Code name WP 6:

social innovation in the most deprived area of Cluj

Cluj Metropolitan Area (CMA) manages the „Informal Work ” Work Package (WP 6) of the Cluj Future of Work project, focused on the deprived communities in the Pata Rât area, one of the areas with the highest percentage of inhabitants caught in the “spiral of poverty”. CMA has assumed this component, based on previous experience in problem-solving projects for these communities and in congruence with other projects we carry out in the area.

Through WP 6, we are trying to understand the mechanisms of informal work here, so that we can find solutions for those who practice it to have access to the regulated market.

Since the beginning of the project, several practical steps have been taken in this regard.

Scientific report

Firstly, we supervised the drafting of a scientific assessment of informal work practices at the metropolitan level with a focus on Pata Rât. The research was carried out by experts from the Faculty of Sociology and Assistance of „Babeş-Bolyai University”. The preliminary results of the study were discussed in October 2019 by all relevant stakeholder, after which the study was formally released in December 2019. The report was presented at the UIA FoW International Conference, which marked the official launch of the project.

The study revealed the coexistence of several types of informal workers, such as day labourers in the city, seasonal workers, people who collect and recycle waste from the landfill, or those who do the same in the city. You may view/download the report here.

Participatory budgeting

Activities on the ground started by consulting small groups of people who are part of the typologies of informal workers revealed by the aforementioned sociological research. Their aim was to draw up a preliminary list of community needs. Then, we organised four participatory budget meetings. Their aim was to identify those labour market access needs that can be addressed in WP 6 and prioritise them according to the available budget.

In January-February 2020, the four meetings were held, each in one of the sub-areas: “Cantonului”, “Coastei”, “Dallas” and “Rampă” respectively.

To prepare the meetings, ZMC facilitators have compiled together with the residents of the area a preliminary list of all the community needs, as they emerged from the previous meetings of the project, to which were added the ideas summarised in a session dedicated to the specific problems of women.

The priorities highlighted in the participatory budget process were related to ensuring mobility and expansion of public transport in the area, carrying out a clean-up campaign, ensuring access to toilets and showers, improving living conditions, as well as interventions related to supporting small entrepreneurs, by encouraging new businesses, developing entrepreneurial courses or formally acknowledging skills.

For example, in the ”Cantonului” community, the most important need identified was the installation of toilets and showers, as well as in the ”Rampă” community. The lack of these minimum sanitary facilities has a major impact on obtaining and retaining jobs by the community, representatives of the two communities indicated.

People’s options were recorded by open voting, with the possibility to vote for as many of the mentioned needs, with an eventual second round, to limit the choices to three-four needs per community. It wasn’t the case for a second round.

Sanitary modules

Very soon after the conclusion of the participatory budgeting process, we faced a disruptive event, namely the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new realities imposed an “on the move” adjustment of WP 6 to new realities, which no one could infer at the start of the project. We have therefore speeded up the installation of mobile sanitary facilities in the area, with access to running water being both an identified need during the participatory budget process and an essential condition for protecting the population from the pandemic, according to the World Health Organisation.

Thus, through WP 6 two mobile units were purchased and installed, each equipped with: three toilets, three showers, four washbasins, a 300L electric boiler and an electric radiator. They were installed at the end of March. The investment was worth 68,700 lei (EUR 14.300).

The initiative was warmly received by the locals. “This is very good, for us, and the children… Before this… we washed in the tray, in the wash-hand basin… you can tell, we couldn’t wash properly. Showers are different, we can afford to wash like people, we don’t smell anymore”, said a month after the installation of the sanitary modules, Cosmin Elekes, a father of two, who lives in the ”Cantonului” area.

Emergency food

On the same background of adjusting to new realities, the project team has found a solution to directly help the Pata Rât communities by providing food packages. The arrangement complemented a similar initiative of the City Hall, which, during the lockdown, assigned free food packages to the communities of Pata Rât several times.

The measure was quickly adopted and approved, given that, through the establishment of quarantine, the members of the Pata Rât community, most of whom work informally on the garbage ramp or in the city, found themselves in a situation where freedom of movement was severely limited. Thus, they were unable to carry out their daily living activities. To respond to this emergency, nearly 1,000 packages of food were distributed to Pata Rât. Food distribution was made through the Social and Medical Assistance Department of Cluj-Napoca City Hall and supported by the community facilitators of the ZMC.

