He stood out a mile did Vlado Krystovski. He was one of two hundred or so people at a conference in Brussels all about reducing social isolation for disabled people. As the Eurostar pulled in, I knew an interesting time awaited me an event that included Beyond Welfare of Iowa, the Finnish Association for Disabilities and the Bulgarian Stammerers Association.
At lunch, I met Vlado, a young social entrepreneur from Macedonia. After running refugee camps in the Balkan civil war he studied social work. Today, his organisation – Poraka – or MESSAGE in English – helps young disabled people and their families plan for the future. Vlado is working with big numbers with little money, a dodgy government and a society that kept disabled people banged up till a few years ago. Yet here he was: eager, keen to share and learn. Not bitter. No sense of entitlement. In sharp contrast in fact to the po-faced miserabIists I frequently encounter in the UK third sector (and, now and again, in my own organisation).
This event was interesting for me personally as it brought disability-inclusion and social enterprise together. This is only just starting in the UK, where people like me are a bit of an oddity next to the recycling businesses, eateries and employment specialists. By contrast, in Eastern and Southern Europe, everyone in the disability rights sector is a social entrepreneur. They have to be. If they don’t act entrepreneurially, they can’t survive.
One effect of not being spoon-fed by the state is that people get creative. Some of the work Vlado is doing is streets ahead of many UK organisations I know with big grants and well-paid staff. What the guy lacks in money he makes up for in his openness to learning, his amazing networks and his ability to inspire support locally and globally.
Which brings me onto sustainability. In this country, we think of sustainability mainly in financial terms. Vlado’s story shows us that sustainability is principally about resilience. Which you build by being entrepreneurial, clear on your values and close to your supporters. Indeed, UK social enterprises at risk often lack Poraka’s type of resilience as much as they lack hard cash.
So the next time you’re facing a `crisis’, don’t just look at the figures. Think resilience. And ask yourself what Vlado would do…