Incorpora Hungary: “For every person there is a solution. One just needs to find it.”
Incorpora Hungary is helping disadvantaged people who seek employment to get a Job. An interview with Hajnalka Bessenyei, project manager of Incorpora Hungary.
In recent years there has been much discussion about the unemployment issue. The problem is obvious: as a result of the financial crisis that hit many EU states, people have lost their jobs. Young adults have been one of the categories most heavily impacted. They were not employed before the crisis, and now they have even fewer chances on the market. Another oftentimes forgotten category of people who suffered heavily was the disadvantaged. Especially in Central and South-Eastern Europe, this category was struggling deeply with unemployment well before the crisis. Hungary is no exception.
According to Eurostat, the official unemployment rate in Hungary is currently 7.3 per cent. To what extent does this number correspond with the situation you are facing in the field?
I remember once visiting a very remote Romanian village and asking about the unemployment rate, and how people survive. I was told that the official unemployment rate is zero, but that nobody is employed. They never were. “So how can it be that the unemployment rate is zero?” I asked. Social workers explained that if somebody never worked, they can’t be unemployed; to be unemployed you have to have been previously employed. A few lucky ones live off of social security – those people who had fought their way through all the bureaucratic procedures to get it. Everyone was growing their own vegetables and were raising small animals. We have a very similar situation in Hungary as well. My conclusion, after all the experience I have gathered with Incorpora Hungary, was that of course statistics are important, but that the numbers can never capture the depth of a specific problem.
Who are the unemployed?
The most logical answer would be: those who don’t have a job. But can you imagine what it would mean to do a monthly count of all those people? Virtually impossible. Statistics count those who had a job but lost it, and are actively looking for jobs. Certain categories of people who are not working never make it into the “unemployment” figures, and it would be difficult to count them. It is mainly those who do not report losing their jobs and do not receive unemployment benefits, those for whom unemployment benefits are finished, those who have never received social security benefits or those who stay at home and do domestic work.
Disadvantaged people are in a particularly difficult situation. What are the main challenges they face?
When we talk about the disadvantaged (such as the homeless, people with disabilities or addictions, people living in poverty, etc.), the problem is even more complicated. Many of them have difficulties imagining that anyone would even consider employing them. As a result, they don’t even attempt to look for a job. In other cases, not even the market (companies) can imagine that these people are capable of working!
On the side of the unemployed, it could be an isolated person who hardly has a social network or friends, and who couldn’t image that he/she can get a job. An excluded person who for years has not had the necessary discipline to wake up, go to work, etc. also has difficulties even imagining he/she could follow internal company rules. But above all, he/she lacks the basic confidence and self-esteem needed to feel that success is even possible.
A poor person may not even have money to buy a bus ticket to go for an interview. And even if he/she did get the job, he/she would not be able to afford the living expenses in the first month – the costs of public transportation, for example. For a homeless person, the pressing need is to find a shelter to sleep in and to get a shower or a meal; a job might be the last thing on his/her mind. Such disadvantaged people won’t go looking for a job at fancy companies, multinational corporations or local authorities, they will not write a CV to apply, and they certainly won’t be bold enough to negotiate. But they might go to an NGO for a different reason, namely to ask for assistance or help. And in most cases, this is where they learn for the first time that it would be possible to get a job!
On the company side there is reluctance as well. Just imagine the reaction of a HR specialist learning that the address of the candidate is the post office box of a shelter, or that a 29-year-old has no work experience due to a disability.
What would be the common first reaction to such a candidate? Who would hire him/her without reservation or suspicion? The HR manager would certainly have plenty of questions: What if he/she does not find a shelter? And, as a result, what if basic health and hygiene requirements are not met? What if he/she cannot come to work on time because he/she couldn’t find a shelter? What does it mean to be slightly mentally disabled? Is there a risk of the person yelling at, or worse yet, of attacking somebody? Why should somebody take a risk with this person when there is a possibility to look a little further and hire somebody who is “safer”? These questions might not be “politically correct”, but let’s face it, they do come up.
So this is where Incorpora Hungary comes in?
Yes. On the one hand, Incorpora Hungary works with beneficiaries to empower them so that they can get a job, earn money and have more fun being autonomous. In short, they help people to become independent through their jobs. On the other hand, they convince companies that they will never regret giving a disadvantaged person the benefit of the doubt. The role of Incorpora Hungary is to show them that a person in a wheelchair can be brilliant, that a homeless person can do a proper job and actually get out of homelessness, that a mentally disabled person can be trustworthy and that for every person there is a solution, one just has to find it.