“It is our duty as people first, and then our duty as a community-serving association, to help the most vulnerable, to leave no one behind. We are glad that we were able to lend a hand”, said Adrian Răulea, manager of CMA.

This initiative was also welcomed by members of the communities. For example, Felicia Coloji and her daughter Alesia, who live in the “Dallas” area, raised packages for all four family members. “We have enough for today, for the whole family. I thank people for having mercy on us and the children”, said the 35-year-old woman at the time. She worked as a day worker borer in the city but ran out of money during the lockdown. The amount of money redirected for the food packages was 13,400 lei (EUR 2.800).

Free internet access

Another major intervention to improve living conditions and facilitate access to the labour market was made shortly after the lockdown. We are speaking about having installed the necessary equipment to cover the four communities of Pata Rât with wireless internet.

The initiative responded to the objectives assumed by the CMA in WP 6, i.e. facilitating access to the labour market for the Pata-Rât community, but simultaneously had another positive effect, responding to an immediate need for distance schooling of pupils online.

„We ensure permanent free access to databases with vacancies and to all other services offered by the County Employment Agency, as well as to online recruitment platforms. On the other hand, it is clear that part of the school activity will continue to take place online in the following school year, and through the free internet, local schoolchildren will be able to attend them, without worrying that their prepaid data is consumed or that there is an increase with the costs of the personal bundle”, explains Zoltan Coraian, general manager of CMA.

One such a situation is the seven-year-old Sara Varga in the first grade at the “Ion Agârbiceanu” School, which lives in the area “Coastei”. “I do my homework on my notebook, then I take pictures, I go into the Teams account and I send them using my tablet to be checked by the teacher,” Sara told.

“Of course we’re happy. I’ve been waiting for this. Not necessarily for me, but for my daughter to be able to attend school on the internet,” Crina Covaciu, another resident from ”Coastei”, added.

The total investment in equipment, consultancy, maintenance and technical support was about 77,000 lei (EUR 16.000). The data bundle is paid by the Cluj-Napoca City Hall.

WP 6 is built on the structure of WEAST, a five-step theory of change developed by the Cluj Cultural Center. The acronym covers five distinct phases of community transformation, with each letter signifying a different role played by the actors involved in the change.

W from „Wonder”: describing the situation we are starting from. The activity related to this idea was the drafting of the report assessing informal work in the four communities of Pata Rât.

E from „Explore”: imagining, seeking new horizons, new possibilities of change.
The day-to-day work of community facilitators, who gather feedback from the community, as well as participatory budget meetings, are all part of the work of exploring new possibilities.

A from „Activate”
: testing and performing small-scale changes.
It is basically about prototyping the change imagined in previous activities. This chapter includes the installation of sanitary modules and wireless Internet infrastructure.

S from „Share”
: publicly releasing the new. Of course, we don’t make a secret of the work we do, we keep widely disseminating the conclusions we have reached for a later phase of the project

T from „Trust”
: mass-producing of the new, making things work at a larger scale. This is the main objective of the whole approach. Specifically, at the end of the project, in 2021, we hope to be able to put before the authorities a proposal for public policy accommodated to local realities and to assist local authorities in . 

The “Informal Work” Work Package of the Cluj Future of Work project studies who and why is deprived of the right to work, and then proposes, in a participatory way, specific actions to counter these shortcomings, as well as public policies that concern the local community.

The topic is informal work at the level of the Cluj-Napoca metropolitan area, focusing on the deprived population of Pata Rât, an informal urban settlement located at the outskirts of the city.

The main assumption of this work package is that, when the community is consulted and involved, together with public administration and civil society, in adopting new concepts in the labour market, the access of disadvantaged groups to fundamental rights – for example, the right to work – improves.

Therefore, it seeks a better understanding of the reasoning behind
informal work in disadvantaged communities and is aimed at experimenting with solutions that could be replicated in other vulnerable areas of the municipality and its metropolitan area.

In the next pahses, we will focus on ensuring greater mobility for community members by improving public transport. At the same time, we will provide support services for the development of at least five business ideas, start-up. For these, we will seek funding solutions and create synergies with the ”Culturepreneurs” programme. Finally, based on the experience gained in the “Informal Work” work package, we aim to advance a public policy in the field, to be adopted by the local council.