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Just one case study, or a single story, can succeed in lifting hearts and minds. As 170 delegates from 25 countries gathered for ESN’s annual seminar on Inclusive Activation in Vienna, they heard the real story of Maco, advocate for people with disabilities, who explained how a personal plan and social support helped him overcome the obstacles he has faced over the years to access employment.

We also heard the story of Sofia, a single mum with 4 young children suffering from domestic violence and having to care for her father who is now showing signs of Alzheimer. Although a fictitious case, Sofia illustrates well the multiple vulnerabilities faced by clients with whom local public social services work across Europe. For them, the initial concern may not be to find a job. However, with the right care plan and supported by caring professionals with the right skills, they can be successfully included in society.

Herwig Immerwoll of OECD spoke of the importance of people-centred services for tackling the multiple barriers of entering employment faced by people seeking support from social services. Alessandra Marini of the World Bank highlighted some of the tools that work if presented in an integrated fashion: the mediator or case worker, IT management system, and single door access. Agota Scharle of the Budapest Institute, emphasised the need to advance service coordination to link beneficiaries to the services that are more relevant for them thus improving their outcomes.

A strand running through all sessions and the vibrant networking was the essential need for partnerships to deliver effective services. We learned about innovative instruments used jointly with services, such as the basic income experiment implemented in Finland in the framework of a wider reform of its social security. The social inclusion plan in Gipuzkoa (northern Spain) pinpointed social services as part of a wider network of stakeholders, all working in partnership to approach solutions from a community perspective. ‘Back to the future’ in Vienna is an example of how a well-designed activation programme done in partnership with the community is successfully supporting vulnerable youth into employment and education.

Inclusive Activation: Key take-away points

Activation based on social services

A key strand of the seminar was the focus on activation implemented jointly with social services to reach out to the most vulnerable and coordination with other services to assess needs holistically and produce personalised integrated plans.

Working effectively in partnership

It became clear that the right professionals from the right sectors should work together to support activation that enables and nurtures individuals, particularly those furthest from the labour market. Social services, together with employment services, are essential to ensure the successful integration in employment of groups with complex social needs.

Co-production

Some of the most successful initiatives are not plugged into civil society but co-produced with the adults they are designed to help. Annemette Kolby explained how her participation in a programme for the long-term unemployed in Aarhus (Denmark) helped her to create her own business while she was still on unemployment benefits.

Personalised plans

It is key to monitor progress of personalised plans and support people in finding and retaining employment so that they feel valued in society; this includes not just training but also work experience and on the job coaching.

Investing in the workforce

Social services professionals play a key role in making activation inclusive as they reach out to the most vulnerable, support employment advisors, implement needs assessments, act as mediators and case managers.

It became clear throughout the seminar that people seeking the support of social services face multiple barriers to employment. Social services play a key role in reaching out the most vulnerable and working with employment on the implementation of social inclusion approaches based on personalisation and empowerment. In a nutshell, activation can only be effective if it is done in partnership and it is inclusive in its reach and approach.