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1. Transition Network (United Kingdom)

Transition Network is an organisation set up in 2007 which catalyses and supports the rapidly growing, innovative Transition movement of community-led initiatives, responding to the challenges of peak oil, climate change and social inequality.

Transition is therefore a social process, the key aspect being local people working together as a community to innovate and work towards a low-carbon future with a high level of well-being for all.

In five years, more than 500 Transition initiative groups have been set up in 23 European countries, and more than 1 000 groups worldwide.

Transition initiatives are community-led groups based in neighbourhoods, creating local responses to climate change, peak oil and inequality. They create a positive vision and plan for their community’s future, with much less need for fossil fuels, more localised economies, and resilient communities in which individuals can provide a greater level of well-being for each other, especially for those who are more disadvantaged.

The groups set up a huge range of locally-inspired projects involving local food, energy efficiency, action against fuel poverty, local currencies, renewable energy and community cohesion. Many Transition initiatives are now setting up social enterprises, creating new green jobs, and working on local economic development.

Transition initiative groups in Europe run projects developing sustainable products and services, including food production and supply, community-owned and managed renewable energy and energy conservation.

Transition Network:

  • suggests principles and structures for setting up and running Transition initiative groups, and provides ongoing advice and online resources;
  • facilitates the development of an international network by encouraging and supporting the development of "National Hub" organisations in each country, to coordinate, inspire, support and train the people running local Transition initiatives in each country;
  • runs training courses for around 300 people per year. They have also set up a global network of 120 Transition Trainers, who train hundreds more people each year;
  • manages a website on which more than 14 000 individual Transitioners are registered, sharing information through web-forums and a monthly e-newsletter;
  • hosts an annual conference enabling hundreds of Transitioners to connect and increase knowledge, skills and inspiration.

Transition Network has been awarded first prize for all its activities, but also, more specifically, for its "REconomy" pilot project, which was launched in January 2011 and aims to help Transition initiatives to develop social enterprises which provide "greener" jobs.

The REconomy project’s purpose is to support a fair transition to a green economy by establishing social dialogue for "greening" jobs and decent work and the necessary skills. Transition Network helps Transition initiatives to find ways to create a new kind of local economy, based on local needs and local resources, and social outcomes.

The REconomy project also focuses on existing businesses, and on helping Transition initiative groups to spread best practice on sustainable production among businesses by working in partnership in their local community.


2. CAIS Association (Portugal)

The CAIS Association, which has been awarded second prize for its overall activities, is a charity (a Private Institution for Social Solidarity) founded in 1994 to promote and support the empowerment and autonomy of homeless people and people living in extreme poverty.

The association focuses on two types of programme which promote the social inclusion of target groups and the creation of jobs for a number of people involved.

The social inclusion programme includes the publication of a monthly street magazine as part of a broader strategy in which social and psychological counselling go hand in hand with housing- and work-oriented training and events.

This programme also includes street football, a festival promoting the right to culture (AventurArte) and daily training sessions, ranging from a number of school disciplines and computing skills to handicrafts and the performing arts. All these activities lay the groundwork for the social integration of the association's target groups, with the final stage being access to housing and work.

Over the last 18 years, selling the street magazine has provided a job and income for nearly 100 people each month, making them less reliant on public assistance and less socially isolated. 70% of the 2 € price goes to the seller. In addition, there is a strong environmental dimension to the magazine's production: initially it was printed on recycled paper, but it now uses "new paper" which is less polluting and more ecological.

As regards new jobs, the CAIS association has generated jobs involving selling the street magazine as part of a social entrepreneurship initiative driven by the increasing difficulty in finding a job met by people who have been homeless, in prison, etc. Specific initiatives are a recycling workshop, dry car-washing, traditional shoe polishing and the CAISBuy@Work project.

The CAIS recycling workshop, in Porto, was set up to recycle and transform industrial residues or waste (plastic bottles, advertising materials, jars, tins, cardboard, paper, etc.) into useful products.

The act of recycling is not a recent invention but this initiative is considered creative and innovative as it is part of a strategy to provide work for homeless people or people who have been unemployed for a long time.

People working in this workshop previously had no resources; they now receive an income from the sale of recycled products. This activity also creates a link between the social sector and the economic or professional sector.

Dry car-washing is another social project which caters for environmental concerns. Other than labour, this car-washing service requires only soft cloths, wax-related products and a vacuum cleaner to clean the inside and outside of the vehicle.

This technique saves on water and gives a better end result than washing with water. It is not a waterless car-wash station but rather a mobile service: vehicles are cleaned where they are parked.

27 homeless people and people living in extreme poverty have been trained to carry out this work since the scheme was launched two years ago, and earn an income from it. The aim of the project is to ready the people concerned for the labour market and equip them with the skills needed to hold a job.

