2016 3rd National Social Forum: Innovation in the Social Sector of Belarus

Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, social inclusion and employment, social entrepreneurship in Belarus and solution of social problems: all of these topics were discussed at the 2016 3rd National Social Forum. About 300 participants gathered in Minsk to discuss issues of social innovation development in Belarus. The participants included representatives of Belarusian NGO, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Belarus, as well as experts from Germany, Belarus, Russia, the Netherlands and other countries.

The event was organized within the framework of the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany by Dortmund International Education Centre and Johannes Rau International Centre for Education and Exchange in Minsk  in partnership with ODB Brussels (Belgium), ACT International Educational Non-Governmental Organization (Belarus) and the  Office for European Expertise and Communication (Belarus).

Aleksander Rumak (on the right), Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Belarus, Evgeniy Shevko (in the centre), Head of the  Republican Association of Wheelchair Users (Belarus)


When opening the 2016 Republican Social Forum, Aleksander Rumak, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Belarus, told the participants that a draft legislation to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has already been introduced to the Belarusian parliament and the Research Institute of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Belarus is currently developing the national action plan to implement this document.

Addressing the reporters at a press conference, Mr Rumak pointed out that in Ukraine, it took two years to develop a comprehensive action plan to implement the Convention. "It is extremely important for the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection to engage all state and non-state stakeholders in this process," noted Aliaksandr Rumak, "since such issues as the exercise of rights of disabled people require active engagement of all actors". According to him, it is not just about the barrier-free environment but also about transport infrastructure, information and cultural space, accessibility of services, etc.

Aleksander Lysenko (on the left), Chairman of the Board of the National Centre for Disability Issues (Russian Federation)


Alexander Lysenko, Head of the National Centre for Disability Issues (Moscow) is positive that there must be a systemic approach to the Convention implementation. According to him, "eliminating barriers for disabled people means inclusion in the broad sense: inclusion into the labour market, accessible healthcare, development of inclusive education, accessibility of the urban and rural environments, transport, etc."

Turning to issues of employment, the Russian expert noted that the employment rate for disabled people in Russia is 1.5-2 times lower than that in developed European countries. According to him, "the labour market finds itself in a challenging state", because financial support in the Russian Federation is decreasing: all tax exemptions for companies employing disabled people have been abolished, and 2016 has seen the end of the three-year programme that allocated federal budget funds to create new jobs for disabled people (14,500 such jobs were created annually after the programme came into existence in 2013).

"It is clear why the economic support measures are going down: the economic situation is difficult, and matters of employing people with disabilities lie within the competence of the subjects of the Russian Federation; these things are the focus of our attention", explained Alexander Lysenko during the press conference. 

Aliaksandr Rumak, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Belarus


"The issue of employment for people with disabilities is an urgent one for our country", pointed out Aliaksandr Rumak, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Belarus, saying that Belarus will not give up the level of the existing social support. He acknowledged the necessity to encourage employers to provide disabled people with jobs. "The government gives tax exemptions to encourage employers to provide jobs to people with disabilities, to provide opportunities to those who wish to work. There are a lot of disabled people who want this." 

Martina Steinhaus (in the centre), Weser-Ems Regional Autism Association  (Germany)

Presenting the German experience of employment, Martina Steinhaus, representative of Weser-Ems Regional Autism Association (Hamburg) professed that the Federal Republic of Germany now witnesses a transition from specialised employment workshops for the disabled and instead integrates them into the national labour market by creating jobs in regular companies and enterprises. 

Christoph Weber-Schlauss (on the right), Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel (Germany)


Christoph Weber-Schlauss, representative of Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel (Germany), also shared that opinion, saying that his organization, which provides funding to such workshops, seeks to provide 10-15% of people with jobs created in these integration enterprises. In particular, the German expert noted: "The general trend of the past few years has been the focus on inclusion, on helping as many disabled people as possible find their place on the common labour market. However, on the other hand, we think that the workshops create good framework conditions for special categories of people with multiple disabilities, with multiple health issues, to enter the labour force. This is especially true for cases when they need educational or therapeutical support". Christoph Weber-Schlauss assures that the workshops are not "specialized institutions" but modern enterprises equipped to current standards; he cited the example of ProWerk workshops where employees manufacture component parts for household appliances by Miele, a well-known premium global brand.

Speaking about the "institute of assistants" and supporting autistic people in the workplace, Martina Steinhaus noted that such support plays an important role and begins as early as in the years of school education, when "integration assistants" support children with autism in class. These assistants play a crucial role when workshop graduates venture into the common labour market. "Here, they need a person who will help them communicate with others and who will be the bridge between the world of the autistic person and the world of the other people", adds the German expert.

Ms Steinhaus described the activities and history of her organization, saying that the movement for the rights of people with autism in Germany was initiated in early 1970s not by government officials but by parents of autistic children who demanded that the government provide them their children with education employing appropriate social and pedagogical methods. Today education is closely linked with diagnosing and evaluating special needs at an early stage: children are diagnosed when they are just one to three years old, so that the necessary correctional programme can begin at the earliest possible stage.

The 2016 Republican Social Forum was dedicated to Social Innovation in the Context of Modern Challenges. One of such challenges, according to the German Consul in Belarus Martin Giese, is the matter of implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The diplomat noted that social problems can be solved only when they are viewed not only as policy goals but as the goals of society as a whole.

Olga Rensch-Wetzel, coordinator of the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany


According to Olga Rensch-Wetzel, coordinator of the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany, one of the goals of the 3rd National Social Forum was to identify the main areas of innovation in the social sphere. Participants of the 4 working groups will have an opportunity to develop recommendations on several directions.

Within the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany, only since 2002 more than 200 different projects have been implemented in Belarus. It is expected that the Programme will work towards supporting innovative Belarusian and German sustainable development and social sphere projects during the next stage: from July 2016 to March 2019.

See Photos.

ODB Brussels