Initial Workshop on a Strategy for the Integration of Roma in Bulgaria

Sofia (13.05.2011)
fordewind ltd., C.E.G.A. and Archis Interventions

There are over 800,000 Roma living in Bulgaria, according to expert data of the World Bank. Over 300,000 are estimated to be living in segregated Roma neighborhoods and rural areas - areas where poverty and social exclusion go hand in hand. Poor education and meager professional qualifications restrict access to the labor market and reliable sources of income, and keep the majority of the Roma population in a vicious circle of poverty.

At the workshop the concept for the 'musthave-project' (developed by fordewind ltd.) was discussed. The concept is based on the creation of a viable business model with a social component. It is therefore a project about synergies - about creating synergies and channeling the benefits into personal development and socially inclusive development. It focuses on a responsible model of consumerism with a strong social dimension: one that provides both quality goods for the consumers, and fair training and work opportunities for disadvantaged employees on the production line.

An analysis made last year of the 'fakulteta mahala', a Roma neighborhood in Sofia, showed that in the communist period, a huge number of Bulgarian Roma were trained and employed in national companies, factories and corporate groups - mostly in the textile and clothing industry, wooden furniture production, and textile furnishings. The workers were well trained, educated and fairly well integrated. After the change in the political system subsidies for nationalized companies were cut, production slowed down, and Roma employees were the first to lose their jobs. This human potential, the skills and talent of well educated and integrated working people, has since gone down the drain in the Roma enclave. The hypothesis is: If the minority (Roma) group could offer a range of services or products, then the target group (interested consumers) would be willing to accept differences and move beyond borders. The concept is therefore to reactivate and use the forgotten and (among the younger generation) still untapped potential in the Roma community, and to channel it positively. The project wants to develop a hybrid-association, something between a school for teaching life skills and crafts, a professional training scheme for young people, a small factory/workshop for creating products, and an exquisite boutique for selling them to interested visitors. We, the project team, want to gain the interest and commitment of the top teachers at fashion schools and colleges - who are also famous fashion designers - and put them in touch with the young fashion designers of the future: together, they can create an exclusive collection then donate it to our social project/ business, along with a license allowing project participants to reproduce the designs and market them. The general idea is that the clothing developed in this way will have nothing in common with the so-called "Roma-look", but will make a strong, independent and modern fashion statement.

The concept was discussed with regard to possible obstacles and perspectives, also with Mr. Marcel Staub, CFO of Balkantex Ltd. The workshop prepared a three-phase agenda. Until September the collaborating partners will develop the first step of the project: to identify further partners in the fields of education, business management, and design; and to finalize the implementation concept.