LEAD with Guide Dogs-
Life Employment Accessibility and Diversity
Blind People employment opportunities in community development and well being through Guide dogs and assistance dogs
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:
Yes, I’m eligible
Yes, I’m 18 years old or older
Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:
Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020
Initiative's representative name
Camelia Platt- Managing Director
Initiative's representative date of birth
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Where are you making a difference?
Bucharest, Cluj, Alexandria, Arad, Ploiesti, Craiova, Oradea
Website or social media url(s)
Fostering emotional intelligence and behavioural competences
Enhance physical activity and wellness
Re-imagining the role of pets in society
What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?
nonprofit/NGO: an organisation that uses its resources to achieve a purpose outside of creating profit
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
In 2010, one of our new beneficiaries sent us this message: I lost my sight about 2 years ago to sudden glaucoma and still struggle with anger, depression, frustration, anxiety, not going out of the house because I don’t want help from anyone. I want to do it myself. But I couldn’t do it by myself. It just getting worse and worse. Coming to your centre, you made me realize that Im not the only one and there is help for people like me. The first decision I made to make my life better is to get independent and I am ready to accept your challenge and be the first Romanian Blind person with a Guide dog! This was our manifesto for the first Guide dogs for the Blind programme in Romania and continues to be today.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Around 100,000 people that are living with sight loss in Romania are missing out on life opportunities, mainly due to lack of adequate legislation reforms and services. Most of them live in isolation, heavy dependency on families and almost invisible to the society. Blind people are significantly less likely to be in paid employment , the lowest level in EU. Other barriers: discrimination, training and lack of confidence in themselves.
3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
These issues are rooted in negative assumptions of incapacity, dependency and difference that are perpetuated by lack of education and community awareness. Light into Europe works towards the creation of inclusive cities and communities where the interaction between people with or without disabilities represent life changing experiences and the physical or virtual environments allow them to get around safely and confidently, with maximum of independence. From our pioneering work with Guide dogs for the Blind and Assistance dogs, we identified 2 key areas of interventions that will transform exclusion to inclusion: a national educational programme for the safe use white canes and Guide dogs and 2 training programmes designed especially for Blind people (but not limited) in Community/Disability Awareness Advocates and Community Wellbeing Facilitators that will incorporate using guide dogs and assistance dogs as therapeutic partners. These will generate pioneering employment opportunities for 30 Blind people and 5 people with other disabilities/medical conditions that will improve community wellness through education and inclusion activities led by them.
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
Recognition of the powerful bond between humans and companion pets is well-documented internationally. There is also extensive evidence that guide dogs provide a range of functions – practical, psychological, and social – which improve the health and quality of life of users, facts endorsed by our current beneficiaries. We believe that helping Blind people to access employment in new areas for Romania such as disability awareness and community development through the use and direct participation of GD is the first of its kind. Our approach is built on the knowledge gained from successful piloting activities in companies in the last 2 years. their new roles in the community will improve inclusion and inspire other PWD to seek employment.
5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?
Although guide dogs started to be recognized as helpers for Blind people , many individuals are still unaware of the benefits of guide dogs or assistance dogs improving quality of life of people various types of disabilities. With a negative social perception about stray dogs, Romania still lacks public recognition of the legitimacy of people with disabilities to use guide dogs/assistance dogs. Our current work with guide dogs users collected similar findings to int'l studies on guide dogs and service dog ownership demonstrated diminished levels of depression, loneliness, irritability, and other similar constructs. In addition, Blind people said that after acquiring dogs they had higher self-esteem, as well as more trust, tolerance, and independence. The project's beneficiaries will be able to learn essential life skills such as collaboration, trust and self-confidence while facilitating disability-awareness and inclusion. Equally, using their guide dogs and personal experiences as people with disabilities will facilitate empathy, kindness and positive emotions in the participants of the wellbeing programmes.
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
For nearly 20 years, we have been a leader advancing inclusion services in Romania. Our Guide dogs programme is in a pivotal moment. We currently have 20 guide dogs and 3 assistance dogs at work, beneficiaries reporting improved levels of confidence, independence, return to education and easier access to jobs. In the meantime, we reached about 1,000 Blind people in communities. With 24 dogs in training, we also experiencing rapid growth of demand in both Guide dogs and expanding Disability awareness activities in companies. In the midst of this growth, we are grappling with pressing challenges around inclusive education, access to employment, inequities and discrimination. We aim to develop quantitative and qualitative instruments to measure impact at both individual and community level and already shared our work with EGDF in defining training standards of GD and assistance dogs.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
LEAD will introduce a new model of work for people with disabilities, by making them agents of community change and development. Our plan is to develop a national network of Blind people with GD/assistance dogs trained as Disability awareness trainers for companies and communities, use the national education programme to advance collaboration with mainstream schools, universities and policy making authorities. Our current results indicate that the service can be self-financing through corporate partnerships and build up evidence-based approach is the base to scaling up.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?
