Innovative Local Initiative in Fulókércs

From a charity initiative to the community enterprise

Jean-Luc Janot, AEIDL

The Fulókércs initiative was selected by AEIDL as one of 25 innovative local initiatives from across Europe to present at a European local development conference in the EU Parliament in February 2014.

Imre ‘Zorro’ Mata is leading a community-based local initiative that has established a social cooperative in the heart of Cserehát, one of Hungary’s poorest regions. The aim of Zorro and his team is to improve the standard of living of the local people of Fulókércs village, who are mainly Roma, by carrying out community activities, providing educational opportunities and creating jobs.

In 1995, Zorro and his wife, Katalin, joined forces with The Dutch Foundation that supported charity actions in Cserehát. The foundation donated potatoes to help the poorest families to avoid starving by planting their own potato crops.

Three years later, however, both Zorro and Katalin lost their jobs and had to refocus their efforts on agriculture and forestry, which were formerly secondary occupations for them. Following two years of successful cooperation in this new venture, husband and wife were once again able to devote time to their charitable efforts and established their own foundation, “More Together for Each Other” (Többet Együtt Egymásért Roma Alapítvány), which has since served as the parent organization for all of their initiatives.

School for Roma children

One of the foundation’s first tasks was to clear away ‘worthless’ wood from the forested areas and distribute it among the workers’ families. Zorro and Katalin’s foundation also established an After School Programme for Roma children and offered scholarships for both Roma and non-Roma young people. Several programmes were also launched, including a five-year ‘Milk for a Child’ initiative, under which poor families received cows on two conditions: the milk had to be sold below market price to other poor families, and it had to be provided to the children’s weekend school for free. The rest of the milk could be used as the families wished.  Other programmes were launched including classes for women on improving household skills and weaving, and a scheme for the donation of necessities such as food and clothing.

A shift from subsidized activities to the business world

In 2005, “More Together for Each Other” became involved in the Cserehát Model Programme. With the help of the Local Inclusion Centre established in Cserehát, and in cooperation with community coaches, Zorro and Katalin were able to strengthen their organization, developing skills, increasing capacity, and drawing up strategic goals for the future.

Over the next three years, the foundation acquired a van for transporting the staff, as well as a new tractor and dump truck for forestry work.  With these new vehicles at their disposal, Zorro and his team were able to plan and organize the work more efficiently, fulfill large orders easily, and begin to make the shift from taking part in subsidized activities to establishing a real business.

In 2010, they established a social cooperative, “Together for Each Other” (Együtt Egymásért). The cooperative applied for and received a European Social Fund grant, which allowed them to renew their headquarters, cover vocational training costs for their workers, purchase new equipment to fulfill large work orders, and employ 10 villagers for a year.

Another success occurred in 2013, when an after-school programme for disadvantaged village children, mostly Roma, managed by Zorro’s foundation became available to students every day.

Today, the social cooperative accounts for eight to 31 jobs in the local community (depending on the season), and 45 children are attending the after-school programme daily.

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Innovative Local Initiative in Fullókércs

From a charity initiative to the community enterprise

The Fulókércs initiative was selected by AEIDL as one of 25 innovative local initiatives from across Europe to present at a European local development conference in the EU Parliament in February 2014.

Imre ‘Zorro’ Mata is leading a community-based local initiative that has established a social cooperative in the heart of Cserehát, one of Hungary’s poorest regions. The aim of Zorro and his team is to improve the standard of living of the local people of Fulókércs village, who are mainly Roma, by carrying out community activities, providing educational opportunities and creating jobs.

In 1995, Zorro and his wife, Katalin, joined forces with The Dutch Foundation that supported charity actions in Cserehát. The foundation donated potatoes to help the poorest families to avoid starving by planting their own potato crops.

Three years later, however, both Zorro and Katalin lost their jobs and had to refocus their efforts on agriculture and forestry, which were formerly secondary occupations for them. Following two years of successful cooperation in this new venture, husband and wife were once again able to devote time to their charitable efforts and established their own foundation, “More Together for Each Other” (Többet Együtt Egymásért Roma Alapítvány), which has since served as the parent organization for all of their initiatives.

School for Roma children

One of the foundation’s first tasks was to clear away ‘worthless’ wood from the forested areas and distribute it among the workers’ families. Zorro and Katalin’s foundation also established an After School Programme for Roma children and offered scholarships for both Roma and non-Roma young people. Several programmes were also launched, including a five-year ‘Milk for a Child’ initiative, under which poor families received cows on two conditions: the milk had to be sold below market price to other poor families, and it had to be provided to the children’s weekend school for free. The rest of the milk could be used as the families wished.  Other programmes were launched including classes for women on improving household skills and weaving, and a scheme for the donation of necessities such as food and clothing.

A shift from subsidized activities to the business world

In 2005, “More Together for Each Other” became involved in the Cserehát Model Programme. With the help of the Local Inclusion Centre established in Cserehát, and in cooperation with community coaches, Zorro and Katalin were able to strengthen their organization, developing skills, increasing capacity, and drawing up strategic goals for the future.

Over the next three years, the foundation acquired a van for transporting the staff, as well as a new tractor and dump truck for forestry work.  With these new vehicles at their disposal, Zorro and his team were able to plan and organize the work more efficiently, fulfill large orders easily, and begin to make the shift from taking part in subsidized activities to establishing a real business.

In 2010, they established a social cooperative, “Together for Each Other” (Együtt Egymásért). The cooperative applied for and received a European Social Fund grant, which allowed them to renew their headquarters, cover vocational training costs for their workers, purchase new equipment to fulfill large work orders, and employ 10 villagers for a year.

Another success occurred in 2013, when an after-school programme for disadvantaged village children, mostly Roma, managed by Zorro’s foundation became available to students every day.

Today, the social cooperative accounts for eight to 31 jobs in the local community (depending on the season), and 45 children are attending the after-school programme daily.