Sacosa De Panza – A Better World Starts With A Bag
Sacosa de panza (Romanian for “Canvas bag”) is one of the most longevous social businesses in Romania. Their activity started 10 years ago, in 2009, when the term “social entrepreneurship” was a rather obscure one and many people still thought helping people is solely the role of the NGOs and the government. And making money was definitely not part of the process.
One of the many NGOs doing great work at the time, Viitor Plus (Romanian for “Future Plus”), decided to make the transition from charity work to sustainability. And they did this while tackling some very serious problems – social inclusion and environmental protection. The statistics did not look good at all when they started their activity. Around 90% of all the Romanians with some sort of handicap were not working and there were few opportunities for them to do so. To make a comparison, at the entire EU level, the number is closer to 50%. Moreover, at the time, before more legislation was passed, Romanians were using and disposing of 5 billion plastic bags per year.
Considering this, the team who started it all decided to develop a workshop that would hire people in vulnerable categories (young people exiting orphanages, people with handicaps, single mothers, etc) to create reusable canvas bags. The whole business started in a very small space, with a very small team and a 5000$ grant. For a few years , the initiative was not profitable, but the team went on due to the impact they could see with their very own eyes, as one of the first employees describes in an interview:
“We worked with girls from orphanages. They were raised until they reached 18 and then they were simply kicked out. These people were excluded by society for sure, no one would hire them. When I met the girls I was supposed to work with, they had such an impact on me that I decided I had to do something for these people”.
Soon, the results were seen and more and more people became quite aware of what Atelierul de Panza was doing. Overall, around 200000 canvas bags were sold at fairs, as well as in some large store chains. This means more than 20 million plastic bags were replaced. For a stronger economic and environmental impact, the cotton used for the bags is exclusively bought from Romanian producers and is not treated or dyed in any way.
The company was also registered as a protected unit, which means 30% of their employees have some form of disability. This status allows companies with more than 50 employees to redirect certain taxes dedicated to social services. Thus, instead of paying the money to the government like before, they can use the money to buy products from protected units. Buying backpacks and of course, eye-catching canvas bags, is a tangible way of helping out, which unfortunately not all big companies are aware of.
As the company started to make profit, the activities expanded too – now they have a special line of bags, backpacks and other products made exclusively from discarded fabric. More than 700 kilograms of textiles destined for the dustbin were recycled into products with great design, products many love to wear. Moreover, Atelierul de Panza offers companies the opportunity to join teambuilding activities such as painting canvas bags, allowing them to meet the social enterprise culture. All of these activities helped contribute to a slow, but visible, change of mentality. Now, more and more companies, including some large supermarket chains, take active steps towards hiring people with disabilities.
For those included in the previously “unemployable” categories, this could mean the world, as one of the beneficiaries of the project says herself:
“I came and I saw now, after one month, that something has changed and will keep on changing. I’ve learned very important things – that it does not matter how you look like, it does not matter how much you’ve studied, what is important is that you have the right and chance to go further”.