Through corporate partnerships we will create direct links between individual and communities social and economic benefits. For communities: increased awareness on GD and bridging the inclusion gap for Blind people and innovative job creation, reducing financial public burden. GD’s create social value by access to innovative wellbeing activities and programmes for people in the community and improve perception about dogs. For the Blind: creating new roles for them in society that will be inspiration for other people with disabilities. Meanwhile, vet professionals will improve their professional development and further social value through volunteering.
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
Our current costs are funded through a long-term strategy of charitable donations, corporate sponsorships and individual contributions. The operating cost of each GD is Eur 3,000/year and there is no cost to Blind people. The project will enable us to increase the number of GD and assistance dogs to 30 by the end of 2021. Future funding sources include Disability awareness training contracts with companies, partnerships with central and local authorities, medium and long-term national-expansion through other EU funding programmes, increase number of national and international sponsors and embracing new practices, such as opening a social enterprise.
10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
Our MD team consists of 2 senior GD and Assistance Dogs Specialist, 1 Mobility and Orientation Specialist and 1 Rehabilitation and Inclusion Specialist as full-time employees. Additionally, we draw from the expertise of 2 of our Board members and from our pool of 50 volunteers. Moreover, the project will include academics and international professionals from reputable professional networks that will enable us to develop a high quality, sustainable project. GD training takes 2 years.
11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?
The Purina BetterwithPets Prize will be a significant step forward in educating the community about the legitimacy of Guide dogs and assistance dogs in improving the social eco-system of our communities. Equally, the creation of new employment opportunities for Blind people using guide dogs/assistance dogs will be of important influence in changing the social attitudes about people with disabilities and ultimately will highlight the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Capitalizing on the results of the project, further community partnerships with animal welfare professionals, psychologists and educationalists will create a multi-disciplinary model of practice in inclusion and community development.
12. How did you hear about this challenge?
Recommended by others
13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.
J discovered she had RP when she was 23yo just before finishing university. The shock and sadness added up to the next three years of the indignity of being unemployed. The experience of the job centre was a real eye opener as no support or re-training was offered. Last year, she was sign posted to LightE for a GD, but firstly she was shown some amazing pieces of equipment, that until then she had no idea existed. J then signed up to become a volunteer. J soon discovered that she was speaking in front of people, running a coffee morning were just a few of the things she enjoyed doing if she was supported to do. Things that she had been trying hard to avoid such as learning to use the computer for Blind people. It was amazing to use a PC again after all these years. When she qualified for a GD few months later, we decided to give her the possibility of adding her personal experience to our disability awareness sessions. The impact was instant! We almost doubled the number of volunteers
14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?
Guide Dogs are known to provide universal mobility support for blind people so is their natural way to enjoy human interaction and socialization. They also develop a very strong bond with a Blind person, who is responsible for the overall wellbeing of the dog and the daily activities. Our staff ensure that GD are correctly handled, and use positive reinform, assessment and training to both Blind people considering a GD and educate the community. During training of Blind people with GD, we ensure that GD needs are always met, when off work, the harness is taken off and guide dog teams rest, walk, play, and communicate together. The owner takes care of the dog, providing him with certain privileges that add up to a typical ‘dog’s life’, which includes: feedings, several opportunities to go to the bathroom, grooming, attention and interaction (e.g. talking to the dog and giving him affection). Blind people also educate community on communication and etiquette with GD/assistance dogs.
15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
Light into Europe is the only GD and assistance dogs certified service provider in Romania, therefore we have the responsibility to ensure the highest standards of training and interaction between GD , Blind people and community are in place at all times. We are also Board Members in the EGDF and continue to improve the quality of our service through training, conferences and international exchanges. There are however several organizations in the Animal assisted therapy area, using stray dogs for group activities. Through our project we plan to create more visibility of the therapeutic use and wellbeing benefits of dogs that will enhance our credibility and improve education of community.
16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.
Our project is based on establishing partnerships with companies, local authorities, educational bodies organisations as well as other charities that could benefit from the training and wellbeing activities Blind people with GD. We currently work with a range of companies, int’l schools and local authorities that need either disability awareness training or are interested in wellbeing programmes for their staff and partners. Key to bringing further scale and impact to our work is the clear presentation of these benefits, increasing the number of Blind pers with GD working as disability awareness facilitators and a greater understanding and wider acceptance of Blind people with GD in work place and community in general. Participating in int’l projects and building new partnerships in community provide us with an adequate framework for high quality service delivery in both GD training and community education. Social inclusion, youth employment and enhancing community spirit are our drive
17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
Romania is an emerging country for people with disabilities and therefore there are limited awards opportunities in this area. However, our programme has been awarded Bronze award in 2017 at the national CSR gala for the volunteering scheme and we are annually selected for national and international conferences on education, human rights or corporate events. Internationally, our Chairman received the OBE status from HM Queen Elizabeth for the development of the programme in Romania.