The Gener-Active Pacts rely on the signaling and close collaboration of the Banco’s facilitators with local authorities, particularly Social Services, civil society organizations as well as spontaneous identification of persons in any state of vulnerability. Based on active-listening and direct communication, the expert team seeks to valorize candidates’ (un)expressed capacities and skills, so as to assist and accompany them along a co-designed empowerment path. The Pact is tailored according to the individual needs and objectives to be achieved, as well as the designed activities, involved supervisor and facilitator. Its duration varies according to the participant’s profile and designed activities, which will then contribute to overcoming the present criticalities and restoration of one’s capacitating perspective.
This empowerment process builds on the netting of available resources (being personal, professional or community-based) and improvement of beneficiaries’ self-activation, through exchange and reciprocity actions. In practical terms, the beneficiaries are offered a variety of development opportunities, ranging from participation in manual capacity-building activities, educational courses on the management of personal economic resources, assistance in job hunting/placing activities, etc., to practical support in Banco’s daily activities.
“The pact helps the beneficiaries reconsider their capacities and consequently their self-esteem, moving towards integration into the community life […] It can help develop skills and avoid chronic vulnerability conditions”, affirms Anna Nadia, an involved social worker. “In the same way, community resources are utilized in an ‘ecological’ manner, both in the sense of respect for nature and conscious use of goods and services, besides individuals’ and groups’ capacities”.
The voice of service recipients
“I did not expect a similar system at all. I felt welcomed at the Community Bank, I gladly come to chat and meet people who listen to me with interest and without any judgment”, declares Patrizia, age 72. “I am happy I signed the pact, I was the first one”, adds Rita, age 63. “I dedicated part of my time looking after the garden and tidying up the premises of the STEPSpoint […] The Banco is like being in a family, I feel free to express myself, I made friends and I keep on coming by although my pact is over”, she continues.
Since the inception, there have been stipulated 21 Gener-Active Pacts, mostly with unemployed women in situations of isolation and/or vulnerability. The service recipients can do volunteering work at the Banco premises and the respective ‘activation’ hours are monitored by the management system. In return, they collect credits known as ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ (GDH) and exchange part of them to receive goods or services. The GDH is an alternative non-monetized exchange unit applied at the Banco. It was originally conceived in mid-‘70s in Buthan, aiming to measure people’s well-being and not only the economic dimension of a given country. For instance, in order to collect 50 GDH credits at the Banco, a person can volunteer for 1 hour, can donate
Half of the collected credits in the frame of a single Gener-Active Pact are transferred to the Social Services’ account, so that new pacts with subjects in fragility conditions can be activated later on. This system triggers a virtuous circle of community support and civic bonding.
“I discovered the Bank through a friend […] It immediately seemed the place where you can meet helpful people”, states Angela, a visually impaired lady. “I believe it is a service that creates a community, awakens the ‘lazy ones’, and I consider quite positive since it solves problems. I believe that if there had not been this initiative, or S.T.E.P.S in general, many people, including myself, would have remained isolated”.
The generated effects of this social instrument are detectable in economic and relational terms for each service recipient, since the non-monetized exchange practices at the Banco generate savings in what are the usual expenses incurred by households for clothes, shoes or food. Meanwhile the municipality integrates these interventions in the frame of community takeover and activation of beneficiary’s socio-territorial autonomy (such as households’ payment of rent and/or utility bills, one-off economic support etc.), resulting in a mending practice of the local social fabric.
“I feel valorized for my skills in an environment that provides safety and responses to my needs. […] I was presented to MAG [S.T.E.P.S. project partner] as I have some manual skills and maybe I’ll start a job. Who knows?!”, concludes Greta, age 44.