Impact Journalism Day
A social good vending machine to fight exclusion
Mariusz Wojtowicz has been working for MONAR for the last few years. Founded almost 40 years ago by the Polish humanist and psychologist Marek Kotański, MONAR is a non-governmental organisation operating across Poland. Specialising in addiction therapy and prevention, the organisation helps people who are homeless or addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Every day, Mariusz -like many people all over the world- encounters vending machines selling mineral water, juices and sweets. Vending machines are everywhere; at the train stations, airports, on the underground, and in hotels and offices. The rule is simple: you put coins in, press a button and in a few seconds you are enjoying your purchase. Nobody thinks much about the fact that behind these simple machines, which fulfil our wishes, stand huge companies who employ thousands of people and generate millions in revenue.
"One day, I thought to myself, we could use this simple concept in our work with people who are at risk of social exclusion, who after receiving counselling and leaving our centres often have difficulties in returning to society," says Wojtowicz.
But how can a simple vending machine help people who are at risk of social exclusion? One of the elements of the support system devised by MONAR is post-rehabilitation, which forms a bridge between the drug therapy for addicts or homeless people and their social re-integration and return to self-sufficiency. Besides providing a place to live, the most important element of the support provided is preparing the former addict or homeless person to become employable. For this reason, the organisation runs projects which aim is to teach social and professional skills and create new places of work. People treated in MONAR are people "with baggage:" ex-addicts, alcoholics or some with a criminal past. It is almost impossible for people like that to find work.
"The inability to find work often leads to breakdown and relapse," explains Wojtowicz. "I thought to myself that by using vending machines we could create a social enterprise which could employ people who leave MONAR after successful treatment. They could make the products, deliver them to the vending machines and even do maintenance work on the machines."
That is how the "The Social Good Vending Machine" (in Polish: "Dystrybutor Dobra") project was born. The project fits perfectly into the strategy of the organisation. The social enterprise will use vending machines, an online shop and other distribution channels to distribute healthy food and products made by MONAR members and all of the profits will be re-invested into the further development of the project. In that way, "The Social Good Vending Machine" will support people at risk of social exclusion.
But there are many different vending machines out there, so how can we distinguish those from "The Social Good Vending Machine" project from all of the others? "Well, I had an idea," says Wojtowicz, "the vending machines are being designed by students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, who wanted to take part in our project. We want our vending machines to be instantly associated with charity."
A "charity clock"
But that is not all. Each distributor, website and online shop will have a "charity clock," which after their purchase will immediately show the customer the amount of "social charity" produced as a result of their purchase and the total amount of social charity generated by a given vending machine and the total of all of the machines.
"Poles already know how this kind of clock works. The debt clock located in the city centre of Warsaw shows them the government debt and how it increases. We would like to reverse this and show Poles that their money can also do good," says Wojtowicz, the initiator of the project.
"An important element of the project is also the idea of pro-social purchasing and so-called CSR (corporate social responsibility)," adds Wojtowicz. "The concept is simple. Instead of giving money directly to the homeless begging on the street, we want to create an opportunity for people to give their money to an organisation which offers comprehensive help. The social responsibility of business can be seen in the partnership with the shopping centres where we want to place our vending machines. The participating shopping centre can use the vending machines project to build their own positive image in the community, in exchange for allowing us to place our vending machines in the centre for free. Both sides will be happy," he claims.
The problem is money
"The Social Good Vending Machine" project has already been noticed in Europe. It was chosen as one of the finalists of the 2015 European Social Innovation Competition – New Ways to Grow and was short-listed from a total of over 1,400 applicants from all over Europe. MONAR wants to place and start the operation of the first five to six vending machines in the next few months in Kraków during the World Youth Days in July–August 2016.
"It is going to be an excellent opportunity to show that we can do something good for somebody else whenever we want," says Pasichnyk. "Then we would like to develop and grow our enterprise."
Of course, the problem is money. MONAR needs around 50,000–60,000 złoty (12,800 à 15,340 USD; 11000–13,000 euros) for the first vending machines, though the organisation may receive financial assistance from EU funds. To help finance the project a crowdfunding campaign has been started on www.indiegogo.com titled: "The Social Good Vending Machine". "We are hopeful and we believe in the success of our project," says Wojtowicz, enthusiastically.
MONAR, to fight exclusion
MONAR was founded by the Polish humanist and psychologist Marek Kotański in the 1970s. He started drug addiction treatment in Poland based on a social therapy method which includes total abstinence and self-development. Marek Kotański organised social campaigns and concerts, promoting among the youth a life free from addiction.
In the 1990s, by opening centres for HIV/AIDS infected people, he fought the social fear and stigma connected with HIV/AIDS at the time and called for solidarity with those infected by HIV. Marek created centres which provided a safe place to live, medical care and the possibility of resocialisation for the homeless, alcoholics and ex-criminals. Marek Kotański died on 19 August 2002 as the result of injuries sustained in a road traffic accident.
His work was continued by his former colleagues and currently MONAR operates 19 prevention-consultation centres, 22 prevention, treatment and addiction therapy centres, 31 residential treatment-rehabilitation centres, 2 detox centres and 12 post-rehabilitation hostels.