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The Albanian Disability Rights Foundation begun as an Oxfam programme (the Disability Unit in Tirana) in January 1994 and gradually developed and grew into a local registered independent NGO (foundation) in October 1996. This was reconfirmed in 2002 according to the new law for NPOs (not-for-profit organisations) in Albania.
The Albanian Disability Rights Foundation emerged as a response to the desperate need for a service which would take a rights-based approach to disability issues. This is why ADRF has been campaigning for improved disability legislation ever since its establishment. The philosophy of ADRF is based upon the social model of disability and human rights based approach.
ADRF aimed at initially changing opinions and attitudes of disabled people themselves and assisting them either to organize themselves in Associations or to support the existing Disability NGO. Considering the poor social/economic situation, prevalent in Albania, changing from relief programs to development ones has frustrated many people as they see their need to eat and clothe their families as the primary need.
Demonstrating the importance of developing long-term initiatives on disability issues has taken time, the ADRF carries out programs to give out information, training, technical assistance, advice, counseling, legal support and support services (such as the provision of mobility means and personal assistance at home or in the center) all targeted mainly at disabled individuals and disability NGOs. The aim is to support and empower the disabled community and to encourage cooperation between other disability NGOs.
The “Wheelchairs for Albania” project began in response to a request made from disability NGOs, who identified the need for a wheelchair production and distribution service in Albania. Prior to the establishment of this organisation, wheelchairs were very difficult to find. The Miresia production service was established by support of Oxfam’s Disability Unit (now ADRF) in conjunction with a team of specialists from the British organisation ‘Motivation’, who were specialized in the design and production of wheelchairs for developing countries. The workshop staff were fully trained in the technical aspects of design and production by international Motivation staff during the workshop’s start up period between February and November 1996.
The workshop is now staffed and independently managed by local people. The actual workshop was built with the support of the Dutch utility company NUON. Seven technicians, five of whom are disabled, one of whom is a wheelchair user, staff the workshop. Miresia Wheelchairs are lightweight but strong and designed specifically for the individual, who always receives health education and training in basic wheelchair skills.
Initially, Miresia began as an ADRF project supported by donors such as OXFAM and NOVIB. Its activity was running in the facilities of a hospital in Tirana, with extremely limited space available and insufficient machinery. Over the years the workshop became well-known and it had a great impact on the lives of people with disabilities in Albania. Gradually the demand for wheelchairs began to increase.
ADRF decided to look at the wheelchair workshop as a social enterprise designed to help people with disabilities by providing them with job opportunities and mobility. This social enterprise thus aimed to reintegrate disabled people into mainstream society as productive individuals and collaborate between the public, private and the not-for-profit sector to set up a productive activity that could be self-sustainable and able to expand its projects and to provide disabled people with free access to wheelchairs.
Moreover one of the positive aspects of a social business structure is the direct participation of the workers in the ordinary management of the project, whose salaries are directly related to the success of the project, in term of revenue and net profit, by this way also improving quantity and quality of the production.
Therefore our goal was to provide mobility, job opportunities and to support the most vulnerable group section of society by making our production process more efficient and flexible but maintaining the same final goals. At the same time it facilitated fund raising activities and increased the number of potential donors. The organisation aims to provide paying customers with western-style quality wheelchairs, crutches and accessories at a competitive price. It also aims to provide beneficiaries living under the poverty line with the equipment they need for free.
The funding is essential for the organization, and this one of the reasons to establish the workshop in order to support the target group, but also to provide additional income. In addition, additional funds were raised by other donors, partial private contribution from users and annual net profit gained by the project.
To achieve our targets, the organization also generated income by sales of products and services and through fundraising activities and promotional events addressed to institutional donors, government counterparts, new contributors and the public.
In order to accomplish our mission, the ADRF is doing the following:
• Worked to raise funds which were used for the construction of the new workshop and in investments technological improvements;
• Drafted a feasibility study, followed by a Social Business Plan, which guided the development of the plant Miresia for the five coming years;
• Changed the organizational structure, and internal operation procedures of the Miresia workshop, focusing the work in two pre-defined directions of our mission: marketing to ensure direct sales in the market, and fundraising in order to subsidies clients with disabilities who could not afford to buy the wheelchairs;
• Trained both executive and technical staff in Albania and abroad in order to enhance their efficiency and productivity, and to increase the quality of the services and work produced;
• We combined the work with the programs of ADRF focused on advocacy, aiming at ensuring legal and strategic improvements, which would facilitate the involvement of the state in the process of the support for the individuals in need of wheelchairs.
The legal framework in Albania was incomplete, and there were no strategic orientations regarding the delivery of support services for disabled persons. The Albanian Government addressed the disability issues under the context of the model of social care and the concerns of this category were not observed as priorities. Nor did local authorities accept responsibility for the support of disabled citizens. As a result of lack of awareness there were very limited funds focused towards disability issues.
Furthermore, the business community was also unaware of the important role it could play in accepting social responsibility commitments towards vulnerable groups. Now things have changed and awareness of the needs of people with disabilities is much greater. The Government has subsidized the production of wheelchairs for disabled people with mobility problems (as a result of advocacy, lobbying of ADRF and other NPOs) for two consecutive years. There is an increasing trend for funds from donors in support of economically deprived people with mobility problems (as a result also of the work and awareness rising of the fundraising Unit of the ADRF). Moreover, the business community is also more involved in providing support for the individuals in need of wheelchairs (in particular, Vodafone Albania Foundation).
• Miresia workshop continues to operate, and its capacity is gradually increasing;
• The capacity and quality of production has grown, and it has helped serve a larger number of vulnerable people.
• There is a national disability strategy, where the disability issues are addressed in the context of rights, and where the supply of disabled persons with services and wheelchairs is an integral part (as a result of advocacy, lobbying of ADRF and other DPOs).
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