“BlindArt” from Latvia. The story of impact and success.
Social business is often confused with charity or social responsibility. Usually it happens, because impact from those are similar, however social business makes impact by meeting social needs in long lasting way on society. It is easy to donate time to time, but how easy it is to work with social challenges on a daily basis? And to what extent it is possible to earn some profit by solving these challenges?
“I wanted to offer people something more sustainable, the chance to participate and return them back into circulation, not only to bring them Christmas present”, states the founder of “BlindArt”, social entrepreneur Andrs Hermanis. Experienced in design and marketing, Andrs started to work for and with blind and visually impaired people in 2007 and since then has created numerous engaging events for disabled people and tangible design products made by disabled people. Thus the integration of blind and visually impaired people became a passion, also being a great challenge at the same time.
The activity of “BlindArt” seeks its roots in Strazdumuiža (Riga), where the first social project has been realized in cooperation with Strazdumuiža’s boarding school for blind and visually impaired people. Back then the project was about engaging blind children into creation of large-sized photo-collages, which resulted in mobile exhibition under the name “Do Touch!” (“Ar rokām aiztikt!”).
The project and its earned profits have given the opportunity to support the purchase of 10 digital readers, but this would not become the reality also without the support of private investor. Back then social entrepreneurships in Latvia was not something well recognized or prioritized. The project showed big interest of society, but the main source of motivation to continue was empathy: people involved into the project felt huge satisfaction from participation, being a part of something bigger. So, the activities for blind and impaired people started to be realized on regular basis.
In ten years period more than 300 blind and impaired people were helped to integrate into society, not only via short-term projects, but also by employing them. The impact was not reached only by empowerment and improvement of emotional state of disabled people, but also by financial support of enterprise. Purchased digital readers, renovated art room of boarding school for blind people, raised financial support for blind and impaired people, ensured books in Braille for school and Latvian Library for the Blind and many more has been done by “BlindArt” to improve lives of disabled people.
Since 2014 organisation is involving people with visual disabilities in creation of design elements, but since July 2017 “BlindArt” is registered as limited liability company in Latvia. The enterprise consists of 7 persons and 3 of them are people with special needs. It is also the first enterprise in Latvia, which has received 20 000 EUR grant from “Altum” social entrepreneurship support programme in December 2017. Grant is meant for engagement of 3 blind persons in production on regular basis and development of the business, adding more new employees with special needs. It is a big chance for enterprise to go international with distribution of unique masterpieces, made by blind people.
The success story of “BlindArt” was marked by creations of unique book for children, including impaired ones. “Chasing the Sock Thief” is a story book in 4 parts, which consists of storyline created by members of the Blind Society of Latvia and illustrations made by blind and visually impaired children from Strasdumuiža’s boarding school. Some may say this is impossible, but creativity and effort is always a solution. Children, using previously prepared stencils, punctured little holes around the stencils on a paper with some sharper tools. Then, using the sense of touch, filled marked shapes with colors and created amazing ilustrations. The book was published in two languages, Latvian and English, for children with no disabilities, as well as for blind ones, as the book was customized for them as well.
Similar techniques, as well as new ones are used in creation of other kinds of goods. “BlindArt” is also producing porcelain plates of different size with unique design, canvas and painting reproductions. In future social enterprise is planning to enlarge the production and create unique design puffs, pillows, bags and more made by blind and visually impaired people. As the process of testing has already been started, people are already trained to work with Shibori technique in workshops, so the idea has a great potential. The products of “BlindArt” are unique, handmade and bring additional support for blind people and organisations working with them. Company sells products through the internet shop on their webpage and the part of created goods have already been sold abroad, however the company is thinking about bigger export on a regular basis. To make it, “BlindArt” needs bigger capacity, which also means bigger support for blind and visually impaired people. For the biggest part of these people social enterprise is the only chance to find a paid job.
Therefore social enterprise gives an opportunity for somehow excluded part of society to work and socialize, as well as participate in different seminars, exhibitions and workshops for self-development and belonging to something bigger. “BlindArt” successfully connects business with artistic processes and social work, reaching bigger satisfaction from paid job, which makes an impact, not just asking for donations. In addition, every person, that wants to help blind people in Latvia, buys the unique masterpiece to remind about the beauty of giving and receiving.
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