Erika wants to paint so much

In the EU project IN SITU, people from different backgrounds, of different ages and in very different life situations are made fit for the labour market or for self-employment. In the first round of the training and mentoring programme, people in six European regions developed impressive social and sustainable ideas.

Nadja Dodlek, participant Foto: Nadja Dodlek

Erika likes to laugh a lot. And the young Slovenian has a great passion: art. When she explores museums and galleries again and again and admires the small and large paintings there, she dreams above all of being able to paint herself one day. She has already tried, but she just didn't want to succeed. Her hands and the brushes just don't fit together. Others have said to her, "You can't paint, you have a disability." Then Erika was always very sad and had to cry. Another young Slovenian woman, Nadja Dodlek, didn't want to watch this any longer - and set out to find a solution. This led to the TAILOR MADE ART TOOLS project, in which, for example, custom-made special brushes are invented for art-loving people like Erika. In the cross-border EU project IN SITU, funded by the Interreg Central Europe programme, Nadja Dodlek was able to further develop her project over the past six months.

IN SITU stands for "Intergenerational Social Innovation Support Scheme". The aim is to "enable people with a lack of resources and knowledge to access start-ups in the field of social innovation". The target group is younger and 50-plus long-term unemployed people, people with a refugee or migration background, jobseekers, but also people of all ages in phases of professional transition. Six European partner regions work closely together in the IN SITU project: the Stuttgart region in Germany, Veneto in Italy, Rijeka in Jadranska Hrvatska in Croatia, Dąbrowa Górnicza in Śląskie in Poland, Maribor in Vzhodna Slovenija in Slovenia and Vienna in Austria. The project management is also based there.

Judit Makkos-Kaldi from the European Office of the Directorate of Education for Vienna is the project coordinator Foto: Judit Makkos-Kaldi

Judit Makkos-Kaldi is a project coordinator at the European Office of the Directorate of Education for Vienna. "Together we have worked out a training and mentoring programme that is based on existing experience and can be used well in all six regions, despite the different conditions in the six countries," she says. In each of the regions, two institutions work closely together; in Stuttgart, for example, these are the Startup Centre of the Stuttgart Media University and the Stuttgart Region Economic Development Corporation. These twelve institutions have brought together all their know-how, developed a training programme and have now accompanied and supported the first groups of participants for six months in the development of innovative and social business ideas and initiatives.

"Here, the participants not only receive free workshops and seminars on the topic of start-ups, but also workshops that are specifically geared towards the development and improvement of so-called soft skills," it says on the Stuttgart IN SITU website. "These include, for example, conflict management, presentation techniques and self-marketing. This creates a well-rounded offer that equips participants with a combination of entrepreneurial, social and creative business skills. The focus here is clearly on the area of social innovation to drive and help shape social change."

Swetlana Tschulkow, participant

Foto: Swetlana Tschulkow

Swetlana Tschulkow is one of around 20 participants in the Stuttgart group who, since the end of October, have been learning a lot about developing business ideas, about orderly financial planning or about networking in real and virtual life every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. and sometimes additionally on Thursdays in Zoom meetings lasting several hours.

The graphic designer, born in 1990, lives in Böblingen near Stuttgart, most recently worked as a marketing manager and is currently reorienting herself professionally. Her beloved dog gave her the idea for her project "stueckweise". Swetlana and her partner had not used conventional shampoo in plastic bottles at home for washing their hair for a long time. They had switched to shampoo bars. However, their dog's fine hair collected in them, which was decidedly unhygienic. "And so my partner and I started experimenting to see if and how this problem could be solved for us."

As part of the Empowered by Entrepreneurship programme, Svetlana Chulkov developed the idea for small, solid shampoo tablets that are first lathered up in the hand and then used to wash the hair. The prototypes are already being tested.

"The exchange and the regular mentoring sessions have been very, very beneficial for me personally," she says at the end of this section of the programme. "In this safe zone, I was able to cry over hurdles as well as rejoice over the small successes. But also the support and the conversations with the other participants were helpful to get out of a low."

The brush that Nadja Dodlek made so that Erika could finally paint. Foto: Nadja Dodlek

For Nadja Dodlek in the Maribor region of Slovenia, her training programme as part of the EU project is also just coming to an end. The art therapist with around 8000 hours of experience in working with people with mental or physical developmental disabilities has developed her previous do-it-yourself solutions, for example for paintbrushes, with which Erika can also paint, in the direction of sustainable high-tech solutions. She also has a prototype in the test phase, and an open-source platform for networking people who are looking for and developing solutions is also in the planning stage.

In the Polish group, among other things, a neighbourhood project around nesting boxes for birds was created, in Italy a programme for women affected by domestic violence is being developed, and in Croatia the idea for a larger upcycling project is being realised. For these groups, the programme has now come to an end, but they can continue to draw on the large network that has been created and will continue to be supported by the participating institutions. In just a few days, the second round of the training programme will begin for new participants in all six regions.

Judit Makkos-Kaldi is satisfied with the mid-term results. "Many initiatives have been developed in the regions, some of which will hopefully be ready for the market," says the Viennese project manager. And this despite the COVID 19 pandemic, which made everything different than planned. "All our plans were rewritten by this situation. We had to change our whole programme to online in a very short time, which made communication with the target group difficult."

The EU programme Interreg Central Europe has funded the IN-SITU programme with a good 2.4 million Euros. It will run until February 2022, when the funding ends. "But the cooperation will be maintained," says Judit Makkos-Kaldi. "We have signed a memorandum of understanding that the various institutions will continue to offer their expertise primarily in online format. We have an IN SITU platform where everything will be available for reference years from now. It will also be regularly updated with regional training materials." The network created in the programme will also continue to be used. And perhaps there will be another opportunity to expand on what has been created within the framework of a new EU project.

Translated with DeepL Translator


  • Nadja Dodlek, art therapist and participant; her YouTube video above has been embedded with her kind permission.

  • Judit Makkos-Kaldi, Project Coordinator, Europe Office, Directorate of Education for Vienna

  • Swetlana Tschulkow, Marketing Manager and participant

  • Presentations and contributions at the digital "In Situ Game Changer Fair - Central European Fair on Social Entrepreneurship" on 13 and 14 April.


  • The author Jürgen Brand accompanied the programme in the first round. If you would like to support one of the projects mentioned, please contact me and I will put you in touch with others.

Please support my journalistic work with an amount of your choice (no matter if 0,50 or 5 €):