Erzsébet Szekeres

Organization: 
Alliance for Rehabilitation
Year founded: 
1986
Country: 
Hungary

By providing medical care and training, the Alliance for Rehabilitation works to integrate disabled adults into Hungarian society.

Focus: Education, Disabilities, Health, Labour Conditions, Unemployment
Geographic Area of Impact: Hungary
Model: Hybrid non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 702 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 5,100,000 (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 3%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Hungary, 2006

Background
Disabled people in Hungary are often marginalized from society and not supported even in the most basic areas, such as public transportation and access to schools and office buildings. When Erzsébet Szekeres’ son was born disabled 35 years ago, the doctor said he would never be able to do anything in this world. She thought otherwise and looked for families in similar situations to form a community. Until 1994, they lived illegally in a “group home” producing ceramics. This community eventually became an official cooperative, which grew and diversified. Today, 620 disabled individuals, including 300 who are severely handicapped, are employed in various fields throughout the country.

Innovation and Activities
The Alliance for Rehabilitation (formerly Alliance Industrial Cooperative) developed a model to tackle the complex problem of integrating disabled adults into society. It first created a community where members felt loved, could interact and work. Later it offered members vocational training to prepare them for real life. Today, the organization runs 22 different businesses, including farming, manufacturing, construction and packaging. Those with vocational skills leave the organization, find employment and start self-supported, independent lives.

The Alliance for Rehabilitation has numerous business relations, serves business clients and accepts jobs from distant locations like Holland and Italy. It generates about US$ 157,000 in revenue, more than half of which is distributed among the workers as salaries comparable to the pay of people in similar jobs in more accepted parts of society. In addition, the organization provides workers with housing to rent and is constructing new building blocks to keep up with increasing demand. The apartments have one nurse for every three units, and are affordably priced. Parents or older relatives may move into larger affordable apartments together with one of the workers to offer them more support.

Despite its revenues, the Alliance for Rehabilitation is 50% financed by the government under a law supporting disabled employment. In the event of grant failure, an emergency strategy has been developed to guarantee the organization remains sustainable and self-sufficient, although salary payments would go to providing free accommodation and food for all members.

The Entrepreneur
Erzsébet Szekeres, a ceramist by profession, acquired all the knowledge needed to help her son and other disabled people through trial and error. She later received a diploma in social assistance and worked for the European Union for three years on an initiative to address the segregation and struggle of the disabled. As head of the Alliance for Rehabilitation, she knows every employee, their names, life stories, disabilities and problems, and often refers them as “my children”. She is planning to remain the head of the organization as long as she can before retiring to the home she has created for the members. She is the recipient of: Ashoka Fellowship, 1997; Gold Medal of the Hungarian Republic, 2000; and the Essl Social Prize, 2009.