NGO Pro Civitas focuses on social mobility through providing psychological, social, debt and career counselling, entrepreneurial and project management and job search training. The target audience – long-term unemployed – consists of both Estonian and Russian-speakers, young people who have not been able to enter the labour market and the middle aged who have lost their job and have not been able to find employment. Often they have no skills or certain profession or their skills have become useless due to the structural changes in the economy. Labour force services like counselling and apprenticeships are provided often by specialised NGOs in close cooperation with local governments and the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. The latter defines and pays for such labour market services. More successful NGOs in this sector have developed their expertise, together with the network of specialists and support persons working directly with unemployed. Typically, many projects have been funded by the European Social Fund actions.
Pro Civitas was founded in 2007 and it has long-term experience in offering labour market service packages in Northern Tallinn. There is one permanent member, and hiring other employees depends on the given project/procurement. Among other things, the NGO operates a wood, metal and clay workshop in cooperation with the Northern Tallinn district government, offering apprenticeship options locally. Apprenticeship services are not only area-based, though many unemployed visitors are from the local district and Pro Civitas has developed close contacts with the local target groups. Furthermore, in the case of this NGO, the funding scheme is based on project applications and through a public procurement process. In addition, yearly subsidies for stable services from the Tallinn City Government provide a smaller but more regular source of funding.
Apprenticeships are a way to provide some work experience for the long-term unemployed and this helps to acquire or restore the basic working habits. Usually it consists of unskilled work exercises where the practical activities are combined with counselling and classroom lectures. An additional task, related to the bilingual environment of the city of Tallinn, is teaching the Estonian language to its target group. Approximately 70% of the long-term unemployed people visiting Pro Civitas are Russian-speakers, and 30% are Estonians. This reflects the worse situation of Russian-speakers on the Estonian labour market.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
NGO Pro Civitas clearly targets to combat the unwanted forms of urban diversity, i.e. the socio-economic differences in Northern Tallinn like social polarisation, social exclusion and segregation. The other, also positive aspects of diversity, are not discussed. Social inequalities are increasingly projected in space along with the ongoing gentrification process. Northern Tallinn has diversified internally during this process, leading to situations where the pockets of affluence and extreme poverty are sometimes located directly side-by-side. According to the interviewee, the district has polarised into two parts since the gentrification process is more intense in areas closer to the city centre (Kalamaja) compared to more distant areas (Kopli, neighbourhood with many security and social problems).
Gentrification influences the physical upgrading of urban space, but it also leads to displacement of less affluent residents. Relocation occurs towards the more peripheral coastal areas of Northern Tallinn, towards other districts with poor facilities and few services or in the worst case to homelessness. As such, new emerging socio-spatial disparities in the district are created and gentrification may in the longer run lessen diversity. Pro Civitas aims to fight against extreme socioeconomic disparities as well as against further socio-spatial segregation by addressing their target groups locally that ideally may also lessen the probabilities for displacement.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The main problem stems from both the project-based nature of Pro Civitas and competition-based funding of labour market service providers in general. First, for a committed NGO, both of these factors bring along instability in funding, whereas the high-quality labour market services assume remarkable investment in human capital (experts, support persons’ network, etc.). Second, the main criteria for selection among bidders is a low price, which brings along the situation where many one-project NGOs are created simply to have an opportunity to provide the service once. The interviewee elaborates that such competition in the public procurement process brings the price down on the one hand, but is a serious obstacle for further professionalisation and creates instability in the field on the other hand:
“It doesn’t matter that you have more experience or provide better opportunities for apprenticeships. The price determines who the winner is. The one who makes the cheapest bid wins the contract. Price-quality ratio is not considered and the quality of service has been devaluated.”
It is, however, important that local experienced NGOs are still motivated by a sense of mission. Despite the deficiencies in the system, the positive feedback from the unemployed who have participated in the programmes motivates them to continue. An additional motivating factor is proximity, both in the meaning of physical and social distances. Pro Civitas works locally, although such NGO could also work country-wide. Being located in a problematic neighbourhood, on the first floor of an apartment building, the direct daily contact with the marginal groups is maintained by the Pro Civitas team. Long-term unemployed are often alienated from everyday life and they have few social contacts: the local centre achieves personal contact with the unemployed easier.
This initiative that is carried out by the specialised NGO targets the ‘unwanted’ forms of diversity such as sharp social inequalities, exclusion, alienation and micro-scale, even house-based, spatial segregation in the district that occurs during the ongoing gentrification/displacement process. The innovation of the initiative is to offer professional services that would activate people in the labour market in situ in the context where the ongoing market-led gentrification process in the district is forcing socially vulnerable people to leave their homes and to settle in less dynamic areas in the city. The Pro Civitas NGO aims to deliver a professional service. To achieve a full contribution from such organisations in the future the principles on how to finance third sector undertakings that require remarkable investments into human capital should be discussed in more detail.