Finding employment for people with disabilities is a continuous issue, which has been addressed by the Bulgarian government. For the last several years, the national policies have been falling to provide an overall solution for improving public services for people with disabilities, including facilitating their employment. Still, project-based measures seem to bring short-term answers on the local level. Through European and national funding, many social entrepreneurs manage to create new social enterprises, which employ people with disabilities and special needs. One of the good examples is With Soul Social Enterprise. However, this social enterprise tries to solve more than one social problem. The employed people with disabilities create educational toys, games and materials, which target children with special educational needs. Even though inclusive education has been around for several years, its practical application is fraught with many difficulties. There are no training aids adapted to children with special educational needs and integrated into the Bulgarian education system. Teachers do not feel sufficiently prepared to meet the needs of these children. Therefore, through the production of specially designed toys, games and aids, With Soul Social Enterprise enriches the lives of children with special needs and their families.
Orenda Foundation established With Soul Social Enterprise in July 2018 with the financial support of the European Social Fund under the Human Resources Development Programme.
Kunka Velikova, co-founder of Orenda Foundation and With Soul Social Enterprise, graduated with a degree in Accounting and Control. However, very soon she realized that her calling is to help others, and started working in the non-governmental sector. Together with Nikolinka Dimova, EU-project expert started Orenda Foundation in 2011.
Since then, the team has organized many social initiatives for people with fewer opportunities and children with special needs. The idea to create a social enterprise came as a result of many meetings and conversations throughout the years. Gradually, the idea transformed into a concrete plan for action and the social enterprise, called With Soul, started functioning in 2018.
The governing bodies of Orenda Foundation are the Managing Body and its chair. The Managing Body is composed of three persons: the chair, Kunka Velikova (founder), vice-chair, Nikolinka Dimova, and one member. The chair and the vice-chair are co-founders and part of the team of With Soul Social Enterprise, together with an occupation therapist, marketing expert, machine operator and employees for assembly of details.
With Soul Social Enterprise participates in the Accelerator of the Competition for Social Entrepreneurs Be the Change, organized by Nova Broadcasting Group and Reach for Change Bulgaria. The enterprise is one of the five causes to reach the final stage of selection.
On the national level, With Soul Social Enterprise collaborates with businesses, which use or promote the products of the enterprise. The team is interested in expanding its network internationally.
The mission of Orenda Foundation is:
With Soul Social Enterprise aims to provide useful and educational toys for children with special needs, made in Bulgaria and Bulgarian language. The enterprise provides jobs for disabled and disadvantaged people.
In the social enterprise, the team relies on basic principles in creating their products. They use bright colors because children’s senses are attracted by bright and contrasting colors. The team uses special harmless paints and varnishes for toys. They also want children to touch natural materials; hence, high-quality wood, textiles and cardboard are used for the products. Learning through play is another principle in the core of With Soul Social Enterprise activity. Therefore, inspiration comes from Montessori, Waldorf methods and innovative educational trends placing the child at the center of the learning process.
The aims of With Soul Social Enterprise are:
The social enterprise has a double-cause: to provide employment for people with disabilities and special needs and to make educational toys, games and materials for preschool and elementary school children.
Therefore, people who buy these products help people with disabilities to continue to have sustainable jobs within the social enterprise and children in pre-school and primary school age, as well as, those with special educational needs to enjoy the educational games and materials that the social enterprise produces with love and care.
Each item is carefully selected or specially designed. It contains a lot of thought and love. It is handcrafted and packaged by the team. It has a soul and a life of its own, which is different from the items, offered in the big chain stores.
A special focus is paid to children with special educational needs because the team believes that learning through play is the most rewarding and lasting for a child’s “soaking mind”. Besides, the training materials facilitate the work of educators and children, because there are tailored to their needs. The team also organizes demonstrations and ateliers for creating educational toys.
With Soul Social Enterprise focuses on two target groups:
The success of the social enterprise is related to the many efforts for creating a unified and motivated team. Most of the people, working at the enterprise, was long-time unemployed. They had also to learn the subtleties in producing hand-made educational toys and games. However, the employees feel accepted and understood in their new working place, because they can realize their potential and actually help other disadvantaged and disabled people and children.
Currently, eight people with disabilities or fewer opportunities are employed in the social enterprise. The team collaborates closely with educators, speech therapists and specialists who work with children with special needs. Together they create tailored educational materials designed for the specific needs of children.
The founders of With Soul Social Enterprise believe that every child should feel accepted, to be observed and motivated to learn and develop. The team’s desire is for children with special education needs to improve themselves without stress in learning. They also want teachers of these children who feel at ease that they can meet the needs and help them succeed. For achieving these aims, people should create with their souls and be committed to the cause.
With Soul Social Enterprise is a good example of overcoming more than one social issue in the local community. It works with partners on the national level and the opportunities for replicability are high as the organizational model can prove to be self-sufficient.
On the international level, similar enterprises can serve different disadvantaged groups in local communities and bring positive change to multiple social problems. Hence, the model of a social enterprise with a double-cause can be successfully multiplied and employed in different countries and regions.
1. Website of With Soul Social Enterprise – https://neshtasdusha.com.
2. Website of Orenda Foundation – https://www.orendabulgaria.com.
3. Video Documentary, A Cause with the Soul or the Story of Kunka and Bogi, Small Stories, aired on 13 May 2019 on the Bulgarian National Television.