In July 2009, the Government of Serbia launched the Social Inclusion and Poverty Unit (SIPRU) with the goal of improving the Government’s ability to develop and implement social inclusion policies based on current best practices in the rest of Europe.
According to SIPRU’s website, “Social inclusion is defined as a process which ensures that those at risk of poverty and social exclusion gain the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social and cultural life and to enjoy a standard of living and well-being that is considered normal in the society in which they live.” They define social exclusion as a process whereby a person or a group of people are pushed to the fringes of society and prevented from taking part in decisions and developments of that society, due to poverty, lack of basic competencies or training, or discrimination.
The socially excluded are kept away from opportunities such as employment, training and education, and income improvement, which creates a vicious cycle, as the lack of these opportunities makes it impossible for those on the fringes of society to become integrated. This is a severe problem that all but consigns those who are socially excluded to poverty (and worse), unless something is done to provide them with the opportunities needed to escape.
A Bottom-Up Approach
In line with its mandate of aiding the implementation of social inclusion policies, SIPRU is actively involved in the implementation of policies for the From Education to Employment (E2E) programme, a joint Swiss and Serbian project that NIRAS–IP Consult is implementing within five municipalities. Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) with close to EUR 7M with a Serbian contribution of about EUR 6M, E2E’s goal is to apply Swiss social inclusion practices and adapt them to the Serbian environment so that all young men and women stand a chance at gainful employment.
The programme takes a bottom-up approach to social inclusion, partnering with the municipalities of Novi Pazar, Knjaževac, Pirot, Kruševac, and Kragujevac to test the best approaches to take for employment intervention, to ensure youth employability, with the view of applying the most successful practices to other municipalities as well.
In simple terms, E2E goes to each partner municipality and finds out which jobs are in demand, but difficult to fill due to a lack of trained employees. Then, through short-term technical training (usually over the course of six months at most), on the job training, mentorships, and internships, E2E facilitates the training of the excluded youth (aged under 30) to enable them to do these in-demand jobs. Thus, employment becomes almost a certainty to the young people who took part in the E2E programme.
Creating Opportunities for the Marginalised
E2E emphasises working with socially vulnerable groups, including young people that are not in employment, education, or training (NEET); rural youth; Roma; youth from young offender institutions; youth without parental care; young people with disabilities; and victims of domestic violence. E2E’s activities are vitally important in Serbia, where an estimated average of 42% of Serbian youths have been unemployed from 2008 to 2017. The effects of being unemployed while being considered “unemployable” is bad enough for Serbia’s youth. However, there is an added dimension for those who have been exposed to domestic abuse. The Associated Press of Serbia estimates that as many as 54% of all Serbian women have been or are currently victims of domestic abuse.
Twenty-three-year-old "Kristina" (not her real name) was one such woman. For the second time in her marriage, she and her two daughters went to a local safe house after she was released from hospital. This time, she had needed to be admitted because her husband had broken her nose and arm, and she’d had enough. She got a divorce so she could start a brand-new life for her and her daughters, but almost immediately, she knew she had a problem.
She only had an elementary education and, as her husband had forbidden her to work, she had no employment experience. In short, she was all but unemployable. To make ends meet, she took a variety of temporary and menial jobs such as fruit picking, working agricultural fields, and cleaning, but the pay for such jobs is so low that she frequently struggled to make the EUR60 she needed to pay rent every month.
But then one day, she received a phone call from a local NGO called Oasis of Safety. They were a local partner of E2E in Kragujevac. In this town, E2E focuses on employment for youth without parental care and female victims of domestic abuse. Oasis of Safety wanted Kristina to take part in E2E’s on-the-job training programme. Taking the chance to improve her life, she accepted the offer and became one of 15 women to take part in the training.
She could choose between training to be a baker, hair stylist, beautician, or in speaking business English, all of which are skills that are highly in demand in Kragujevac. Kristina decided to become a baker and was assigned to on-the-job training in a bakery that had partnered with the project. “The trainees had trained mentors to support their progress” says Mina Mijailović, project manager at the Oasis of Safety. “We wanted as many safety nets in place for them as possible.”
Still, training was tough going. Kristina had to work incredibly hard, and her colleagues describe how she would work double shifts and even come in on weekends to learn. But Kristina was on a mission to improve her life and she wasn’t letting this opportunity pass.
It wasn’t easy, but I realized that, with every loaf of bread I baked, I took a step away from a life of violence and fear. So I just kept going.
On completion of her training, she was one of four women who got full-time jobs at the bakery, an opportunity that truly does give Kristina a fresh start, one loaf of bread at a time. Hopefully, on completion of E2E in 2019, its practices will be applied nationally, so more young women in need like Kristina will get a chance to rebuild their lives.