Social entrepreneurship or To Be the Bridge for Others

Vojtěch Sedláček participates in the Olga Havel Award project. This award is given every year to people which despite their own handicap help others.

Today, we would like to introduce Vojtěch Sedláček from a different perspective – as a social entrepreneurship pioneer in the Czech Republic and a person who supported financially the launch of a project for the homeless.

“The word social has become a little bit pejorative. Socka is used in a disrespectful way to describe public transport. Even social entrepreneur does not have a good reputation, as its meaning is not too clear. Even though each entrepreneur should behave in a social manner,” says Vojtěch Sedláček.
Before the Revolution, he volunteered as a teacher in the Jedlička Institute, but when he saw that his students with handicaps weren’t able to launch businesses, he decided to help. “We have started with Josef Selichar, one of my students (later the laureate of the Olga Havel Award 2004), who didn’t have the money to launch his project so I decided to support his firm financially. We did business together and he became so successful with his firm selling medical aids that he ended up employing about 30 handicapped people,” recalls Mr. Sedláček.
In 1995, Vojtěch Sedláček established the Obslužná společnost firm and one year later the ForYou Agency. Both firms offer jobs to people with social or medical disability. It is essential that the firms are based on the strict business principle which means they are not protected workshops or a charity. Customers buy their products or services because they are competitive on the market and people want them. Sales are not driven by any sentiment. The other quality of Vojtěch Sedláček’s firms (besides being lucrative) is an open environment, where handicapped employees meet with others as equal partners. It enables them to learn the right work habits as well as to build self-confidence which helps them to live independently later on. 
To understand well the concept of social entrepreneurship is quite a problem in the Czech Republic. According to the Act No. 435/2004, a firm employing a certain percentage of handicapped people has the right to receive a grant to partly cover their salaries and a tax relief for the firm itself. “It is support from society and many entrepreneurs including us use this opportunity. However, social entrepreneurship should be based on basic human respect. As a businessman, I cannot only concentrate on my profit, but I want to help people start here and then be able to find a job anywhere on a labour market.” It works this way in the civilized world, where social entrepreneurship becomes more popular and is considered a normal business with the only difference of solving some social problem. 

An example can be a story of a homeless man. Somebody spilled gasoline on him a couple of years ago in the Barrandov wood and set him on fire. After three years in hospitals, this man tried to get a job but nobody gave him any. He had no work experience or qualification. So I employed him as a receptionist for night shifts, which helped him to get in shape and he found a new job by himself. He proved that despite his social handicap and to a certain extent slow thinking, he is still able to succeed!”

Vojtěch Sedláček knows many such stories with happy ending. In twenty years he´s had hundreds of handicapped employees. “But what is a handicap? It is the ability to do one activity and inability to do the other, which works for all of us just the same. I am glad when my employees leave my firm because of a new job they found thanks to the experience gained in my firm. Mission was accomplished,” concludes Vojtěch Sedláček.

Irena Šatavová

„We wish that the right for dignified life is also enjoyed by those who live with handicap or mental illness, abandoned and old people, those who have a different skin colour or a different way of life, those in poverty or attacked by a malignant disease.“ Olga Havel
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