“We strongly believe that direct donations are only preserving the problem itself”
At the end of last year, our partners from Profilantrop Association decided to open a charity shop in Budapest (on 43 Aradi street) as an additional way of financing the organisation’s activities. Through its work, Profilantrop is helping communities to maintain a sustainable and healthy life and relationships with other communities, social groups, cultures, and to develop an interest, openness and willingness for the members to learn by experience. The initiatives involve a variety of techniques and approaches: social projects, community work, green energy and appropriate technology development, youth work, IT projects, volunteer and youth exchange programs, trainings, workshops.
As the concept of charity shops is relatively new in Hungary, we talked with Zsuzsa Mester, founder and director of Profilantrop Association, about their new initiative:
For some years I have dreamed about opening an eco-hostel as a social enterprise for the association. I was very enthusiastic, I started to participate in different trainings related to this idea, but after a while I realized that I was the only one who was interested in this. I was sure that we needed to think outside the box in order to reach sustainability and find new fundings for the association, in addition to the EU donors and Hungarian funds.
We started the discussion in our team and I managed to persuade my colleagues as well. The association was established by cultural anthropologists and I realized that we all like objects and the stories behind them, but, in the same time, all of us are concerned about the bad sides of the consumer society. We all believe that reducing waste production and consumption is essential. We are all recycling and upcycling things in our private life.
That’s why, in the end, the idea of starting a social enterprise in the form of a charity shop was appealing to everybody.
Then, while attending the workshops of the ERSTE Foundation NGO Academy, we had the opportunity to rethink our main goals and the ways we can reach them. I personally got a bigger picture about leadership and about the importance of strategic thinking in the work of NGOs. As we work with vulnerable social groups and we strongly believe that direct donations are only preserving the problem itself, it was crucial to find a solution which incorporates their interest. It is always good to have an external perspective to see all the possibilities and traps on the way. In our case, besides the NGO Academy, the consultancy we received from IFUA as part of the ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership initiative provided us also with very useful insights from an external perspective.
What was the most important learning you took from the NGO Academy?
We had the opportunity to think not only about social and environmental aspects of sustainability, but also about the financial sustainability of our projects. The most important learning for me was that we are not alone and there is always a good solution for your problems, you just have to look around and talk to your peers. We got new ideas, raised motivation and energy for our work.
How does the shop function?
The formula is rather simple: anyone can donate any object to us, except for furniture. In the beginning our friends and members of the association were the donors, but after one month the number of people who are donating increased and actually they are very happy to have a place where they can bring their unused items. They also appreciate that their donations serve good purposes. As the shop is close to Andrássy street, a few tourists found us too – it is so nice to know that a friend’s shirt is now in Paris! Our customers can be anyone, but because of the low prices we hope to become a social shop and also a meeting place, where neighbors can exchange items and ideas as well.
Our aim is to invest the profit into our energy efficiency projects for Roma communities. We do not believe in direct donations for those in need, we believe in empowerment and in participative development.
How did you manage to set up the shop? Did you have any support with the initial investment?
We invested some loans from our members and a lot of faith, voluntary work, energy, creativity, knowledge and commitment towards our goals. We used our own resources to make our dream come true. Together with Júlia Vörös (co-manager of the shop) we started to search for a suitable place for the shop in June last year and we found it in September. During this period we applied and succeed to win a project supported by KÉK (Contemporary Architecture Centre) for refurbishing and furnishing the place. We felt very lucky because due to this support we could manage to create a really unique atmosphere.
We would like to raise awareness about the drawbacks of mass consumption and about alternative ways of living, based on reuse and upcycling, empathy and cooperation. We are also trying to create a better visibility for our work on our social field and establish a more stable financial base for our work with poor communities.
Besides all this we are setting up a meeting place for people who are interested in their environment and society and are willing to help each other to live a better life. It is a very good place to talk about social issues: so far I had chats about homelessness, about Roma communities or about waste.