How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs – Erzébet Szekeres & Alliance for Rehabilitation

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Another one of my favorite stories from How to Change the World is about Erzébet Szekeres who developed a program to address 3 of the most difficult problems disabled adults in Hungary face – a lack of job training, few employment opportunities, and a housing shortage, sprung on by having her son who was disabled. She created Alliance for Rehabilitation offering members vocational training to prep them for real life. It turned around how Hungary treated disabled adults completely for the positive.

When Erzébet’s son was born disabled, she was told he would never be able to do anything in this world. She decided to prove everyone wrong. First she looked at resources currently available for disabled adults, and was shocked at how terrible the conditions were, how they were segregated from society, and were unable to take care of themselves. She decided to find other families in situations like hers and form a community. She bought a large farm and identified work that disabled individuals would be able to do including ceramics, farming, manufacturing, packaging, and construction. This community became Alliance, an official cooperative. Erzébet worked with an architect to design Alliance – she envisioned it to have spacious shared spaces for multiple tenants to share and cooperate, yet have their own space and rooms to have privacy, and time to re-charge. Greenery and animals roamed the cooperative. Those who were invited to work at Alliance could not have been familiar with the existing disabled housing and methods. Their minds needed to be free of that, and be able to accept disabled individuals as any other people, capable of being rehabilitated into a normal community. Alliance even organized dances where both members of the community and those of the surrounding towns look forward to attending and enjoying. It was a huge success and model for Hungary in changing how disabled and severely handicapped individuals are integrated into society.

“Today, 620 disabled individuals, including 300 who are severely handicapped, are employed in various fields throughout Hungary. The Alliance for Rehabilitation has numerous business relations, serves business clients and accepts jobs from distant locations like Holland and Italy. It generates about US$ 157,000 in revenue, more than half of which is distributed among the workers as salaries comparable to the pay of people in similar jobs in more accepted parts of society. In addition, the organization provides workers with housing to rent and is constructing new building blocks to keep up with increasing demand. The apartments have one nurse for every three units, and are affordably priced. Parents or older relatives may move into larger affordable apartments together with one of the workers to offer them more support.

Despite its revenues, the Alliance for Rehabilitation is 50% financed by the government under a law supporting disabled employment. In the event of grant failure, an emergency strategy has been developed to guarantee the organization remains sustainable and self-sufficient, although salary payments would go to providing free accommodation and food for all members.” – From http://www.schwabfound.org/content/erzs%C3%A9bet-szekeres.

 

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