The traditional shoe waxing/polishing project is another social project which aims to bring back an activity which is dying out in cities such as Lisbon – not for the sake of reviving an old tradition but in order to guarantee a viable and secure living for shoe polishers like those who used to perform this work and those who still do.

Credit for this initiative goes not only to CAIS but to another association as well (Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa) and two universities (IADE and ISCTE), which are working to develop this formerly isolated and often marginalised work into a cooperative. This process is still ongoing and is supported by CASES (Antonio Sérgio cooperative for the social economy).

The aim is to give old and new shoe polishers a way to speak with one voice and to give them a renewed sense of dignity by changing the way people think of this work, so that it is no longer seen as a marginal activity performed by marginalised people nor as an activity requiring no particular skill. Ten people, six of them unemployed and living in extreme poverty, currently work as traditional shoe polishers in Lisbon in the framework of this project.

The CAISBuy@Work project, which began in September 2012, involves the delivery of services at the pharmaceutical company Merck, and involves meeting the requests or needs of the company's staff, from dropping off a jacket at the dry cleaner's to running errands at the local supermarket.

The person who does this work belongs to the target groups covered by CAIS and is stationed within the company itself. By calling on the services of this person, the company's staff help make this job permanent and improve the person's living conditions. The project works towards social inclusion and the development of sustainable jobs.

Other local companies are asked to make use of this service in order to increase the number of daily requests and thus take on more people. The long-term aim is to create an organisation which other homeless people or people in extreme poverty can join.

For each request, the person earns one euro, and another euro is paid by the company as part of its social responsibility policy. For the first year (2012-2013), it has been agreed that the person employed in the context of the CAISBuy@Work project should be paid a monthly salary of 600 €, irrespective of the number of requests received each day. The aim however is to enable the person to earn much more than that by increasing the number of requests for services.

In 2011, 372 people were supported by the association, some of whom have been able to find a job thanks to this social entrepreneurship initiative. Another 34 people have also found a job in the labour market with the association's help.


3. Livstycket (Sweden)

Livstycket is an association founded in 1992 whose chief aim is to promote solidarity between immigrants and refugees, and Swedish society. The basic premise of the association's activities is that the most important tool for achieving this goal is promoting knowledge of Swedish as a language and fostering contacts between immigrants and Swedes. With this goal in mind, the association takes a functional and innovative approach which unites theoretical teaching and practical, artistic activities to give words a function, a situation and a context.

Livstycket's work is centred principally around the needs and desires of women, given the key role that they play in children's education. Another key objective is to make the people who take part in Livstycket's activities autonomous.

The association now has nearly 500 members and its activities are funded by the municipality of Stockholm. It also receives money from donors and foundations.

Livstycket has been awarded third prize for its Drinking tea while learning the alphabet project which was launched in January 2010. It is innovative because it uses a particular teaching method called the Witting method, which initially enabled 16 women, all of them illiterate, to learn to read and write Swedish in only 18 months.

This method is used for people of all ages who are experiencing learning difficulties, in both secondary and adult education. The teacher began by listening to the students to discover which letters and sounds were familiar to each of them. Only then did she begin to form an idea of the profile of this first group of 16 women from seven different countries.

Of these women, who had lived in Sweden for periods ranging between 4 and 35 years, only one had attended school in her native country. Fifteen had taken "Swedish for foreigners" classes. In all, the members of the group had spent 25 years taking "Swedish for foreigners" classes without actually learning to read.

From a theoretical view point, the Witting method is based on the realisation that the reading process is formed of two parts: one technical and mechanic, the other comprehension-based.

Reading supposes that the person is capable of performing two activities at the same time, i.e. decrypting how to read and write a word while also understanding what it means. Using this method, students create their own learning manual, which is thus designed from the very beginning by and for illiterate people.

The women taking part in the project were divided into two groups: one learnt the letters and the corresponding sounds, while the other, with the help of a designer and a textile crafts teacher, applied different creative techniques to letters and illustrations – some women find it easier to relate to textile crafts than to purely theory-based learning.

These women were quite accustomed to baking and sewing and this approach enabled them to link these activities to learning the alphabet.

Of the 16 women in the group, 14 took 18 months to learn to read and write; the other two needed a few more months. During this period, the members of the group wrote a book on their participation in the project and their experiences of the learning process.

This book, which was presented in autumn 2011 and which is primarily a manual on learning to read and write, is called Drinking tea while learning the alphabet.

The women who took part in the project are still acquiring new skills and another group of women is now using the same method of language learning.

In addition to being innovative owing to the method used and the fact that learning to read and write then enables the women concerned to teach other illiterate people to read and write based on their own experiences, this project helps build a sustainable society by promoting genuine integration of marginalised people.


2012 EESC Civil Society Prize Winners

Press release: 2012 EESC Civil Society Prize