By Cristina Marina
Ada-und-Theodor-Lessing-Volkshochschule Hannover, Germany
On 4 and 5 February 2014 the MESSE study visit to Hannover took place. Overall, 23 participants from 8 different countries met together to have a closer look at German social enterprises and discuss as to what the major elements are that primarily make the specific social enterprises to Good Practice examples.
The first site to visit was Hannoversche Werkstätten gem. GmbH (The Hannover Workshops), a limited company operated as a public utility. Ms Vera Neugebauer, Managing Director, held a company presentation, then taking the audience on a captivating tour through the workshops of Hannoversche Werkstätte together with her colleague, Ms Christine Herbrig, PR Manager.
Covering an extremely broad area of training fields and activities, Hannoversche Werkstätten is not only working cross-sector, but is also continuously boosting the cooperation between for-profit and not-for-profit business. This is being ensured, for example, by a number of employees currently working with corporations like Continental AG, while being paid however by Hannoversche Werkstätten. Moreover, since Hannoversche Werkstätten sells their self-manufactured products on the market, there is not only a steady need for competitiveness, but also for observing high quality requirements. It is for these reasons that Hannoversche Werkstätte's quality management system has been certified according to the DIN EN ISO 9001:2008 standard. Thus, operational procedures within all ranges of work are assured to correspond to internationally recognized standards.
But during lunch at Hannoversche Werkstätte the participants could see all for themselves. Trainees working in the area of gastronomy prepared a three-dish meal for all employees and guests of Hannoversche Werkstätte. While for the personnel making lunch meant nothing more than business as usual, having lunch at the canteen posed a great opportunity for all MESSE participants to get a real insight in the workaday life of Hannoversche Werkstätten.
The study visit continued by returning to the venues of Ada-und-Theodor-Lessing-Volkshochschule Hannover, where Mr Peter Thomsen introduced the Working Partnership (AG) Resohelp.
A well-established contact point for (ex-) prisoners in Hannover, Resohelp has been working for more than 40 years on counselling and supporting delinquents, sentenced prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families to gain social rehabilitation and reintegration. Resohelp’s aim is to offer extensive information and support on managing the various issues encountered by their clients, ranging from prevention of detention, flat-hunting, and allowance of claims all the way through debt counselling and other individual problems.
Furthermore, Resohelp is acting as an interface between the clients and different institutions or persons (e.g. the Public Prosecution Service, the Job Center / Employment Agency, landlords, and many other charities), thus increasing their area of impact. This cross-sectoral work is being supported by Resohelp having the legal status of a Working Partnership (Arbeitsgemeinschaft) founded by 8 charities and institutions: the Diakonisches Werk – Local Committee Hannover e. V.; the Caritas Association of Hannover e. V.; the City of Hannover, Department of Social Affair; the Prisoner Welfare Association of Hannover; the Head of the Correctional Facility of the City of Hannover; the Catholic Church Office of the Correctional Facility of the City of Hannover; the Association of City Churches of Hannover; and the Job Center of Hannover Region.
In Mr Thomsen’ presentation, it became apparent Resohelp’s great contribution toward helping (ex-) prisoners and offenders develop social skills, such as self-esteem, self-responsability and self-care, and at the same time take on social responsibility. By helping delinquents and former prisoners reintegrate within their social communities and gain social rehabilitation, Resohelp is bringing benefits to the communities themselves.
After the presentation, Italian participants expressed the wish to establish contact to Resohelp, paving the ground for future exchange.
At last, it was time to go visit another, rather unique, social enterprise, placed at the heart of Hannover’s City: FairKauf e.G.
During the five and a half years since their foundation, FairKauf’s number of employees increased steadily, as well as their number of vocational trainees and apprentices, almost all of them belonging to disadvantaged groups. On the economic side, FairKauf’s success meant being able to survive and continuously grow during a time when many other department stores were closing their doors. Remarkable as this might be, even more striking appears the fact that FairKauf has been managing to do so without having the support of public funding. Following their motto Earn money to do good (not the other way around), FairKauf serves as a good example for a new, successful social business, which shows that a true commitment to social principles paired with business competence and business skills prevail over a difficult financial environment.
Following a presentation by Mr Detlef Klein, honorary project manager, and Mr Jörg Matthaei, steering board member, the MESSE participants were given a guided tour through the five floors of the department store, then taking the opportunity to look for special, fair-trade, souvenirs. ‘I have found a little saving box for my son, just like the one he loved but broke last year’, one of the participants, a mother, happily reported, proving FairKauf’s economic concept right once more.
The MESSE study visit in Hannover ended for the participants by enjoying the view from FairKauf’s small terrace in the fifth floor over the City at sunset.