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Fighting social exclusion in rural areas

[ Summary ]


Chapter 3:
Taking action against social exclusion in
rural areas: what methods? what tools?


3.3 Bringing together initiators,
beneficiaries, human and financial


Generally, the second characteristic of anti-exclusion actions in rural areas is the involvement of four types of actors:

  • the initiators and managers of the action;
  • the beneficiaries of the action;
  • the resource persons and/or institutions involved in the action;
  • the holders of financial resources.

a) The initiators: Who are they?

The initiators and managers of the action are people or institutions who are already aware of the problem of exclusion or who can take advantage of a practice in the field. They look at what has been lacking in past actions and examine possible solutions. They may be:

  • activists of the non-governmental sector - eg. the CILDEA association arose out of an earlier intervention by activists in the region;

  • officials of the local or central social services - the time bank in Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna was the result of an initiative of an equal opportunity board composed of women town councillors of the municipality; in Utajärvi Oulu in Finland, the state social services promoted the action;

  • a LEADER Local Action Group, like the one of Central West Brittany.

How do they mobilise?

The mobilisation of the initiators is always the result of a more or less long history that began in a specific context which triggered the motivations, the initiatives, the establishment of contacts and the search for solutions. The initiators generally chose to adopt an institutional, non- governmental or cooperative framework specific to the planned action. For example, there was the creation of: the Rural Plan for Economic Integration association in Brittany, the CILDEA association in the Loire, the social cooperative in Trento, the Angust Transport Forum in Scotland, the association for the management of the time bank in Emilia-Romagna, the RRI association in Ireland, etc.

b) The beneficiaries: Who are they?

The beneficiaries are the target group of excluded people at whom the action is aimed, because each action has a clearly defined target group: long-term unemployed (Centre-Ouest Bretagne), farmers in difficulty (Loire), the disabled (Valle di Non), the elderly (Utajärvi Oulu), geographically isolated persons (Angus), “economic refugees” (Ireland)...

How are they contacted?

The beneficiaries are identified and contacted in a whole variety of ways. Often the initiators’ network of personal acquaintances is sufficient. That is generally the case in the Italian social cooperatives whose network tends to grow as the action progresses and the initiator becomes acquainted with the beneficiaries. However, sometimes systematic identification is necessary. Several solutions are then possible:

  • using the databases or the files of the State administrative services when this is also possible. The CILDEA association, for example, contacts the income support service to find farmers in difficulty;

  • using relays - in County Angus, the beneficiaries are contacted via local groups of volunteers. They are the ones who present the service, provide feedback on the needs, locally organise travel, etc.

  • using broadcasting tools like the radio. RRI, for example, presents its action on radio programmes where interested persons can call in.

Whatever the situation, nothing is imposed on the potential beneficiaries who must remain free to choose. In fact the dialogue that is established with them is part of the inclusion work and essential if the action is to be a success. In the Loire, it takes a lot of talking to the farmers in difficulty before they are willing to become beneficiaries and accept the principle of counselling and guidance.

What part do they play in conducting the action?

In general the relationship between initiators and beneficiaries is not a simple relationship of assistance. The fact that the beneficiaries are involved in the action’s management is an essential condition for its success and sustainability. However, this is not always easy to do, given the often precarious situation of the beneficiaries. In such case, specific methods of training, involvement and dialogue have to be found that imply a lot of listening and guidance. Several methods have been tested depending on the groups concerned:

  • the establishment of long-term dialogue by holding regular meetings to review and compare results - every year, the CILDEA association organises a general meeting with the farmer beneficiaries and their counsellors to take stock of the past year, to assess the methods used, to see what kind of improvements can be made, and so on.

  • the direct involvement of the beneficiaries in the action’s management by making them active members of the association promoting the action - the beneficiaries of the time bank of Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna are members of the association which they operate, dividing the work among five working groups (management of secretariat, management of computer system, organisation of courses and cultural and recreational activities, relations with the public institutions, promotion of the bank in the area).

  • the use of contracts or other forms of formal commitment - The CILDEA association has all the beneficiaries sign (in accordance with the rules imposed for the granting of income support) a contract of inclusion which is approved by a local board of inclusion. This contract reiterates the pledges made by both sides and the rights and obligations of the beneficiary.

c) The resource persons and/or institutions: Who are they?

