SOCIAL CHALLENGE AND INNOVATIVE SOLUTION
There are about 10 to 12 million Roma people in Europe, making it the largest ethnic minority in Europe. Despite the efforts of the EU institutions and other international and European organisations, Roma people still face discrimination and racism. The social and economic gaps between Roma and non-Roma have become wider, which far-right extremist movements, xenophobic groups and populist politicians play up to their advantage. They are often segregated and cannot access basic rights such as healthcare, education and employment (source: ENAR). The negative stereotyping that the Roma population suffer from leads to their exclusion and dehumanisation.
In 2010, Erika Varga and her sister Helena decided to tackle this issue in an innovative way: they founded ROMANI Design, the first Roma fashion studio using fashion and design to create bridges between Roma and non-Roma. Its aim is two-fold:
- Break stereotypes and popularise the Roma culture and community (by reinterpreting the traditional patterns in a modern urban-wear way, and using fashion to give a voice to Roma culture), and
- Serve the cultural and economic needs of the Roma society (by creating employment for disadvantaged Roma women and train them as seamstresses).
The brand is well-known in Hungary and has reached international recognition, participating in Fashion Weeks around the world. The design studio is also a learning centre for disadvantaged Roma children, where different workshops are being developed and take place, discussing Roma identity, heritage and culture. ROMANI has received a lot of positive feedback and reactions to their creations, shedding new and positive light on Roma culture and community by defining Roma fashion as a modern, valuable contribution to the mainstream design industry.
KEY SOCIAL IMPACT FIGURES
Number of people trained
3 women employed
in a staff of 6
VENTURE PHILANTHROPY CONTRIBUTION
How it started
In 2012, Erika, the founder of ROMANI, was seeking a loan with Erste Bank Hungary. As her social enterprise was not enough developed for a loan and the bank advised her to go through ERSTE Foundation for a grant and non-financial support.
ERSTE Foundation started helping ROMANI in 2012 with organisational development, it provided some financial training, and worked with consulting company in Budapest in order to improve their social business plan ERSTE Foundation also helped them create their website and blog.
In 2013, the VPO launched together with other organisations the ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership to support initiatives that tackle the issue with a bottom-up approach. It focuses on opportunities to create jobs and generate incomes from community initiatives, while bringing together Roma with non-Roma people in order to achieve the desired social impact and sustainability. ROMANI Design met the criteria to be part of this partnership, so the VPO took a more comprehensive approach with the development of ROMANI’s brand and the business itself.
In 2016 ERSTE Foundation considered that ROMANI needed to reach its “maturity” phase and to scale up in order to eventually ensure self-sustainability. They are now both working on an investment portfolio to focus on scaling up.
Since 2012 ERSTE Foundation has provided a total grant of €217,235 in several tranches. ROMANI also received a loan from Erste Bank HU with a credit limit amount of €115,546 that was a 100% performance loan for a timeline of 24 months. On top of this grant and loan, ROMANI also benefitted from EU funding to work on education (training, workshops).
Non-financial support at a glance
For the ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership, the VPO defined a result-based measurement process that each partner would go through at the beginning of each year of cooperation, following precise objectives and their outputs, outcomes and results.
The VPO established a set of objectives to cover the variety of organisations that are part of the partnership. Each organisation has to fit in at least one category, but they can choose which one:
|Target group, i.e. Roma people
|Additional income generation
|Improvement of well-being/life chances
ROMANI’s primary objective is to change people’s perceptions about Roma people and culture (social sensitisation) but they also provide job opportunities for Roma people.
The VPO uses the following indicators to measure the increase of social sensitisation:
- Number of visitors on the website
- Number of followers + Average reach per post on ROMANI’s Facebook Page
- Number of people who have seen each video
- Number of press release about ROMANI Design (both online and offline)
What they think
— Erika Varga, Founder, ROMANI Design
“The secret of the success of our cooperation with ERSTE Foundation is based on the personalised mentor programme they offered as a part of their Roma Partnership programme. Our intensive collaboration extended to specifically our needs and activities through systemic and project-based areas. A unique connection was built between us, based on open communication, flexibility and personalised support, resulting in genuine improvement.”
“ROMANI established itself as a fashion brand promoting Roma heritage at a global level thanks to their incredible determination and hard work. ERSTE Foundation is pleased and honoured to have been part of this fantastic development together with Erika Varga and her team.”
— Alina Şerban, Project Manager Social Development, ERSTE Foundation
ERSTE Foundation is looking for co-investors to help scale up ROMANI. Ideally the VPO would like to find an angel investor who understands the brand, what it means and where it wants to go. Erika Varga, as a Roma herself, and her strong team are fully committed to working towards the goal of promoting Roma culture and breaking stereotypes.