Improving Impact for Roma Inclusion

Sally Kneeshaw

By Sally Kneeshaw, on May 2nd, 2014

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Roma inclusion is the theme of Roma-Net II, one of the three URBACT pilot networks, undertaking exchange and learning about the delivery of Local Action Plans. Six of the original partners from the first phase, (Almeria, Bologna, Budapest, Glasgow, Nagykálló and Torrent) have agreed to continue their collaboration. Roma-NeT II offers an opportunity for these cities to look at local impact, to develop deeper understanding, to find innovative methods and create better capacity for tackling Roma integration.

The lessons of Roma-Net have a wide application. The Roma population across Europe is estimated to be between 10-12 million and remains the biggest group of people living in unacceptable poverty and with extensive discrimination. A new and increased freedom of movement within the Euorpean Union (EU) has contributed to a heightened sense of xenophobia in many European cities. The movement of more Roma to Western European countries is a significant factor in pushing Roma integration policy up the EU agenda. It is this push and pull factor that has meant more Member States have taken an interest in looking at their own social inclusion practices and for good examples of integration.

As part of the network’s baseline review the Roma-Net partnership identified that Roma employability programmes were not always delivering the best results. For instance, in some of the partner cities there are actions delivered in a traditional employment and training format, which do not always provide the most effective approach or fit with the labour market for working age Roma. At the most recent Roma-Net meeting, hosted by Lead Partner Budapest, city partners took a frank look at what is working, what isn’t working, and explored if and how innovation can be introduced into Roma employability measures. Several cities presented their experiences, and the group analysed these examples to see if there were elements that could be transferred to enhance Roma inclusion elsewhere.

How can microcredit be adapted for Roma communities? 

Romani style

A lack of employment opportunities, combined with the level of prejudice faced by Roma from employers, means that self-employment offers an important potential route out of poverty for Roma communities. Hungarian NGOs Autonomia and Kiut shared their experiences of piloting microcredit schemes, based on Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus’ Gremeen Bank used extensively in the developing world, to support Roma in setting up their own micro businesses. In both cases the pilots were partially successful, (the default rate was around 40%) and there are powerful lessons for future design to create innovation and adaptation to the Roma population.

Both programmes emphasized the need for intensive mentoring. Kiut employed field workers for a year to support each micro credit recipient. Csilla Sarkany of Kiut explained that these workers needed to have a wide range of skills, to act not only as business mentors, but also as advocates, family support and social workers. They effectively have to support the beneficiary in their interactions not only with banks, customers and suppliers, but also with public agencies, doctors, schools and welfare services. The basic problems of survival have to be resolved if the business is to thrive.
Tibor Béres, Programme Officer at Autonomia, reported that they needed to introduce a number of innovations to the microcredit scheme to make it function for Roma. A lack of trust and solidarity in Roma communities meant that greater transparency was needed. An IT system and web portal was set up, so that Roma participants could check themselves on progress with re-payments from others. A condition of ‘pre-saving’, having 10 euros a month saved up for three months beforehand was introduced, as a way of having some form of collateral. As was the case with the Kiut pilot, core business skills had to be developed and intensive community based mentoring was required.
The nature of the micro businesses ranged from small shops, food kiosks to forestry loggers. The livestock businesses all made a loss, because Roma had to buy the animal feed at a high cost, not having any land to grow their own. The pilot evaluations contain many more useful lessons learnt for other cities considering similar schemes for Roma.
Returning to agricultural systems of the past 
Laszlo Török talked about a new pilot social food business, based in Nagykálló, the theme of which seemed to be “The past sends a message to the future”. He is part of a project involving Roma to produce small cucumbers- a premium product that can be sold in Russia and Eastern Europe. It effectively restores a historical form of production with low investment, manual production, and a family orientation. The project organizes the whole supply chain: fertilizer, tools, land, a guaranteed buyer and fixed price for different sizes of cucumber from the local canning factory. The project will seek to develop networks with similar food businesses to find new market opportunities.
Roma-centred employability plus 

roma net URBACT Glasgow

In Glasgow the Local Authority Govanhill has won a national award for its partnership with the Community Development Trust to tackle Roma inclusion. Their experience is different from some of the other Roma-Net cities in that the Roma community has arrived in the last 10 years. The city is having to learn about Roma inclusion, and they often find that Roma families are too preoccupied with establishing themselves to be able to fully engage with employability programmes and community life.

The Govanhill scheme provides training and employment opportunities in recycling and public works for Roma. Specialist project workers Martina Temkovitzova, originally from Slovakia, and Eszter Tarcsafalvi originally from the Hungarian minority living in Romania, bring language skills and a greater understanding of attitudes towards the Roma both in their countries of origin and in Glasgow. Together with Glasgow City Council Project Manager, Marie McLelland, the team shared its results and identified a number of success factors, such as tailored English language training, with an in-house English teacher, able to work with Roma who sometimes have low levels of general literacy and a Roma/human-centred approach, through which informal feedback can be used to improve the service

Although the scheme is performing well there are a number of ongoing challenges. For example often the Roma’s level of English is enough to work in a protected environment, but not enough to integrate into other teams. Further support is needed to progress to mainstream jobs. Travelling across the city can be difficult. Roma often stay in a small area where they live and need to be taught to use public transport. And the basic issue remains that often the lives of newly arrived Roma are chaotic, with overcrowded and insecure housing, and trouble getting to grips with school, health and welfare systems. Turning up for work every day is a challenge, when you may be the only person in a family with enough English to sort out these issues as they arise.

Honest exchange to evolve service delivery 

The honest exchange between the Roma-Net cities was beneficial in motivating practitioners to continue to evolve service delivery, in what can seem at times to be an uphill battle, to improve the quality of life of a community that has been so severely marginalized for so many centuries. It served as a reminder that Roma inclusion is a subject where the need for an integrated approach is crucial, and one where we need to shine a light on any and all examples of integrated approaches that link housing, education, employment, and break down barriers between Roma and non Roma populations.


 By Sally Kneeshaw, URBACT Thematic Pole Manager for Governance


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