Bagel Bejgl – social enterprise with a soul

Bagel Bejgl – social enterprise with a soul

The second story we bring to you is the story of NGO “Atina” from Belgrade. We have had a pleasure to welcome Jelena Hrnjak who agreed to talk about the social enterprise this nongovernmental organization that assists human trafficking victims founded to facilitate the mission they have been dedicated to for decades.

For years now, NGO Atina has been the leading nongovernmental organization in Serbia providing assistance to victims of human trafficking.  Their work is inspirational in every respect, but this time the reason why we invited Jelena Hrnjak, their programme manager, was Atina’s activity related to social entrepreneurship. Namely, their organization has recently organized a Bazaar “Women's Initiatives in Social Entrepreneurship”.

Jelena started her story proudly speaking about “Atina”.

“Atina is an organization that deals with the protection of human trafficking victims. We do it in a specific way.  Civil society organizations are self-organized. Groups of women from the Women’s Movement in Serbia have realized that human trafficking is a severe issue that has been present for a very long time. Some records dating back to the 90s war indicate to this issue, and they have pushed Serbia in the beginning of 2000 to recognize the criminal offense of human trafficking. Among them is “Atina” that established the first shelter for human trafficking victims in 2003, which is still serving its purpose today. After many years and many promises Serbia made about the establishment of a shelter, we are still managing to maintain our support system. Why is that an important topic to discuss? It is significant for various reasons, foremost because civil society organizations have been creating a space to allow women and girls who suffered human trafficking to recover in an appropriate manner. Serbia has opened a shelter for human trafficking victims for the first time in 2019, after years and years of promises. It is an old idea, dating back to 2007, 2008, when it made a lot of sense."

"However, today, in 2019, in this technological revolution we are trying to tolerate as a society, we see the human trafficking phenomenon changing, taking new forms, and the needs of girls, young women, boys, and persons who survived human trafficking in general are changing along with it. A question arises now once again, how to perceive the position of people in our society, the poverty and tyranny of keeping quiet about the poverty that has captured us all as a society (and when we say poverty, we also imply not having any contact with the culture, not being able to recognize history or identity in general, education that went in a completely different direction, and actually a lack of possibility for young people to acquire proper education).

We certainly have a number of young people who attend schools, but there are also those who haven’t finished primary or secondary school. These are the persons vulnerable to different risks, who can find themselves in different situations including human trafficking. That is also a reason why NGO Atina exists – to spot different trends and phenomena that are occurring in our society in a broader spectrum. Human trafficking is not only one story. Those are all the Roma girls and boys we see who are forced to beg in the streets, those are all the women who lose their jobs after they turn fifty, that is the fight for labor rights. Thus, many elements are mixed in this story, and it is actually great that women activists here, in Niš and other cities across the country have managed to keep the programs running; Atina is one of those that has successfully been running its program dealing with the protection of human trafficking victims”.

Iz NVO Atina nastalo je uspešno socijalno preduzeće

A prosperous social enterprise was created by NGO Atina

Owing to a high poverty level in our country, it is logical we have people searching to fulfil their existential needs at higher risk of entering the human trafficking cycle. To what extent are they aware of the dangers around them?

“I think they are not aware enough, but that is individual. Some are, others aren’t. If you live in bad circumstances, you don’t think about danger, you think about making it through an hour, a day, a week. There is a paradox frequently present in labor exploitation where people call before they go for a job somewhere, even abroad (the highest number of them end up as human trafficking victims when they go abroad for work). You can tell they are aware of the risks, but they have no choice. Lack of choice is what makes you vulnerable, and lack of choice is what someone in the position of power takes advantage of. They spot it, recognize it, see it, and abuse your disadvantageous position.”

This is a highly important question, as there are numerous ads displayed in public. Girls and women are invited to work as caregivers, nurses, babysitters.  How much can one trust what is actually behind these ads and how can we protect women from potentially malicious ads?

