Most of Latvian rural communities experience rapid population decline and demographic pressures – low birth rates, aging society and emigration. At the end of August 2017 the SEMPRE project team of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences was invited to take part in the launch event of a local branch of “Save the Children” – an international NGO and charity organization helping to overcome families with children material and social deprivation – in Liepa, a small rural community, and they were surprised to meet so many children and families enjoying the day.
This was a good reason for the SEMPRE Local Empowerment Network (LEN) Vidzeme to ask mothers to join the meeting and talk about their opportunities, availability of resources, services and their needs. It was the starting point for regular meetings with mothers, youth being outside the labour market, education and training.
In autumn and winter the Liepa group was warmed up with different workshops and activities – cooking activities, styling and clothing, candle decoupage, handcraft and socialization events. SEMPRE encouraged the group to have a dream about a place where to meet, have a cup of coffee and time to think about the future.
Creative handwork workshops and other practical trainings were responses to their wishes and ideas to establish a place for meaningful activities. This idea encouraged the involved partners – the local SEMPRE team and representatives from “Save the children”, to acquire further knowledge about social entrepreneurship. Together, they started actively to follow the Social Entrepreneurship Association’s activities in Latvia. Integrated social workplaces were not just an idea but became a concrete plan for the Liepa SEMPRE group and a micro project, which coincided with the next phase of using and testing social service development tools applied in the project.
The single mothers of SEMPRE Liepa were encouraged to be trained on writing project proposals and they applied for micro funding and pre-incubation activities available at local municipality level. Together they attended additional training courses, prepared and presented their micro project, the concept of a “Coffee Shop” to the Priekuļi municipality authorities, representatives from Skolas 6 Coworking space in Cesis and to other target groups.
The idea of Social Entrepreneurship is new in Latvia and law on Social Entrepreneurship entered into force on 1 April 2018. Therefore, it was very important to create and sustain the LEN which brought different parties together. Active communication and publicity events about ongoing SEMPRE activities were of great importance to initiate new discussions both on local, regional and national level on why there is a need for social enterprises in rural areas. Trust in people being neglected takes time and patience. It was hard to convince the authorities about this new, for some unbelievable idea. The business plan was neither sufficient for municipal grant nor for the grant from Skola 6 Coworking space in Cesis.
But the need for integrated social workplaces and supported working places for disadvantaged groups and persons with disabilities were still there. From kitchen talks and social activities the SEMPRE Liepa group in February 2018 started its supportive journey towards common dream about Coffee Shop. Locals were found and additional funding was searched. The SEMPRE Liepa group came with their own perceptions and ideas, while additional knowledge, training and expertise was provided. The path to social entrepreneurship needs to have a bridge and supportive teamwork. They are still in their early stage but the strength lies in empowerment – the process linking them all together for a better future.
Photos (c): Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences