throughout the city. It seems that not only homelessness can appear invisible, if one does not know what to look for. Coming from Canada, the idea that there are social workers going out into the field to help people access social services is a most novel concept. In Canada, those at risk need to seek aid first, in order to receive assistance.

    The second location was the Caritas Peace Haven. For a Canadian, this is, again, a very novel concept. There are homeless shelters in Canada that sometimes provide accommodations at night, and most especially during our harsh winters, but the idea that there was a day centre where people could access food, internet, showers, and laundry was something new. For a Canadian at risk, it is rare to find one place that offers all of these amenities under one roof. The guide explained that there were different types of day centres for women and children in the city as well, so that those especially vulnerable, would be less wary of accessing these safe havens.

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    The third location was a local park. The guide showed pictures of the parks during the refugee influx and what they looked like during the height of the crisis. Sitting on benches in the shade and the idea of a sense of security and peace that most people have in their daily lives but that the homeless lack entirely was discussed. The guide then switched gears, slightly, to share some stories about some of the individuals that he knew within the city. The stories were eye-opening and disheartening. From stories about theft and the acquisition of new addictions, to the role of mental illnesses and the length of time that homelessness persists for some individuals. Then the guide shared the uplifting success stories of those same individuals. Some are no longer homeless.

     

    By accessing the support of social workers and mental health professionals, they slowly built the skills necessary to return to a more normal life.

     

    Walking away at the end of the tour on that beautiful, sunny day, there were three take-aways. The first take-away is a new understanding of the complexity of homelessness. Many look over the person who sleeping in the park or sitting asking for change on the steps. Rarely does one think about the depths of a homeless person’s anxiety over the safety of himself or herself and his or her belongings.

     

    The second take-away is the knowledge that there are a large number of social institutions working together to create and maintain a social system for the homeless within Vienna. There is a large network of well funded charities and governmental social services that work in concert to address this issue. While this does not solve the deep seated problems of homelessness, it certainly makes a difference to the individual lives they touch.

     

    The third take away was the difference between homelessness and houselessness. Houselessness being that someone has an address but for various reasons, like domestic violence, he or she is unable to access his or her residence. This is not a concept for Canadians, and so, while it is mundane for Austrians to make this distinction based on a variety of factors affecting someone’s status it is not so for a Canadian.

     

    Perrine Schober offered her thoughts on the issue of homelessness and her tour guides.

     

    What is the most pressing issue with homelessness?

    “In my opinion, the most dangerous thing about homelessness is time. The longer a person is homeless, the more difficult is becomes for the person to change their status quo. It takes unbelievable strength, motivation, and determination to get out of being homeless when you battle a lack of belief, hope, motivation, strength, and self esteem coupled with unbearable shame and the constant struggle to organize the most basic of needs.”

     

    What is the one thing that can make a difference in the lives of the homeless?

    “Even with all of our social services assisting with the basic needs of the homeless there is one thing that makes a difference to a person who is homeless: employment. Employment is often the difference between homelessness and a fully integrated life. We all need tasks and work in order to feel useful, and to have a reason to wake up and shower everyday. This is not something that the social system can provide, or even is supposed to provide. I do not think that employment is a panacea to homelessness, but when they are ready and back on their feet, they should be able to find employment within the labour market.”

     

    What are you proud of with Shades Tours?

    “I am super proud of the Shades Tours guides. They may be fighting the toughest fight of their lives and I am glad that SHADES TOURS is one employment outlet that can provide them with the strength and motivation that they need.”

     

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    If you haven’t been on a SHADES TOUR yet, I encourage you to attend one.

    Austrians have created an amazing social system, and it is important to see it in action. For the rest of the world, these ideas need to be taken elsewhere in the world and replicates. Check out the Shades Tours website, http://www.shades-tours.com, for information on tours and activities in English and German.

     

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