“You will agree with me that we all have a family member or an acquaintance who went abroad for work. That is the reality of Serbia, and it will only grow in the future. What you said about the ads is very important to me. When I see an ad targeting girls or women – it strikes me immediately as malicious; I believe there should be no gender segregation in any profession. There are certainly some gender preferences in specific occupations. However, when I spot such an ad it is indicative, especially if it is emphasized that they are looking for younger girls as that is also an indicator.”

Socijalno preduzeće ima društveni cilj

Social enterprise has a social objective

“Atina” has recently organized a Bazaar "Women's Initiatives in Social Entrepreneurship". People still don’t recognize what social entrepreneurship stands for, and often confuse it with generic entrepreneurship. What is the essential difference between the two?

“Well, there are several differences. Social entrepreneurship implies engaging hard-to-employ categories. It has a social mission and vision, which is to give back to the community. Not all enterprises have to employ a person coming from marginalized groups, but can direct all its profits, for example, toward programs for persons with disabilities, or any other marginalized group in a society. Sadly, social enterprises still exist exclusively in our minds, because in 2019 in Serbia we still lack a law on social entrepreneurship, we lack a framework that would clearly define what it means. We cannot blame our citizens if they are not sufficiently informed about it since actually there is no single precise definition of social entrepreneurship. However, it is a solution for many civil society organizations, as well as a way for them to remain independent.

It is one of the main reasons why we decided to start a social enterprise Bagel Bejgl five years ago in Belgrade, as we couldn’t wait for the country to realize we exist. We couldn’t wait for the country to remember it has an obligation to fund and support civil society organizations, that it can be more useful, cheaper, and more beneficial. Our country has decided to go in a different direction. Citizens feel this too, civil society organizations are not privileged in this respect. One of the main reasons was to try ourselves in business, to try to make profits ourselves, and not wait for anyone, not even the law. We are often asked, “How do you run a social enterprise when there is no law on social entrepreneurship?”. We always respond that, had we waited for 5 years we wouldn’t have Bagel Bejgl now, which is a fantastic story that transcends the borders of our country.

What is “Bagel Bejgl” about?

“Bagel Bejgl produces the best bagel pastry in Belgrade. Primarily there, because we opened a bakery shop where we produce the pastry. It is located in Knez Danilova Street, and lives a joyous, energetic and beautiful life. That enterprise managed to make enough profit in the first year of business to enter the VAT system, which made us happy as it was an indicator that our enterprise is prosperous. On the other hand, as an organization that also runs a victim’s recovery program, we realized that we are actually meeting the needs of the country. Every year, Atina allocates funds to Serbia that could help us fund our program without any issue. That is one of the difficulties we have been facing, but progress has been visible recently. Political situation has changed, both for the better and for worse. We have sent different initiatives to competent ministries. Victims of human trafficking and domestic violence are recognized in our country as hard-to-employ category, and if there are some affirmative actions, employers who hire persons from this category can have some tax benefits. We believed that was an extremely positive measure which can enable women exit their disadvantageous position. To sum it up, economic empowerment and economic strength of a woman and her stability in an economic sense is one of the solutions in combating violence, but also one of the causes of violence. We are living in a patriarchal society where men are not thrilled to see an independent, successful and strong woman.”

How many other women’s initiatives are there?

“Well, there are many. It was proven through this wonderful, joyous Bazaar that celebrated the power of women in every respect. We had more than 20 initiatives. Bazaar took place on the last day of July, when many people are on summer holiday, and still around 500 people came, which is a pretty good turnout. It lasted for only a couple of hours, as we planned, so that people have sufficient time to browse everything it offers; women from all over Serbia came to display their products, so we had the opportunity to purchase and taste organic ajvar and many other different foods, textile, and other products. Visitors could also hear about different experiences of these women which was the essence of that gathering and of our work – to act as motivators to other women, to give them hope and an energy boost to take this road, or a different one that makes more sense in their respective communities. We are aware of the fact that in some communities certain initiatives cannot be replicated, however we believe we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but rather just tailor it to a certain context to reach success.”

There are many people in Niš who fall under the hard-to-employ category, mostly women. Can the social entrepreneurship model be fitting for them? From social welfare beneficiary to social entrepreneur. The project has been implemented by AIM Center with the financial support of the South Serbia Fund.  

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