When Europe began to look for ways to deal with the effects of the global financial crisis after 2008, it faced the challenge to start the engine of the social change; to identify initiatives for social inclusion for the millions remaining outside the labor market; to develop policies which encourage the civic participation and integrate the marginalized vulnerable groups or those at risk of social exclusion.
Politicians, business leaders and representatives of the civil society are calling for the mobilization of public energy and joint efforts for solving the social and economic problems of the European nations.
On 25.10.2011 the European Commission published a Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Social Business Initiative - Creating a favourable climate for social enterprises, key stakeholders in the social economy and innovation.
The message identifies the social entrepreneurship and the social enterprises as a key tool for innovations, a tool for overcoming the problems of poverty and social exclusion and for the promotion of vulnerable groups’ integration.
The social entrepreneurship is a business initiative that focuses on solving a significant social problem.
It is a tool for achieving social change, because it expands the horizon and the opportunities for the professional and life realization of people from different age groups. It also forms new knowledge, skills and competences.
In fact, the social change – no matter whether we look for it in the small community or in the wider society - would be impossible without the personal involvement and commitment of the entrepreneurs.
What turns social entrepreneurs into agents and drivers of the social change is their desire and hard work aimed at changing the lives of vulnerable people, their willingness to teach them new skills, and the fact that they do business for the sake of a social cause.
The Englishman Mick Cooper is one of them. Today he lives and works in Bulgaria, conveying his experience within the social enterprise "Phoenix cafe and bakery".
Mick Cooper has a Master’s degree in cooking. He was a director of the Hospitality School at City College, Norwich, in the UK, where over 2,000 students are taught in culinary, bakery, confectionery, restaurant business, tourism, management in catering and tourism, as well as in the steward specialty. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the catering and restaurant business.
In the winter of 2008 he visited friends in Vidin. This is one of the poorest cities in Bulgaria - with high level of unemployment, depopulated villages, with more and more young people leaving the city in search of work and better life.
Vidin became a challenge for the social sensitivity and entrepreneurial spirit of Mick. Only 25 km away from the regional city, in Novo Selo, there is a House for children deprived of parental care. In the House, under very severe conditions, live children mainly from Roma origin. When they turn 18, they leave the House and face many problems, unknown to them in the past. Without relatives to support them, without funds, without developed social skills, the young people from the House, on the threshold of their maturity, don’t know how to continue their education, how to look for a job, how to start a professional career and which way to take.
"I thought that if a person is of Roma origin and lives in such a house, his or her chances in life are little or none. I wanted to change that. Then it came to my mind to create a center for training, in which young people, who leave the House, already on the verge of adulthood, could learn something that will be useful when they start looking for a job. I wanted to transfer my experience and skills in cooking, I wanted to support the youngsters in their placement on the labor market."
In 2009, Mick Cooper created an association called "Phoenix Inspire" and encoded in its name the mission of giving hope for a new life, for a better future and an inspiration for the young people from vulnerable groups in Vidin.
The association began with helping children and young people living in the House for children deprived of parental care in Novo Selo. Later, however, they could offer training for young people from the region, to chefs and restaurateurs, who wanted to learn something new in cooking and confectionery or wanted to join courses for the improvement of their qualifications.
The main activity of the association is the social enterprise "Phoenix cafe and bakery", which opened in February 2015 and has been serving as a training facility for improving the professional qualification in confectionery and bakery of disadvantaged young people.
The vocational training and the involvement of young trainees in the actual production process is just one part of the activities of the enterprise. The aim is that, through the support received, young people should not only learn the profession, but also be able to overcome the risk of marginalization and social exclusion and integrate themselves successfully into the society.
Mick Cooper explains that the whole course passes through three stages: developing skills, consolidating knowledge and practice. During the first stage an experienced team member taught recipes and ways for preparing the products; during the second stage all the necessary ingredients were introduced, as well as additional topics of particular interest; and in the third, practical stage, each of the trainees prepared certain products and demonstrated his/her skills.
In fact, by working at the "Phoenix cafe and bakery" the young people learn not only to cook a variety of sweets and baked goods, including traditional British cuisine, but also form social skills - to work in teams, to communicate with customers, to comply with labor discipline, to organize their time, to adapt to changes, to gain confidence in their own strengths, to deal with difficult situations.
"Since the middle of 2013 six young people have been trained so far and two found a job in other companies, after their training. One of the youngsters still works at the "Phoenix cafe and bakery" and has very good opportunities ahead of him. The last girl who was trained – Rosa, already started working for us. I hope that she will agree to work on a full time employment contract and, if all goes as planned, will become a team leader" Mick Cooper says.
"Phoenix cafe and bakery" in Vidin is actually a success story, a story of sharing knowledge and experiences between people of different age groups, a story of overcoming difficulties and challenges.
A great success not only for the creator, but also for his grown-up students.
Mrs. Nataliya Georgieva holds a Master degree in philosophy and has specific interests in education, child literacy, social inclusion and integration of children and young people from vulnerable groups. She works on research and advocacy projects for the implementation of innovative models in the education and lifelong learning.