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Speaking about human trafficking is somehow surreal. It feels like talking about horror movies, but it is a sad reality for thousands of people. According to a UN report published last year, from 2010 and 2012, 510 human trafficking routes around the world and victims from 152 countries. The document also shows that 49% of those victims are women, and when girls are included numbers reach 70%. More staggering data? 53% of victims suffer from sexual harassment and 40% experienced forced labour or working conditions analogue to slavery. It sounds like a thriller, but these are the facts against which Serbian NGO Atina has fought for more than a decade. Besides offering support to victims of human trafficking, Atina also supports women who are victims of other gender-based violence.
In 2015, entrepreneurship became an ally of the association’s cause. After joining a congress on business and third sector, the non-profit decided to get roll up its sleeves and open a bagel shop. “We used to receive support from funds, associations and governments, but we cannot rely entirely on that”, Marijana Savić tells us. She is director at the NGO and also manages Bagel Бејгл (or Bagel Bagel), a name that mixes latin and cyrillic alphabets.
That was how the idea of opening a social business came to life. According to Marijana, despite having started an economic activity recently (the official opening was in last April), running Atina was never too far from managing a business. “When you are raising funds, you need a plan, in the end, you are offering a service by speaking about a cause”, she explains. The NGO’s values also support the idea of it having an economic activity. “We want to support women so that they become economically independent, otherwise it is useless to work on their recovering and then get them back to risk exposure, to the same environment and circumstances where they had suffered before”, she ponders.
In the bagel store, besides having their profit directed to the institution, there is training for the work in the kitchen, catering service and in-store client service. “Our final goal is creating an atmosphere and a community that can include, offer alternatives to victims of gender-based violence and offering significant mechanisms to these people. We need to promote economic empowerment, she reaffirms.
During our chat, Marijana needed several breaks so that she could assist customers, answer questions and pick up the phone. Good sign for business. “Several people don’t know that we are a social business, sometimes the cause itself is not enough to sell the product. Some people come to eat and it is important to have a high quality product. Many come, like it, and when they get to know it is a bonus. Ah! And you gotta try it!”, Marijana warns us.
We tried. And, having come for the cause, we bet that high quality product plus important cause is the recipe for success. The expansion plan involves a bigger store and broadening the catering service, besides, of course, giving more opportunities to victims of gender-based violence.