05 February 2014

Macken – a work integration social enterprise in Sweden

Macken social enterprise

At Macken, both human and material resources are looked after. Since it started up in 2009, this work integration social enterprise in Växjö has created jobs for those who were well outside the labour market.

"We started with a small bicycle workshop in 2009," says business developer Fredrik Bergman. "Since then, our activities have expanded in all directions. Today, the Macken cooperative is involved in many different areas of development: urban food growing, Swedish language and society courses for immigrants, small business courses and a farming school in simple Swedish. We also operate a café in Växjö and have a business centre where people living on financial assistance can get help in starting their own businesses."

Fredrik Bergman, who was working as a teacher at a folk high school at the beginning of the 2000s, was hired by Växjö Municipality to teach social studies to the long-term unemployed. It turned out that the students were not very motivated, because they would much rather be out working. Fredrik organised a study visit to the recycling centre in Växjö. Together, they saw how many things could be recovered and recycled instead of being thrown away. With the help of Social Fund aid, they soon began running a bicycle workshop in an abandoned petrol station in the 'Million Programme' area of Araby.

Language school in the workshop

A textile workshop was also started where newly arrived immigrant women were soon able to gather. While the women stitched and sewed, they were given Swedish lessons by a teacher in Swedish, who had come to the workshop for the purpose of rehabilitation after a long period of sick leave.  The students found it easier to acquire the language when they were able to simultaneously do what they were most interested in. After a while Macken's alternative SFI (Swedish for immigrants) courses resulted in Macken's own phrase book and a textbook expanded with words and phrases that had come up in the workshops.

Macken is operated as a cooperative in which all employees are offered membership and shares. Employees who leave their jobs in the cooperative also cease to be shareholders. Today, there are around 30 employees and  around 100 students and trainees.

"We have always had many irons in the fire, our activities are quite diverse," says Fredrik Bergman. "There was no initial business plan that we have followed. It's been about find ways into the labour market for people who have been on the outside by using creativity and individual flexibility."

Macken targets primarily foreign-born practitioners with low levels of formal education. The starting point is that it is easier to learn Swedish in an environment that you feel comfortable in and have some connection with. A baker should not learn Swedish in the bicycle workshop, but in the café. For the students, the purpose of the workshops is to both learn Swedish and about Swedish work culture. It's important to be able to rapidly enter Swedish society and connect back to the knowledge they had in their home countries.

Students' requests govern

In the education and training contract with Växjö Municipality, there is a language teaching requirement, but also the requirement to create jobs for the long-term unemployed. To help the students to get jobs, among other things Macken has established enterprises in facility management services, cleaning services and forest clearing. The latest addition is the home help service, starting up in the autumn of 2013.

"Our activities are set up based on what the students request. When they began asking for vocational education and training and support for business start-ups, we took this on. But they must be courses related to the community's needs and which do not already exist in the local community.

The result has been a business school, farming school and forest clearing courses, all provided in simple Swedish. For start-ups, Macken's business centre was formed – a business incubator with support from the municipality. Its task is to get ten new businesses started per year by people who were previously living on financial assistance. Macken also offers a course in small business in simple Swedish and an advisory service where people can come and test out their business ideas.

Unconventional solutions

"We are constantly creating practical opportunities to try out ideas. It is important to work on finding unconventional solutions, to always see the individual and his or her needs."

An example is the project Får i stan (Sheep in town). In conjunction with the municipality, Macken applied for funding from the Swedish Board of Agriculture so that two students who had previously worked with sheep in Afghanistan could have the opportunity to do so in Sweden too.

"We thought about it like this: Why should a municipality like Växjö mow several hectares of grass in and around the city centre when instead you could have grazing sheep? We got the funding and the concept works well."

Macken works in close cooperation with both the cooperative business advisory organisation Coompanion and with Växjö Municipality, with which Macken has a number of contracts.

"Like many other social enterprises, we live off both the private market and in collaboration with the public sector," says Fredrik Bergman.

Macken also cooperates with the local branch of the Swedish public employment service (Arbetsförmedlingen) through contracts and assignments under various labour market initiatives.

"Through Coompanion Gothenburg's project Explosion via the Swedish ESF Council, we will be launching a franchise concept to begin courses and establish in several locations. If we operate in more municipalities, it will make it possible to participate in Arbetsförmedlingen's public procurements, so that all these branches of Macken together can be even stronger," says Fredrik Bergman.