2019 Social projects

Fundación Secretariado Gitano is the leading social organisation in Spain for the advancement of the living conditions of the Roma people and the defence of their rights. Managing Director, Isidoro Rodríguez, summarizes the positive impact of the organisation and the contribution of Triodos Bank to its success.

What challenge was the inspiration for your project?

The origins of Fundación Secretariado Gitano relate to our observation that the Roma people were being left behind by the Spanish Welfare State. Our first objective, when we began in 2000, was to try to make public authorities pay more attention to the inclusion of the Roma community.

We were born from the vision that education and employment are key levers for this kind of social inclusion. And the conviction that big public policies were not being implemented for vulnerable groups such as the Roma.

That was the starting point for a proposal to the European Commission and the Spanish government to consider our cause, and make better use of European Structural Funds in its service.

In what way is your organisation innovative?

We consider ourselves an innovative entity and put this into practice in two ways: through our approach and the methodology we use.

When we started to develop this project, the Roma community was excluded from the labour market and performed traditional and very specific jobs. We focused on inclusive measures so that more Roma people could access the labour market, in line with most of the Spanish population.

That is an approach that, in 2000, was transformative. At that time, only very specific employment opportunities were available to Roma people: for example, at street markets, collecting waste or in other traditional activities, segregated from real participation in the economy.

This project also launched a personalized methodology, with tailored plans for individuals. This has been key to its success.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your organisation?

For us, collaboration with Triodos Bank has been fundamental. We have a source of funding from the European Social Fund and it presents a great opportunity. But it has its disadvantages. Apart from its management complexity, we must first deliver the programmes, spend the money and, much later, we receive the payments from the European Commission. There is a substantial time gap and we need banks for the bridging period in between.

The role of Triodos Bank has been crucial because, unlike traditional banks, it understands the characteristics of this type of project. The bank has been flexible about the financing mechanisms we need and it has provided help in the form of credit during challenging economic and financial times including the financial crisis. We especially noticed the banking on values ‘style’, in response to these difficult periods.

What impact has the project had on the Roma community?

Fundación Secretariado Gitano is promoting two types of impact. A direct one via the programmes we develop: promoting access to employment and higher quality education, improving the community’s social image and fighting discrimination against Roma people. In addition, the Foundation carries out important political advocacy work. It is about putting the Roma issue on the agenda.

In operational terms, over 100,000 people have participated in our employment project. More than 80,000 employment contracts have been earned improving some 35,000 people's lives. Throughout almost every year of the financial crisis we ensured about 5,000 employment contracts were granted.

Most Roma people used to expect to work in street markets, just as their parents had done, or in traditional activities. Today, if you ask Roma youth in any Spanish city, they have clear expectations of becoming employees and entering the labour market.

When our programme began, the focus was also on the access of Roma women, particularly young women, to the labour market. A small revolution has occurred since then. Women started coming home with a stable salary, and their situation and position at home radically changed. Entirely new expectations and opportunities were created. While great inequality still exists we are starting to see the Roma community match the standards of the general population. 

Another contribution of the Foundation has been towards improving the social image of the Roma community. Across Europe, the Roma are among the groups with the worst image, prompting persecution and even racial hatred.

What impact has your organisation had on the whole society?

I think that, as a social organisation, we contribute to the inclusion in society of the most excluded and vulnerable. Therefore, we contribute to a more just and equal society.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

In some sense, our objectives are the same. Ethical banking and social organisations look to create social profitability. We work in terms of having a more just, equal and cohesive society. This means focusing on the common good and what is profitable for all citizens, rather than economic returns or another kind of profit only for certain sectors of the society.