Social Challenge and Innovative Solution
In Mureș County, Romania, people with disabilities are at high risk of social exclusion and unemployment. Even local social service agencies struggle to secure enough funding for services that can support this population with training, employment and long-term assistance. Established in 2003 by the Alpha Transilvania Foundation, Timural Group aims to create jobs for people with disabilities or people from disadvantaged backgrounds in rural areas.
Since 2010, Timural has been producing educational toys and small wood furniture under the brand Woodjoy. They work on two main axes: their own product range and tailor-made, on-demand production. The social enterprise stands out with its ability to personalise its wood products and to work on small and medium product series. They can also give their customers technical advice on the execution of new products, provide product design and make prototypes, always aiming to satisfy their customers’ requirements and keep a high quality level. Moreover, all their products are environment-friendly and durable, with an excellent price-to-quality ratio.
Timural first focused on helping people with disabilities, and has now broadened the scope and employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds (e.g. long-term unemployed, people living in rural communities with reduced job opportunities). In 2017, one third of Timural’s staff with people with disabilities and two thirds were people from disadvantaged backgrounds. To maximise its social impact, the social enteprise also redirects its profits to the Alpha Transilvana Foundation, which is an important provider of social services for people with disabilities.
Key Social Impact Figures
Investing for Impact
How it started and support provided
Timural joined NESsT’s portfolio in 2015 after winning the VPO’s competition to support social enterprises in building or improving their business models. Around 80 social entrepreneurs applied to the competition. It was divided into three rounds, in which the social entrepreneurs attended workshops where they learnt how to write a business plan, conduct product feasibility and market study, financial planning, etc. For the final round, NESsT brought the candidates to the point where their business plan was ready to be presented to an investment committee. Ten social entrepreneurs presented their idea and business plan, and Timural was one of the two finalists.
NESsT gave Timural a total amount of €10,000 in grant to support product prototype development, staff salary for an administrative assistant, and participation to fairs, professional network fees and other marketing expenses that help promote WoodJoy products.
Management team and CEO support
Management team and CEO support
After Timural joined their portfolio, NESsT carried out an in-depth needs’ assessment to define the type of non-financial support to provide to Timural. Despite its high revenues (around $500,000 in 2015), Timural was operating at a loss due to unstructured and improperly planned production operations. NESsT portfolio team in Romania started supporting Timural in refining their business plan and operations. They have given advice on building and implementing a sales plan, on cash flow, as well as accessing new distribution chains.
With the view of improving the Timural's operations, NESsT managed to arrange a one-day training on lean production management, with Constantin Patasanu, a pro-bono consultant. After the successful training day with positive exchanges and genuine motivation on both sides, the consultant extended his support for a full mentoring programme with Timural. The mentorship sessions have been then held online via Skype once or twice a month for over a year. It is a structured programme with a specific topic for each session and assignments for Timural’s management team. NESsT has been following the programme as an observer and supporting the mentor with detailed tracking of discussions, objectives and assigned tasks.
This mentoring programme has been a great success thanks to the high satisfaction of all the parties involved in the programme as well as its positive results: Timural has saved €15,000 so far, it now has proper documented procedures, quality audits, and can now make better cost estimations.
On a quarterly basis, Timural sends NESsT an update with the total number of employees and number of employees from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In order to add a qualitative aspect to their impact measurement, in 2017 NESsT conducted a portfolio-level survey. They interviewed the employees of their investees. The aim was to collect information about the quality of employment in terms of perceived sustainability and longevity of the job as well as obtaining information with regards to the levels of compensation and benefits. NESsT focused their questions around wages, working hours, and stability of work.
What they think
While the mentoring programme was initially set for a six months, the process continued for more than 18 months and it will continue at least until the end of 2018.
Timural is now looking to acquire a CNC machine, which would help increase their efficiency by more than 30% in some of the products. For this specialised machine, Timural needs to find €80,000, possibly through leasing or a loan. NESsT is helping them make a case for this new equipment, by quantifying the costs of using such machine.