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6 May 2019

The cooperative SOLEA started with three employees in 2000 in the plastics and metal component manufacturing. Based in Rybnik, in the eastern part of Czech Republic, it employs today more than 130 people; most of them (over 70%) are people with disabilities. This makes SOLEA one of the most significant cooperatives employing people with disabilities in the country.

The enterprise produces supplies for the automotive, engineering, and electrical industries, providing comprehensive services such as injecting simple parts to more complex units. You will find SOLEA’s products in automobiles of famous brands such as BMW, AUDI, Bentley, Range Rover and Aston Martin.

After working within the cooperative as assembler, driver, quality control officer, and production manager, Leos Jirele became the President in 2008. Shortly after taking over the management, the recession started and SOLEA lost suddenly 60% of contracts. “It was enough for SOLEA to cease to exist. It was necessary for us to restart, and since 2009 the modern history of the cooperative began to be written. That proverb is true: What will not kill you will strengthen you”, says Mr. Jirele when asked about the moment when the cooperative started to employ people with disabilities.

The key to success? Being a people-centred enterprise

In SOLEA, as co-entrepreneurs, members share advantages and also responsibilities. They make decisions jointly taking part in the General assembly of the cooperative. This participation is the very key-factor for succeeding in producing high-quality professional work. SOLEA is unique in being able to create a favourable environment for people with disabilities suffering from Crohn’s disease, oncological diseases, diabetes, psoriasis or partial paralysis.

Working together as co-entrepreneurs is much about communication, Mr. Jirele explains: “If someone fails in one assembly, we will assemble five wheels together until we find what fits. That makes sense to us, and that is why we do it. When they come to SOLEA, they feel that they are not the only persons with such disabilities in the world, and if they feel comfortable at work, they feel better everywhere else after work”.

SOLEA shows how a people-centred approach can be conducive to economic success. Indeed, over the past ten years, the company has managed to recover incredibly well: the cooperative’s turnover has doubled over the last ten years (about 3 million euros in 2018), while the number of employees has grown by 40% since 2016. That is why today they are not so much talking about how to survive, but rather how to develop further.

SOLEA is affiliated to the Union of Czech and Moravian Producers’ Cooperatives (SCMVD) which promotes and defends the interests of its members and provide them with advice, information and consulting in different sectors. SCMVD is member of CECOP since 1990.

This article is part of our #CECOP40 series, read more about it: