What signals does society send when 20% of Sweden’s ex-prisoners are in receipt of sickness benefit? Does society count ex-prisoners and ex-drug users as a labour resource? In the Vägen Ut! EQUAL partnership, actors from the public sector teamed up with NGOs, especially self-help organisations. They all knew that people who have left prison and drugs behind have a great power and a willingness to change.
The Vägen Ut! (Way Out!) partnership sprang from the observation that the crime rate falls noticeably in towns where ex-offenders get together to counsel each other, for instance in the 25 Swedish towns where the CRIS (Criminals Return Into Society) KRIS service is active. To set up the project, existing agencies working with ex-offenders in Göteborg were joined by the local co-operative and association development agencies, the employment service, the prison and probation service, the regional social insurance agency, the social work resource centre and the city council. “A venture of this kind relied on mobil¬ising government and municipal resources – not only expert knowledge and legitimacy but also of finance,” says project manager Ms Svebo Lindgren. “What’s more, brave public servants acted as advocates and ambassadors for the project within their organisations. This has been important both in legitimising the project and in finding public funding. ” The mix of partners has also been vital, because each of the different public bodies involved encouraged the others.
Seven co-operatives and a consortium
During 2003 and 2004, it set up four co-operatives that employ 24 people:
- Villa Solberg – a halfway house for 5-7 male ex-prisoners who work in the greenhouse or workshop or in jobs outside. Residents typically stay 3-6 months
- Karin’s Daughters – a craft co-operative run by five women, who carry out weaving, silver¬smithing and other handicrafts. The women usually stay for six months.
- Café Solberg – a café and catering business employing three people
- Studio Ateljé Trädet – a women-only craft shop and silkscreen printer’s which also runs printing courses
- Young Surfers – screen printers for young people
- Anlita – a business employment co-operative
- Villa Karin – a halfway house for women
A further 50 or so people have passed through the co-operatives for social support and/or work training, and many of these have moved on to employment, work experience or education. The partnership wants to see its methods copied widely. To provide a strong base, it has created a consortium through which the social enterprises can support each other.
How the consortium works
There are currently seven co-operatives in the consortium, each paying a small membership fee for support with quality, purchasing, finance and personnel administration. “We think social franchising is the way to spread our expertise, especially in two areas – the halfway house and the hotel,” says Ms Svebo Lindgren. Through its membership of the Le Mat transnational partnership, Vägen Ut! has developed the idea of running franchised hotels staffed by ex-prisoners, and has translated all the manuals from Italian into Swedish. Coompanion, the Co-operative Development Association, which unites some 30 local agencies across Sweden, will help spread the word, and the plan was discussed at the Everybody's Business conference in Örebro in November 2006 as part of the second-round EQUAL project AGDOR.
As of October 2010 there are now 80 people employed by vägen ut!, with a further 120 volunteer workers. A building co-operative, Vägen ut! Bygg och Fastighetsservice, has been launched. Vägen ut! Trädgård has three departments and undertakes gardening jobs. The 13-room Le Mat Bed & Breakfast hotel opened in March 2010 in the centre of Göteborg, having been renovated with the aid of a €300,000 loan from the European social economy bank SOFICATRA.
The halfway house franchise now numbers five units: two in Göteborg and one each in Sundsvall, Östersund and Örebro - the last being the best-performing.
With ESF support, the co-operative development network Coompanion organised the conference Lyckas med sociala företag ('Succeed with social enterprise') in Jönköping on 21 September 2010, and invited Renate Goergen from the Le Mat consortium to speak. CRIS has spun off a group in Stockholm called Ex-cons. They have made a study visit to Italy, and founded a consortium along the lines of Vägen ut!, with plans to open a Le Mat hotel.
Vägen ut! now consists of 15 co-operatives employing 300 people
"We are fulfilling our dream" says Elisabet Mattsson, the group's chairwoman, in a video interview by Make Change TV: http://www.makechange.tv/videos/episode-4-social-franchising-with-vagen-ut-kooperativen-sweden
Pernilla Svebo Lindgren
Konsortiet Vägen ut! kooperativen
SE-411 21 Göteborg
mobile + 46 736 88 99 71
office + 46 31 711 61 50
fax +46 31 748 07 71