Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Hungary’s state employment centers employ the most seriously disabled in the country, which represents approximately 8,500 people. These facilities, however, do not successfully foster financial independence or social rehabilitation for the disabled. In fact, the employment rate of the disabled in Hungary remains below 10% compared to the 25% European Union average. The 210 work centers across the country receive up to 90% of their funding from the state, yet work centers are experiencing a significant decrease in government funds in Hungary and in other CEE countries. These depleting funds force the centers to search for creative ways to self-finance for survival. Work centers and other CSOs have become accustomed to this flow of state aid, however, and lack the motivation or know-how to redesign their organizational structure. As a result, an attitude of desperate survival overpowers the desire for growth or development by the work centers. The disabled citizens become victims to this failing system. Fruit of Care was founded to address this problem of dependency, which affects how disabled are employed, perceived by the public, and integrated into the full market as citizens.
Because the work centers function in isolation from one another, they do not access the marketplace to their fullest potential. As government funding decreases, the work center management suffers, as does the quality of the products and handicrafts. This process exposes the fragility of the current state employment system. Even with full state funding, however, employment in the work centers in Hungary is considered a means to keep the clients busy, rather than a way for them to engage in meaningful work or even simple revenue-generating work. The centers sell goods and products produced by the disabled employees that are not competitive in any market or purchased based on quality, but instead are sold at charity events and purchased out of pity. Work centers must integrate into authentic processes of “work” in order to ensure the dignity and identity of the disabled, as well as to survive financially.
Because work centers engage the disabled in activities for the sake of keeping them busy, the disabled do not participate in meaningful activities with revenue potential. This stigma associated with this type of work contributes to the low self-esteem of the disabled and does not leverage the strengths that they can contribute. As a result, the perception of work centers and people with disabilities continues to deteriorate. In addition, the work completed by the disabled is not recognized as authentic work based on its design, market placement, public relations, or the quality of the management systems that support the production. There is a pressing need to improve the standards and quality of work in the state employment centers and build bridges to new partnerships for the work centers beyond the state. This process must begin with ensuring work centers are self-sustaining, focused on market access, and that there is production of quality goods for the public.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Fruit of Care was founded to address a growing crisis in central and eastern Europe: dependency of the severely disabled on state employment centers, reliance of state employment centers on government funding to function, and a stigma of work centers and the disabled clients they employ. Through Fruit of Care, Aron is building a previously non-existent relationship between the state work centers and full market access. Through his new system of transactions that exposes the work centers to the market forces in a cooperative way, Aron is changing the perception of the disabled. He is bringing attention to their similarities, not differences.
Aron begins with focusing on improving work center operations. Through this process of professionalizing the work centers and discovering new markets for the products the disabled create, he is enabling a perception shift of the disabled within and beyond the work center walls: the inclusion of the disabled into society as citizens. As a result of the historically state subsidized work centers that are sheltered and inauthentic in how they leverage the capacities of their employees, an unsustainable pattern of work in these centers exists that reinforces the non-dignity of the disabled. Aron values the importance of taking people seriously, seeing the disabled as equals, and designing a line of work and product that leverages their actual work aptitudes in the most practical way possible. His innovation shows how good design and management can shift reliance away from subsidy to earnings, with lowered costs and improved quality.
Aron has created a low touch way to impact hundreds of workers and buyers. Because of the way Fruit of Care plays with market forces, Aron is building a society in which the people producing professional products are integrated into both society and the market as full economic citizens.