Adriaan: “We focus on people’s qualities, not on their limitations”

News overview

Toolbox Emmen is a “makerspace” in the former Emmen Zoo. Highly motivated technical and creative people come here to socialise, learn, create and do business. People with a disadvantage on the labour market can develop themselves and work on their career prospects which makes them feel part of society again. Adriaan Pals, one of the initiators, talks about the project the social impact it has, the challenges in times of pandemic, and social impact.

From flexible workplace to learning workplace

A few years ago, Adriaan rented out flexible workspaces to working people. He saw many collaborations and new projects emerging. To stimulate the creation of new projects or products, he also offered flexible workplaces to makers – people who work with their hands. Besides, he wanted to give access to people with a disadvantage on the labour market. “And that’s how it evolved into what we are today,” says Adriaan.

Adriaan now describes Toolbox as a “socially inclusive, circular craft centre”. “It’s a place where a community has been created that starts all kinds of projects and activities to see if they can provide work for our participants,” Adriaan explains. “We have a carpentry workshop, herb garden, bread bakery, IT company and much more.”

Adriaan in front of Toolbox's office

Social impact

Adriaan comes from the financial services industry and has a clear vision on revenue models and the behaviour that they provoke. Toolbox works according to the social impact principle, and he is very proud of that. “The idea behind this is that we are only rewarded afterwards, when we have really helped people. If you receive support in advance, you have to be concerned with hours, attendance and the limitations of participants. With social impact, we guide, coach and facilitate people at their own expense and risk. This challenges us to be creative, to look for what people are good at and not focus on their limitations. This positive approach really helps people. They start believing in themselves again and show different behaviour in order to achieve their goals. Instead of making money for people with a disadvantage on the labour market, we teach them how to make money themselves.”

Emergency lay-offs

Before the coronavirus emerged, the social enterprise employed 20 people, some of whom were supervisors and some former participants. There were 67 participants in a project, but also volunteers and trainees helped out. Out of the 100 highly motivated people involved in the enterprise, there are now about 80 left.

So, the coronavirus hit the social enterprise hard. Adriaan: “We saw about 40% of our turnover disappear in a very short period of time. And we weren’t very profitable already. Because we have a lot of short-term projects and people either couldn’t or didn’t dare to come anymore, it looked like we were going to lose even more turnover. We had to lay off seven people. Fortunately, we received help from the DOEN Foundation and other parties, which allowed me and others to return to work. Now things are slowly moving in the right direction. The atmosphere is livelier, new orders are coming in and our restaurant is open again.”

At the moment, we are working hard to make the coffee roastery bigger and more sustainable. “That is our main focus for the coming period. We can use this to earn money commercially, so that we are less dependent on the government.”

Sebastiaan, one of the Toolbox participants

Support from DOEN

The DOEN Foundation has been supporting Toolbox with the social impact project since its start in 2017. “We agreed that we would help 20 people develop positively in different areas of life, with a proportion moving forward in their careers. We were given two years to do this, but within a year we helped more than 20 people. More than half went on to further education or employment.”

The second social impact project is still ongoing and will be successfully completed in spite of the coronavirus. “Partly thanks to DOEN’s support, we can continue our research in collaboration with Hanze University of Applied Sciences and develop a method with which you can measure the impact you make on a person’s life as an organisation, and what that impact could be worth.”

Go ahead and do it!

Adriaan was able to rent the old workshop and canteen in the empty zoo in Emmen through a school friend. They now occupy the entire building. In order to facilitate all the ideas of the growing group of participants, what started as 500 m2 has now grown to no less than 2,500 m2. “So you see, if you have a good, socially inclusive idea, you will meet a lot of people who want to help you.”

“The world can use more socially-minded people who set up nice things or create work for people who are disadvantaged on the labour market,” says Adriaan. “If you believe in it, go ahead and do it. Make sure you gather the right people around you and then you will see that more is possible than you could imagine.”