On August 31, Brest has hosted an intensive course on social innovation in the creative field. The training was organized by the Berlin Social Innovation School "Eastern Partnership" and ODB Brussels and initiated by the Dekabristen e.V, a German non-profit organization, with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany. More than 20 people from all over Belarus came to the cozy space of KH to get to know each other, exchange contacts, and discuss their projects and plans for the future.
The level of creativity ran high, so a variety of projects was presented: environment and children’s theatre, tourism, music, cinema and even neurobiological control. The first part of the day included two workshops. Ivan Viadzenin, creative director of the Belarusian crowdfunding platform talaka.by, spoke about the business canvas for social start-ups. Maksim Padbiarozkin, programme coordinator at ODB Brussels, instructed the participants of the Brest intensive on how and where to learn for financial resources for the development of their project.
The second part of the training included experts’ presentations on cultural entrepreneurship in Belarus and Germany. They presented real cases to inspire the participants and by example help them take a new look on their own projects.
How social business solves important problems of the German society
Siarhei Miadzvedzeu, Head of the Berlin Social Innovation School "Eastern Partnership", was the first expert to speak. An important problem currently facing the German society is the integration of refugees. Even though the majority of refugees came to Germany in 2015, the problem took its roots much earlier and was on the agenda back in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. According to statistics, from 2005, Germany accepted up to 200,000 refugees every year, but in 2015, the country became a host to 1,200,000 people, and it was then that the civil society demonstrated their readiness to integrate them.
|Siarhei Miadzvedzeu, Head of the Berlin Social Innovation School "Eastern Partnership", (Germany)|
Every year, Germany allocates from 30 to 50 billion euros for integration of refugees. The civil society is actively engaged in the topic of integration, aiming to help the refugees quickly adapt and become citizens of the country. For the past several years, German social entrepreneurs have taken a lot of effort to work on these issues, and many new social start-ups have appeared.
|A start-up company Mimycri manufactures handbags and pouches from recycled waste|
Photo: official website
For example, a Berlin start-up company Mimycri produces handbags and other accessories from recycled waste (including inflatable boats that the refugees use to get to Europe). Nora and Vera, who founded the start-up, help refugees with employment and social adaptation by organizing workshops and integration programmes. Mimycri accessories cost from 20 to 160 euros. The company has plenty of orders, with a months-long waiting list.
Siarhei also presented another interesting German initiative: Alternative Berlin Tours, or Querstadtein. When the volunteer-driven project began, it only had homeless people as tour guides, but starting from 2016, refugees have also been offering their tours. Each tour tells the guide’s personal story. “In 2014, when Querstadtein just started, a foundation provided salary for one person,” says Siarhei, “to set up a website, ensure PR, make videos and presentations, so that the initiative gets media attention”.
That was exactly what happened. In social business, it is extremely important to “package” your story correctly and sell it in the right way. Querstadtein is already 80% self-sufficient, with plans to become fully self-reliant. However, they continue to apply for grants, as this provides additional opportunities to develop their company. Refugees and homeless people receive salary as tour guides but they are not fully employed”.
|Refugee-led Querstadtein Alternative Berlin Tours Photo: official website|
Main resource: individual and creativity
Brest resident Alina Dzeravianka, national coordinator of the "Culture and Creativity” programme, told the guests of the seminar about culturepartneship.eu programme. The programme has been funded by the EU since 2015 and is due to end early next year. Alina went on to describe the programme passionately: “One of its main functions is to broaden the concept of culture, so that it is not perceived only as visual art. Culture is our way of life and our every day routines. Creative industries include applied creative practices, which are becoming part of the creative economy today. This concept has been in use since 2001, and it is much broader than just a certain industry, meaning various aspects of life based on creativity and intellectual property. Statistically, cultural industries have the biggest employers in Europe. This sphere employs the most people, it deals with start-ups, entrepreneurship and innovation".
|Alina Dzeravianka, national coordinator of the "Culture and Creativity” programme|
Why do we need to focus on creative industries? Scientists regularly remind us that computers will be able to replace humans in many areas. In 25 years, more than 35% of modern jobs will be mechanized. However, people in creative industries – artists and other creative individuals – cannot be replaced with robots. If you invest in your creative abilities, there is a chance that the profession will go on to live much longer. The concept of creative industries has not yet been enshrined in law. People who work in creative industries cannot influence legislation and taxes. “We need to improve access to finance, especially to loans. We need to develop knowledge of people who work in creative industries and strengthen international partnership and cooperation. A draft legislation is being developed now to be presented to Belarusian ministries and persuade them that more platforms are needed for interaction of creative cultural industries and technological IT projects. We need to connect industries to create new offers, products and services”.
Gallery as a commercial organization
A guest from Minsk, Valliantsina Kisialiova, described how Ў contemporary art gallery has functioned as a commercial organization for more than eight years now. In the opening of her presentation, Valliantsina strengthened that the gallery was originally designed as a business and that it was the right strategic move that has since paid off many times. The gallery’s director and curator describes: “When we opened the gallery, good artists were all going abroad, and no state galleries offered platforms for contemporary themes. When we opened, it was our original aim to cooperate with foreign partners and foundations. Today the gallery is a meeting point for artists, writers and musicians, as well as businesses, NGOs, foreign counterparts and representatives of embassies. Over the first few years, this was practically the only such communication platform in Minsk. The gallery has a bar, which is a meeting point and also brings in money”.
|Valliantsina Kisialiova, director and curator of Ў gallery (Minsk)|
Valliantsina admits that it would be very hard for the gallery to survive without support of foreign colleagues. In the first two years they had Belarusian companies willing to have joint projects. However, over time projects and themes became more complex, involving many urgent social issues, some of them political, and many Belarusian partner companies refused to cooperate. Over the past several years, just one bank supported one children’s festival. It is easier to work with foundations and partners because they hire a commercial entity (a gallery) and you don’t need to go through long approval procedures.
#symbalby: think about going forward
|Mikita Brouka from Minsk presented symbal.by|
Mikita Brouka from Minsk presented symbal.by. He shared how they made Belarusian ornaments trendy and sold 20,000 “embro-T-shirts” (T-shirts with traditional Belarusian ornaments). They had the idea for the T-shirts in 2014, produced and gave about 200 of them for free, which caused a huge resonance. Opinion leaders began to share photos of themselves in these T-shirts on Facebook, making Belarusian ornaments fashionable. Three years later, the demand for embro-T-shirts has not gone down. Mikita advised young creative entrepreneurs: “When you are in the beginning, always think about going forward. Also, never cling too hard to your initial ideas, because this can cause you to underestimate the scale and opportunities that your work might present".
|Hanna Hrydziushka and Heta Belarus, Dzietka project (Minsk)|
At the end of the intensive course, Hanna Hrydzuishka from Minsk shared her story of Heta Belarus, Dzietka, a project about Belarusians and their Belarusian uniqueness. This project is taking part in Biz4all “Social Entrepreneurship Incubator” programme, and you can read more about it on our website: Biz4all. English-Language Tours of Minsk by the Heta Belarus, Dzietka! Positive Image of Belarus. The training in Brest ended with a discussion between the participants and experts, where everybody agreed that in the past several years, many new interesting communities have sprung up in Belarus and initiatives are gradually becoming more business-oriented.
Text and photo by: Valerya Nikalaichyk