Transition from centralized to market economy in the 1990s in Poland has affected severely the most vulnerable groups – women, children, people with developmental disabilities or in a pre-retirement age group. Growing competitiveness and neoliberal policies lead to discriminatory practices on the labour markets. As state policies have hardly improved their living and working conditions, they have to look for alternative models, brilliant example being social economy.
Since 2003 workers of the EKON have been collecting packaging and electric waste from households and some public facilities in order to segregate glass, paper, plastic, metal and batteries and subsequently send them to respective recycling plants. Some cognitively disabled have been recommended by the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, since the work was regarded as a further form of the treatment. In 2011 the EKON had 900 employees (50% with psychiatric disabilities) responsible for waste sorting in Warsaw and 16 branches located in five Polish voivodships. The feat of EKON is even more striking in the light of the fact that unemployment among disabled people in Poland remains at the highest rate in the EU (about 75% and 90% in case of the mentally disabled). Their effort has earned them an all-Poland recycling award and many distinctions, e.g. from Forbes in recognition for pioneer activity in social economy.
The EKON is a powerful reminder of the need for socially just employment, suffice it to say that improvements in employees’ sense of well-being was medically proven. This project also works with the promotion of green economy, recycling, climate protection and greening of public awareness. The EKON acts as a centre for environmental education and training, as well as an employment agency which enables the disabled to enter the labour market and supports them in career, upgrading skills and professional education. There are seminars organised for employers aimed to help them employ disabled workers, cooperate with them and understand their needs.
The Association realises the green vision of social and economic policy prioritising the development of local SMEs. It spearheads the switch from the focus on economic growth to self-reliance. At the same time, it challenges common stereotypes about effectiveness of the disabled on the labour market. Therefore, it promotes the social economy as a sector capable of combating social and economic exclusion and bringing benefits for all - the society, our planet and economy.
The Green Institute described EKON in one of its publication: “Green City of the New Generation. The guidebook for the 21st century.”
Opracowanie: zespół www.zielonyistytut.pl