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European Green Capital Award Good Practices - Winterswijk - Promoting social reintegration & circular economy

EU Green Leaf Winner 2022

Aktief, a collector of bulky household waste, works with people receiving social service benefits to give them work experience at the second-hand shop. The foundation showcases an integrated approach to how waste and circular economy objectives can be combined with social objectives.

Starting Situation

Aktief, a thrift store, has been active within Winterswijk for over a decade. There are currently multiple managers that have been trained by Aktief to operate the shop using the approved courses. The courses were created to teach employees how to assist the process of reintegrating people into the labour market. 


Today, the company works with the social services of multiple municipalities, including Winterswijk. The two parties have a close collaboration, where the social services are tightly involved in the process of ‘reintegrating’ people with great distance from the labour market back into it. 

The people hired to work for Aktief score a 2 or 3 on the participation ladder (see “The six levels of participation” at the end of this article). Most of the time this means that they are no longer used to the rules of having a 9-5 job. 

Aktief hires people for a maximum of a year. If the employees integrate properly sooner, they are free to leave and find employment somewhere else. If they cannot adjust after 12 months at the organisation, the social security employers will determine why, and what the follow-up steps are to secure for the person a fitting job. 

In the past year there has been a programme with the integration of refugees into the Dutch labour market. The company wanted to help those that would have the most trouble finding a job in the Netherlands. Therefore, the target group were refugees that were illiterate and did not have any degree in their home countries.



During the programme with the refugees, the participants not only learned to work at the workplace but they were also given Dutch lessons. The lessons were short and given throughout the day, mixed in with the normal tasks. The language barrier proved to be a large challenge, but an even bigger challenge was the traumatic past the refugees went through. The combination of not being able to understand each other with the immense differences in life experiences made it difficult for all people involved.

Thankfully, a solution was within reach. One of the people that worked for the organisation longer had been a refugee himself and had been living in the Netherlands for much longer. This person could not only be a translator between parties, but he also understood what the participants had been through and the difficulties they faced living in the Netherlands.


The support for Dutch people with a distance to the labour market has had great results. A large group of people found a regular job within the year that they work at Aktief. If they do not find a job immediately, it has been proven that people at least find the strength and motivation to start applying again.


Citizens from Winterswijk
Entered Aktief: 423

Continued with a follow-up programme: 270

Exited: (153) 32,6%



Exit group specified
Regular jobs: 109
Regular jobs with support: 4
Education: 11
Benefits ended: 29
Total: 153

Unfortunately, the refugee integration programme was less successful. Aktief wants to stay independent of governmental organisations and the programme was partly financed by an external company. Therefore, only one round has been accomplished. The store, however, plans to restart this programme internally in the near future.

Learnings and recommendations

Government bodies should promote such initiatives. It improves society as a whole, as less funding is needed when people become part of the economic system again. 
Learn more about Aktief on their website.

The six levels of participation

Step 1: Isolated

No contact outside the home except functional contacts such as visits to the family doctor or physical therapist. 

Step 2: Social contacts, focused on meeting

Weekly contact with others outside the home such as participating in a coffee morning or attending courses/language classes. 

Step 3: Participation in activities, aimed at contributing

Participation in activities involving the performance of tasks with a low workload and with little personal responsibility and/or independence. 

Step 4: Unpaid work, focused on work 

Independently performs tasks and/or bears responsibilities and/or income has economic value; and/or attends vocational training. 

Step 5: Paid work with support 

Paid work with supplementary benefit and/or UWV instruments and/or in combination with vocational training. 

Step 6: Paid work 

Paid work without supplementary benefit.