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Empowerment of marginalized convicted women through social enterprises

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EmpowerMarginalized (Empowerment of marginalized convicted women through social enterprises)

Reporting period: 2019-02-18 to 2021-02-17

The Empowerment of marginalized people is nowadays an embedded concern of different supranational organizations such as the UN and the EU which have gradually lined up to become its stewards. The recent policies and mandates adopted by the EU, have as a founding an explicit objective in the Article of the Treaty on European Union which states: "with its support to Member States in the fight against poverty, social exclusion, and discrimination, the European Union aims to strengthen the inclusive character and cohesion of European society and to ensure that all citizens have equal access to opportunities and resources". United Nations with the Human Development Office (UN) publications explain how “expanding choices can empower people to act on their values” and how the entire political agenda must be oriented to foster such empowering processes: "Human development is about empowering people to identify and pursue their own paths for a meaningful life, one anchored in expanding freedoms". Indeed, Empowerment policies have found increasing consensus and now it is reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the claim “Leaving No One behind" meant to “seriously attend to the structural conditions and violence creating and perpetuating inequalities, and listen to and include the experiences and priorities of those most marginalized".
However, what does marginalization mean? Marginalization means disempowerment from a human point of view, insofar as people are excluded from getting access to the possibilities of flourishing their potentiality; from an economic point of view, insofar as these people are excluded from the economic value creation process; finally, from a political point of view, when these people are actually excluded from performing the right to make a choice.
Thus, if marginalization refers to different states of disempowerment, what does it mean to foster Empowerment? What are the actual means by which the Empowerment process can be put in place? Theoretically, different streams of thought have discussed Empowerment with different approaches (i.e. the Capability Approach, the Empowerment Theory, etc.). In my fellowship, I tried to get the best from each of them to finally see empowerment as a process of expansion of the freedoms of the marginalized through the unblocking of their potential value as human beings. In particular, in my research, I explored how specific kinds of economic organizations, namely the Social Business Hybrids can accomplish such a value unblocking. All the activities performed in the three WorkPackages converge in this whole overarching achievement: I developed and tested theoretical and practical tools capable to explain how Social Business Hybrids different from typical no-profits can be actually capable to empower marginalized people.
My Fellowship has been designed as a whole project having connected research objectives (all of them are mentioned within the WP1), a parallel training and development plan (WP2), and a multi-target outreach strategy (WP3). This means that I have adopted specific WorkPackages for each set of objectives.
WP1: Research Projects. In the beginning the WP1 was composed of 2 main research projects. However, beyond the unpredictable emergence of COVID-19, which strongly affected the planning presented, during the Fellowship I tried to utilize all the opportunities I encountered. Many promising opportunities came beyond any reasonable expectation and planning, and I finally launched 6 research projects.
WP2 – Training And Career Development. My personal growth played a prominent role in this Fellowship, this is why in the original planning I established a specific Work Package for this. The training activities have been managed in parallel with my career development, by combining academic courses with training-through-research and job experience. In the end, the WP2 has been fully implemented achieving results much beyond my plans. The result of this effort was that in 2021 I obtained accreditation as Associate Professor at Italian University Ministry. Finally, the month after the end of the Fellowship I applied for Tenured Position in a university department, and now I am shortlisted for this position.
WP3 – Outreach Strategy. WP3 aimed at implementing the outreach strategy for different target stakeholders. This was finally articulated in three sets of activities:
- Dissemination & Engagement of Academics
- Communication to & Engagement of Practitioners
- Direct Engagement with Students
The best outcome of my Fellow went much beyond everything mentioned before in the WorkPackages schema and took place in the spin-off from my research with the launch of the social start-up called “Ridaje”. Thanks to the work of this start-up, I had the chance of experimenting with innovative empowering methods and testing new services for the creation of a new business prototype that, eventually, was successfully launched on the market.
This start-up was born due to the collaboration in valuable activities during the Fellowship. In particular, they created the conditions of ideating the startup through a process of knowledge transfer, from academic research to the real world. I tried to transfer the empowerment mechanisms studied to another setting with another typology of marginalized and disempowered people. In the beginning, it was a sort of replication experiment of empowerment-based training sessions with homeless people, a very specific category of marginalized people. Then we started testing an innovative business model involving previous homeless as urban gardeners in abandoned metropolitan green areas through local crowdfunding campaigns. After a few months of validation, we realized the opportunity of actually starting up a social enterprise capable of empowering homeless people. Thus, with the help of other co-founders we raised more than € 20k and we formally launched “Ridaje”. Such a research spin-off is the greatest achievement of my Fellowship. So far, we worked with about 40 homeless which had the chance to live an effective empowerment experience. Ridaje is now planning to launch an equity crowdfunding campaign to financially support its growth. Beyond the impact that Ridaje had in civil society, the experience of this spin-off from Fellowship had a tremendous impact also on my skillset and on my personal growth in general.
Another key outcome of my Fellowship was the outreach obtained. In order to magnify the impact of my Fellowship with a larger audience I took advantage of the unique opportunity to interact with the Scientific Committee of one of the most prominent TEDx associations, namely the TEDxVicenza. TEDx is “a grassroots initiative, created in the spirit of TED’s overall mission to research and discover ideas worth spreading”. So, because of the diffusion of my academic contributions on the empowerment topic and the success of my start-up “Ridaje,” the Committee invited me to give a keynote speech presenting how I created Ridaje as a spin-off of my research and how Ridaje empowers marginalized people in practice. This keynote speech had a tremendous impact on thousands of people connected in live streaming (TEDx platform) and with a local Italian radio (Radio Vicenza). The video has been finally published on YouTube and now it is also available on the TEDx platform.
Ridaje Startup
Empowering People Webinar Series
Humanistic Management Webinar Series