human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas Šabac’s sucess with social enterprises

Integrating people into the Serbian labour market

Caritas Šabac has 20 years of experience in social protection and working with people from vulnerable groups in Serbia. This has led to the idea of social entrepreneurship.

Indeed, over the past two decades Caritas Šabac has created different social services in order to respond to the needs of marginalised people not only in Šabac, but also in several nearby municipalities. Services like day care centres focus on empowering beneficiaries and enabling them to live independent lives. They aim at leading the beneficiaries out of social services’ dependence and into economic autonomy. However, the labour market model had no place for them. Therefore, driven by a human-centred approach in its work, Caritas Šabac decided to step into the Serbian labour market and create inclusive job opportunities for its beneficiaries and achieve, at the same time, sustainability for its services. Two new enterprises are the results of detailed analyses of beneficiaries’ capacities, skills, affinities on one hand and market’s needs on the other.

Social Sinergy, established in 2018 , is a laundry service and the first social entreprise that has had a significant social impact. Thanks to this initiative 10 people from vulnerable groups are now employed, 5 of them are people with disabilities. This laundry service is already a well-known and had built a good  reputation. Today it is an enterprise for professional rehabilitation and employment of people with disabilities. Not only does it provide jobs, but also gives training courses and education in order to make disabled people more independent and skilled for the labour market.

The Sustainable Development Farm is the second social entreprise founded by Caritas Šabac. It has gone one step further in social entrepreneurship. It combines social protection with agricultural production, food and brandy production, a restaurant, catering services and event management. It employs 15 people – 10 of them from vulnerable groups, including 5 people with mental and physical disabilities, and 5 professionals.

The Sustainable Development Farm promotes ethno-tourism in a poorly developed local community. It provides affordable, healthy food,  makes people with disabilities and their needs more visible and brings them closer to the community they belong to and to the labour market they try to access.

On a formerly abandoned property of about half a hectare in the municipality of Bogatić (25 km distant from Šabac) Caritas Šabac has established a day care centre for adults with mental disorders and intellectual disabilities, the first of its kind in this area, and the second managed by Caritas Šabac according to the Italian model of community-based mental health care. Next to the day care centre there is an apartment for a supported living service. The property has two greenhouses where vegetables are grown and later used for winter food stores. These products are sold at the property’s shop.  There is also a fully equipped kitchen that prepares meals using vegetables from the greenhouse. The meals are sold through the restaurant and the catering service. A large playground for children has been built recently making the place attractive to families with children for gatherings and outdoor activities.

This unusual hybrid concept enables Caritas to manage sustainable business in the social sphere (social services are partially financed by local self-governments), grow the business and invest profits in training and employment of a larger number of people with disabilities.

Within the company, people with disabilities undergo training courses and have workshops for: primary food production (growing fruits and vegetables); secondary food production (jams, preserved food); gardening; floriculture; kitchen; catering; trade and pottery (together with training courses for laundry and cleaning services in Social Sinergy), which makes them  prepared and skilled for larger areas of the labour market.

Caritas Šabac constantly promotes social entrepreneurship through products and services, but also info sessions, conferences and general continuous presence in local media and on social media.  This makes people with disabilities and people from vulnerable groups more visible. It also raises employers’ awareness of of the importance of employing people with disabilities and helps open up a labour market that leads them to a full social inclusion.

The Covid-19 pandemic affected the social business negatively as well as all other businesses related to food and tourism, but Caritas Šabac realised the flexibility of its own business model and switched from a classic restaurant  to delivering healthy meals to individuals and companies. Thanks to the diversified financing model that Caritas Šabac has, it is going through the crisis caused by the pandemic relatively painlessly, without laying off workers. Given the resources it has (both human and material), the Sustainable Development Farm has easily offered its guests home delivery of food. With adequate marketing monitoring, a lot of inquiries for this type of service were received in a short period of time.

A testimony from Momčilo Budimirović, a customer from the village of Glušci near Bogatić:

I live alone in the village of Glušci near Bogatić. I make homemade goat cheese even though I am retired. Since I was left alone, lunch is a problem for me because I don’t know how to cook, and restaurants are mostly expensive and there aren’t many of them in our area. The Sustainable Development Farm was a real discovery for me. Now there is a place where I can eat healthy food at an affordable price and in a place that is beautifully landscaped. And then the Covid started. Since I am over 65, I could not leave the house. I was already thinking about what to do when they called me and told me that they could bring me lunch home every day! What a relief! Such a service means a lot to me and I know that there are many more of us in the same situation. I don’t worry about lunch during the coming winter, and when it warms up, I hope that the pandemic will pass, so at least sometimes I will go to my favorite restaurant again.

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Šabac  is a city located in western Serbia, on the banks of the river Sava. According to the 2011 census, the city itself had population of 53,919, while its administrative area comprised 118,347 inhabitants.

Caritas Šabac predominantly deals with the provision of services in the field of social welfare and social entrepreneurship. Work in the field of social protection is reflected through the home care service, day care and supported living for people with mental disorders, humanitarian work and emergency relief.