The project has been running since June 2016. How satisfied are you with the implementation and the results so far?
When we started Incorpora Hungary, after selecting the main categories of people and NGO partners, we had to establish the target. As with any project, some targets were necessary, but we did not have a benchmark. We had the experience of our colleagues from “la caixa” Banking Foundation as a reference, but of course Hungary is not Spain; instead, it is a smaller market, it is Central Europe, perhaps even a region with more prejudice in society. Generally speaking, we had no idea how the market would react.
All the NGOs selected for this project have for years been offering social services to these groups, and have also had experience with job placement. We asked them to share the results of the last five years, then calculated their peak results and set the target 10 per cent lower. The best result from all participating NGOs during one year was 110 employees, so we set the target for one year at 100 employment contracts. After six months we had 100 employment contracts, and after nine months we had over 150 employment contracts. Four NGOs have increased their employment rate by between 20 per cent and 50 per cent. The employment rate for the Motivation Foundation, for example, was 33 per cent; i.e. from 100 potential beneficiaries, 33 were employed – with Incorpora, the employment rate reached 66 per cent.
The conclusion is self-evident and straightforward: NGOs are better off with Incorpora Hungary than they are on their own.
What makes Incorpora so special?
It is the aspect of working together. When an integration manager from Incorpora Hungary goes to a company, he/she presents not only one category of beneficiaries from the NGOs he works with, but all categories of beneficiaries covered by the network. So, for example, if a company wants to hire not only a person with disability, but also a young person, or if it has a particularly female-friendly policy, all of this can be offered in one meeting. Integration managers automatically register all the necessary information from the company and inform NGOs that have beneficiaries from other categories. From the beneficiary perspective it is more efficient as well, since there are more NGOs that represent their interests, while from the company side it is more time efficient, since they need only one meeting (instead of three or four with different NGOs). In the so-called “traditional grant-giving” system, each NGO receives its own grant, is responsible for its own results and works on their own; in the end, the final result of the whole grant is the sum of results from each NGO. In Incorpora Hungary, by working together, the final result is not the sum of the individual results; instead, the results can grow exponentially. Incorpora is the perfect example of the paradox by which 1+1=3!
But working together also means trust between the NGOs, and trust is built over time, carefully and with honesty. Constant communication between NGOs is crucial. So far, the conclusion of the project is that you can be more powerful by working together than you are on your own.
Bettina Svélecz is one of the beneficiaries of Incorpora Hungary: she works in Budapest as a receptionist, welcoming guests, providing information, answering phone calls. She is open, energetic and loves working with people. “When someone enters our office I am the first person they meet, I am the one who gives them a very first impression about the organisation,” says Bettina when asked about her job.
She used to work for a hospital as a nurse, but as a result of the demanding physical work as well as a motorbike accident, she developed hip problems. “My left leg got three centimetres shorter than the right one, so however much I loved my job as a nurse, I was no longer able to meet the demands that came with it. I had to find a job where I did not strain my hips and spine. It is not easy to find a job as a disabled worker. I certainly can’t work as a cleaner because of my physical condition and, on the other hand, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the monotony of packaging or other conveyor-belt types of work.”
Motivation Foundation, a member of the Hungarian Incorpora programme dealing with physically disabled people, found a position for Bettina back in the summer of 2016. “I work four hours a day, and I’m happy to be part of an empathic work environment. I have always helped people through my work, because service is part of my life, and now I received the chance to benefit from help as well.”
Incorpora Hungary was initiated jointly by ERSTE Foundation and “la Caixa” Foundation and adapted to local conditions. It was launched in Budapest in June 2016, with a nine-month preparation phase that included the careful selection of those NGOs that are part of the programme. The non-profit project partners in this project are: Civil Impact, Shelter Foundation, Motivation Foundation, Salva Vita Foundation, GAK Nonprofit and Jo-Let Foundation. Each NGO focuses on a certain target group. The following target groups are included: disabled people, homeless people, disadvantaged youth, disadvantaged women and people living in poverty. In each non-profit entity, integration managers work with both beneficiaries and companies to find the best solutions for each side.
The programme provides many advantages for the employers involved as well, since Incorpora offers financial and human resource options that can greatly affect a company’s competitiveness. The hiring of disadvantaged people contributes to a motivated workforce, while employing people with changed working ability, young or disadvantaged workers makes companies eligible for tax reliefs that can reduce their expenditures. Companies joining Incorpora can become members of the Incorpora Club through which they can take part in professional training and workshops that build their competencies. Regular follow-up work with both company and beneficiary ensures that both parties are satisfied and can intervene quickly if anything goes wrong.