On March 26, Minsk gathered representatives of Belarusian civil society organisations to exchange their experiences of social entrepreneurship. How can we make a "social" business profitable and bring sustainability to a non-profit organisation in the difficult economic conditions - these were some of the questions raised by participants of the seminar "Social Entrepreneurship in Belarus: Viable Models and Secrets of Success" that was organised by the ODB (Brussels) in partnership with the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany.
|Yakub Schimek (on the left), Pontis Foundation Programme Manager (Slovakia)|
Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new concept for Belarus that is quickly becoming more and more popular. Being a "social entrepreneur" who brings sensitive social issues into focus is now becoming more of a trend, or at least a new direction for the development of the third sector.
As Oksana Elova, Social Services Coordinator for the the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany, noted during the seminar, social entrepreneurship (SE) is a way to create new jobs, and social enterprises also can effectively solve inclusion issues existing in Belarus.
|Oksana Elova (on the right), Social Services Coordinator for the The Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany|
Despite the fact that only 8 EU countries have adopted legal frameworks for social entrepreneurship, "Community Interest Companies" all over the world often manage without it.
"Very big commercial companies say they are social enterprises. But the name is often misused in Belarus", notes Maria Cherakova, co-founder of SocStarter Belarus. "The mission of such business is to be sustainable so that their profits could be reinvested back into the social enterprise. That is why social businesses never turn into multi-million dollar companies. Success of a business is evaluated not by how much money you made last year but how large of a social impact you made".
Social entrepreneurship can very well influence the financial sustainability of a public or a non-commercial organisation, says "Clearing House" programme coordinator Maxim Padbiarozkin: "We consider social enterprises to include not only those that work with disabled people but also those that were founded by non-commercial organizations to achieve their statutory goals. In Belarus, a civil society organisation cannot be making money. To be able to do that, a commercial entity is established that transfers part of their profits to the civil society organisation."
|Maxim Padbiarozkin (on the left), "Clearing House" coordinator, Ivan Shmyga (on the right), Head of The Disabled and the Environment, a Youth Non-Governmental organisation in Brest region|
When discussing "viable" social enterprise models for Belarus, participants noted that they face issues that are similar for any typical (not just Belarusian) business: unstable economy. At the same time, there are some Belarusian social entrepreneurship success stories already.
Ivan Shmyga, Head of Brest Region Youth Non-Governmental organisation "The Disabled and the Environment", shared that "KeramART", a workshop that employs disabled people, was created on the platform of the Brest Youth Initiatives Support Center. During the year, when they learn to produce ceramic or plaster souvenirs, the disabled get funding from the Local Committee on Labor and Employment. After that disabled people go on to work.
At the moment social enterprise "KeramART" produces souvenir plates, mugs and magnets that are sold in the Mir castle, in the Belavezhskaya Puscha National Park and abroad. However, according to Ivan Shmyga, Brest souvenirs have got Chinese competitors:
"We have tried to raise awareness in our city against Chinese producers of Belarusian souvenirs. How can the Chinese produce Belarusian souvenirs? This is nonsense, but it undermines the economy of our small enterprise! We are always looking for new technologies, aiming to update our product range. We are always looking to find new technologies, to update our product range. Economic instability is a problem for us: we lost a lot of funds we had saved and could not use because the ruble rate tumbled."
Ivan Shmyga considers employment to be one of the most effective socialisation tools for the disabled. When discussing past experiences in social enterprise development and operation, Elena Kuvichka, fundraising expert and Board Member of "Inva-Sodeystvie" Association (Abkhazia), noted: "Thanks to the close ties between public organisations we can lobby some changes from our government. Your country has the advantage: here the government will support employment initiatives that target the disabled. You can build partnerships."
Participants pointed out that the society lacks understanding of the status and value of social enterprises, as well as legal frameworks to regulate their actions and development. As Inna Titok, Research Associate at the Economy Research Institute of the Ministry of Economy, stressed, there is still a lot of work to be done: "I used to think that social entrepreneurship equalled CSR. We had a problem that we worked on a month ago, how to develop CSR. It resulted in one line: enable CSR development. Now I understand that this should be at the bottom of our priorities. First we need to develop social entrepreneurship. It is very important to study the situation in detail. In order to offer something, you need to see what such companies can offer, how this can be applied and how we can further work with."
|Inna Titok, Research Associate at the Economy Research Institute of the Ministry of Economy, Small and Medium Business Sector|
Participants of the meeting agreed that even though the market has a share of products by social enterprises, the buyers and other civil society organisations know very little about them. At the same time, NGOs will only use the new tool to ensure their financial sustainability by exchanging experiences and learning international practices.
The Office for a Democratic Belarus (Brussels) would like to thank the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany and all the partners who contributed to the event.
The seminar is part of the "Clearing House" programme.