Biz4all social entrepreneurship training programme, which is implemented by ODB Brussels within the framework of the Social Entrepreneurship Incubator with support from the European Union, has already launched many sustainable social initiatives. Today, there are 30 teams left in the programme, all of them solving social problems, such as employment of people with disabilities, conservation of the environment and sustainable development, preservation of culture, integration of children with special needs, and many others. The teams have participants from all over Belarus. Today we are covering Diana Sivitskaya, who lives and works in Minsk.
(from left to right) Diana Sivitskaya, Anna Yeremenko, Viktoria Shepelevich: "Socks from Grandma" team during a #Biz4all training on fundraising for social start-ups. April 22, 2017. Minsk, Belarus.
Photo by: Alyona Lis
Together with her team she works on the “Socks from Grandma” project. In their online store (this year it is closed for summer) you can order woolly socks that are knitted with love, warmth and care by retired Belarusian grannies.
Socks from Grandma.
Photo by: Viktoriya Klevets
The entrepreneur recalls that she had the idea for this business three years ago, when she received a pair of knitted socks from her mother, which she loved. However, she could not find the right moment to set up the business.
Diana says that initially she had the idea to set up a global project – an Internet platform where each granny could put up knitted items for sale. However, when this idea was analysed within the framework of Biz4all, it became clear that they need to think more locally. “I searched for other projects online and got inspired by them. For example, I closely followed a Russian company called Tabani Socks: how they work with social media, what their website looks like. Finally, I launched a crowdfunding campaign for my own project “Socks from Grandma” on talaka.by, which received some media attention. About six months ago, I gave an interview to one major web portal, and then to a TV channel”.
That is how Diana and “Socks from Grandma” found fame overnight, even though the enterprising girl did not expect that the readers and the audience would get so actively engaged and emotionally involved with the project.
Diana Sivitskaya (on the right) during a “Beehive” networking business game. #Biz4all programme training “Legal Aspects of Entrepreneural Activities”. April 22, 2017. Minsk, Belarus. Photo by: Vitaly Brazousky
Take my grandma as well!
After her media exposure Diana started to receive a lot of calls from retired grandmothers who like to knit, from their children and grandchildren, from acquaintances – everyone wanted to offer their services. However, it turned out that it was not that easy: it is one thing to knit for your relatives or friends, and a very different thing to produce quality items for sale. That is why it was quite difficult to find the team of pensioners.
“I had a lot of calls and letters”, recalls Diana Sivitskaya, “but I had no entrepreneurial experience. Each applicant had the same first test task: to knit a perfect pair of socks of their choice, a pair they would be prepared to give to their son or granddaughter as a present. Strangely enough, it was at this stage that the majority of grandmas got screened out of the process. There were some cunning ladies as well. For example, I placed orders with one granny and constantly supplied her with yarn, but she somehow ran out of it very quickly. Then one day I decided to weigh the socks and found that they were lighter than they were supposed to as she nicked some of the yarn.
Diana learned from her own mistakes during the first winter season, the time of active sales. “Socks from Grandma” entered into a permanent contract with pensioner Lidya Antonovna, and Diana admits that when she now selects new workers, she mainly focuses on the format of work and the working speed of the knitter. Lidya Antonovna not only knows how to knit beautiful high-quality items but also understands that the socks are made for sale, so they have to be perfect.
Lydia Antonovna and Diana Sivitskaya. Photo by: Margarita Sklyarova
Preparing for the winter season
Last year, in the midst of the season, Diana and the team had to give up a major order due to their lack of experience in business. While they were trying to complete the order, it turned out that it was not that easy to buy high-quality yarn of the right colour, that they didn’t have enough knitters to complete the order and that the duration of the light day was very important, as it is difficult to knit dark threads in artificial lighting. This situation, along with a number of other challenges, helped them to learn a lot of lessons.
Socks from grandma can be ordered separately or together with the tourist guide for foreigners “Minsk in Socks” that we already covered. Diana's Biz4all mentors, Olga Kapachenia and Masha Charakova, are among the guide's authors. They stroke up the useful business acquaintance at the start of the training course, and now the mentors are directing Diana on her way, not letting her go astray. According to the entrepreneur, the programme helped her feel like she was surrounded by like-minded people: “I want to hug every participant when I meet them, because we speak the same language, they love people and want to make the world a better place. This is the type of atmosphere created at the event, but serious and important things are made there. For example, the programme helped me take a different prospective on the business, not be afraid to make mistakes and, most importantly, move towards the goal”.
In the conclusion of the interview, Diana stressed that she did not launch this social project simply to earn money or to employ retired grannies. “It is very important”, she says with a smile, “that people have an emotional reaction to this idea and take a new look at this seemingly banal, everyday sight of a grandma knitting. Many of my friends and acquaintances suggested that their grandmothers should join our team, but if I could not cooperate with them, then the relatives themselves asked them to knit socks as holiday presents. It was very nice to see the daughters and granddaughters of the craftswomen themselves selling their grandmother's socks to friends and acquaintances on social networks, which is another positive side effect of the project. Integration of the elderly is becoming one of the challenges of the time, including Belarus, where their number grows by an average of 10% every year. Who knows, maybe soon Diana’s project will have high-tech socks - medical, treatment, etc., created by grandmothers in partnership with their technically savvy grandchildren and granddaughters.
Getting a strong response from people: this is what many social entrepreneurs set out to do when they realize their unique idea of a socially beneficial business. “Socks from Grandma” succeeded in doing this right from the outset, so now it all rests on setting up the business properly and maintaining its operations.
Text by: Valerya Nikalaychyk
The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.
The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.