These are the people and/or institutions who help the beneficiaries find a way out of their state of exclusion. They can help establish a social link by lending a sympathetic ear, developing a human relationship, or offering advice, or they can provide services, organise vocational training or even offer a job (case of the retraining enterprise).

It may occur that the target groups also act as resource persons, like in the example of the elderly people in Finland or the members of the time bank in Italy.

How are they identified and contacted?

Finding the potential resource persons and/or institutions is a matter of observation and contacts. Here, the personal acquaintances of the initiators plays an essential role.

The CILDEA association uses the “word-of-mouth” method to find farmer counsellors. Its former job as a teacher in a rural area helped the development worker find the farmers most open to the action proposed and made it easier to mobilise them.

How are they prepared to assume their role?

The resource persons and/or institutions play a key role in the action’s progression at the local level. It is essential that they make the project and action their own, otherwise there is a great risk of failure. This is important because they are often required to listen and relate to the beneficiaries, which implies a considerable amount of psychological, human, social and cultural preparation.

The CILDEA association prepares the counsellors by organising regular training sessions with psychologists, social workers and development workers.

For city families moving to the country with the help of RRI, the inhabitants of the host villages are the resource persons. However, there have been cases where people have moved to villages without sufficient consultation and preparation of the local people. This resulted in reactions of rejection, particularly when the newly arrived families include “problem” teenagers (juvenile delinquency, drugs, etc.).

What part do they play in conducting the action?

There are several levels of involvement of the resource persons and/or institutions in the action’s management:

  • The involvement may be in the form of informal and voluntary commitment.

      In the Valle di Non social cooperative in Italy, the resource families make a voluntary commitment that is later formalised as and when the need arises.

  • Sometimes, even when voluntary, a more formal commitment has to be made where the general context of participation in the action is clearly established.

      For the counselling of farmers in the Loire, the counsellors have to make a formal commitment to abide by a certain number of clearly defined practices: time and forms of assistance, relationship with the association, etc.

  • The commitment of the resource persons and/or institutions may even go as far as participation in the local partnership created for the action, membership in the association responsible for the action or inclusion in the group of initiators of the action.

      The CILDEA association and the social cooperative of the Valle di Non had a number of cases like this.

d) the holders of financial resources

The actions to fight social exclusion would have difficulty existing without specific funding. Despite the constant reliance upon very low-cost resources (voluntary work, local means, etc.), there are operating costs that an association itself cannot easily finance. Although there are exceptions, like in the case of the time bank of Sant’Archangelo di Romagna where the initiator is a public institution which already has a specific budget.

Who are they?

The funding for anti-exclusion actions can be public or private and come from a variety of sources: local, regional, national or European authority or body.

At the local level, public funds are most often solicited from the municipalities. But funding can also be sought from other regional authorities like the French General Councils, the British County Councils or the German Länder. At the national level, the specialised government agencies remain a potential source of funding.

Since 1990, the action begun by CILDEA has been funded by the General Council of the Loire and by the department’s Labour and Employment Services. Given the good results obtained in a few cantons, this funding has been extended to all the rural sectors of the department. This has made it possible to reach nearly 100 farmers on income support, or two thirds of those in the department. Some private firms will also fund actions to fight social exclusion.

To launch their training enterprise for jobs in the construction sector, the LEADER group of Centre-Ouest Bretagne solicited and obtained financial support from the region’s major industrial firms connected with the sector (cement, electricity, etc.).

Finally, it is important to remember that by mobilising local funds, public or private, it is possible to apply for European funding, from the European Social Fund (ESF) in particular.

How is a relationship of trust established and how can the funding be sustained?

The relationship with the institutions funding the actions is often problematic, because their expectations do not necessarily correspond to the reality of the anti-exclusion work. Often they want visible and quantifiable results in the short term. But inclusion is for the most part only achieved over the long term and involves the building of a social link that is not immediately perceptible.

The CILDEA association was faced with a problem of this kind. The General Council which was funding the action underestimated the amount of work that had to be done to rebuild a social link and thought that it could judge the results according to the number of farmers no longer on income support. In some cases, it even went so far as to question the validity of the system of counselling and guidance. The problem was in part overcome by establishing direct contact between the officials of the services concerned and some of the farmers being counselled and by systematically writing up individual progress reports for each case. In addition, the officials of the administrative service were systematically invited to the joint review meetings organised with the beneficiaries and their counsellors. This enabled them to understand the method and to accept the principle of a long-term action.

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