Feedback from Participants of the Course «Female Entrepreneurship with a Social Focus»

“Female entrepreneurship with a social focus” is the first programme in Belarus developed to teach women about the basics of managing a socially-oriented business. The programme brought together 40 women aged from 18 to 45 who wanted to create a socially-oriented enterprise or had already launched their social business.

The participants learned about the steps necessary to form a social business idea and launch a business, acquired necessary skills and knowledge to develop a socially-oriented business, and found out about funding opportunities and features of solving social problems.

The course included face-to-face trainings, practical exercises examining successful female and social enterprises, as well as forums and meetings with businesswomen who deal with social business and representatives of government agencies supporting entrepreneurship development.

Larisa Kokhanovskaya, manager of IQ Center, founder of Persona J Teleschool:

I came to the course to receive theoretical knowledge, find support and develop my business ideas. I needed to gain some confidence in my vision for the project, expertise to calculate financial performance indicators, and approval of experts.

The structure of the course first allowed every participant to delve into world of calculations and theory. The course organizers brought together well-known speakers who helped us understand the basics of building a project development strategy, calculating profitability, create a marketing and PR strategy, as well as learn to promote your project in social networks.

Then the participants had an opportunity to try to apply their knowledge in practice: we had to build and present our project and then begin actually implementing it. The most important thing at this stage was that we had the full support of experts: all the participants could ask for advice and receive a competent answer and necessary assistance at any time.

A big plus of the project was that we had a chance to visit various social enterprises in the country. We saw how social enterprises worked, what challenges they faced, how they overcame problems and found new paths to development. We also visited a great variety of business events and social entrepreneurship events, which the organizers constantly informed us about.

It goes without saying that over the course of the project from colleagues we turned into friends and partners. We are still in touch even after the programme ended, helping and supporting each other, and sharing our achievements.

I would like to thank the organizers for this excellent course, their comprehensive support and assistance both with developing an idea and implementing it. My special appreciation goes specifically to Lyudmila Korbut and Marina Kalmykova for their skilful organization, professionally selected contents of the course and support throughout the entire project!

 

Elvira Koroleva, art historian, journalist, author of the project #yapriedu (ya_priedy) which provides young disabled people with opportunities to socialize through water drawing workshops (ebru):

The programme helped my project gain the necessary momentum and reached a new level. Without the experience or the visits to social enterprises and communicating with experienced entrepreneurs, I would not have received the necessary impetus and knowledge. I would especially like to emphasize the importance of getting to know all the participants, all the enterprising girls, as it was thanks to them that I was able to expand the boundaries of my project. For example, we can quickly share useful information in our group chat: we help each other find specialists, facilities for rent, necessary contacts, we get news about upcoming projects and media publications about the activities of a particular participant. Contacts solve a lot of problems. So we have a friendly, mutually supportive relationship. I am convinced that such programs help people settle on professional desires and goals, gain courage and believe in yourself.

Anastasiya Leonovich, director of “Podari Schastye” (“Give Happiness”) event agency:

In the beginning I just wanted to expand my business and provide employment to more people with special needs. Our agency “Podari Schastye” has been organizing events for two years. We have already helped two people with disabilities find employment. Now we have signed an agreement with “Lastochka” ("Swallow") day care and assisted living department for disabled people, where they make their own souvenirs, and we provide them as a package service — together with gift preparation and delivery. We also tried to work with a girl who has a motor disability to sell homemade cakes. However, we cannot do it legally at the moment, so we have abandoned this idea for now.

We have now decided to do catering for events, as well as for other types of occasions (for example, we did catering for a Moscow film crew from Moscow who stayed at our camping site in the Vileyka region and shot for a film that went on to be selected for a festival).

The big question for us is to legalize this service, which entails a lot of challenges with the sanitation services and other things. We are trying to find a solution, looking for a suitably equipped room.

Which events were the most helpful? It is really hard to answer. I believe that each of them has improved my quality of knowledge in its own particular area. Meetings with our colleagues have proved to be the most valuable! Every girl has talked about implementation of her idea, about the successes and difficulties, and we have tried to help and advise each other. We have discussed many issues together. This will surely come in handy in the future. Such meetings, such people are so inspirational! It is really valuable.

I think the most interesting meetings were:

•    The meeting with Aliaksandr Skrabouski, when we had a small in-house contest of ideas. It was really interesting, as if we lived through the actual competition, but with less stress. Now, if someone wants to participate in the competition of social projects, it will not be so scary for them, we will feel more confident. Self-confidence — this is what these meetings gave us.

•    Also, a visit to “Barkos” enterprise and meeting Yelena. It was thanks to that that I am now going to visit Poland and take part in a congress, as well as go to a grant fair.

Also, about female and social entrepreneurship… I have concluded that we should not categorize it and label it as “female”, “male”, “non-social”. We have entrepreneurship and we need to use it to solve problems. A lot is being said in our country about supporting entrepreneurs. Is this support really available? I think everyone will have their own answer to this question. I think that we have a negative image of an entrepreneur in Belarus. For some reason, the image of “a person who does nothing and just shovels money in” persists. Is that a true image? It is not!!! An entrepreneur is someone who works 24/7, takes risks and (this is essential!) pays a lot of taxes. We can talk about this forever.

I want to thank all the organizers, as well as every participant of our course. Every new contact is valuable and really important. I want to wish everyone success in implementing their ideas and killing off those ideas that are not bringing profits. You can not be afraid of this. Only someone who does nothing can stay away from mistakes. Also, if someone doesn’t get it right the first time, it’s okay, as we need to look for other ways. They exist. Each of us, I am sure, will find the road that will lead to harmony, success and happiness.

What are my impressions of the "Female Entrepreneurship with a Social Accent" course? Surely, this is about searching for new opportunities to develop our businesses, meet interesting participants, as well as experienced speakers who not only taught us new skills, but also inspired us with their own success stories. Therefore, the most valuable thing I learned here has probably been about business communication skills. Just like me, all the other participants came here with the idea of ​​either opening a business or thinking how to promote an existing business. We rejoiced at each other's successes, supported each other when things got difficult, and found answers to interesting questions in business. I want every girl to believe in herself, to be strong and conquer every obstacle!

Tatiana Pimkova, director of “Adukatsyya Fest”, an institution that provides education services to adults, and psychologist:

I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to the organizers and trainers of the “Women's Entrepreneurship with Social Accent” course! Important experiences, valuable knowledge, useful skills — I have really developed my competences. Thanks for the insights and discoveries — this is immensely valuable. It turned out that at the end of the course my professional journey was just beginning! Special thanks goes to the participants of the group — I was really glad to meet you and chat!

Natalya Romanyuk, legal advisor, United Trading Company, Pan Camping project:

This educational programme, “Female Entrepreneurship with a Social Focus” is unique because when we had only developed our business idea we could get support and knowledge necessary to start our business properly, do all the calculations for the projects, launch a marketing campaign, find a partner or a team. Typically, you understand that you lack some knowledge when your unsubstantiated expectations are not met. Also, the project is “social in nature”, which is in line with both my own principles and modern business trends, which is all going to have a social focus very soon.

I also want to note the amazing opportunity that the above-mentioned program provided us, namely, visiting enterprises and being in direct communication with managers and employees who openly shared their experiences with us.

Marina Litvinenko, tax consultant, expert in the field of taxation of individual entrepreneurs and individuals:

I am very grateful for the opportunity to take part in the project! The programme was quite full and very relevant. The speakers gave us up-to-date information, which was really well-presented. I also made a lot of discoveries during the practical part. By the end of the project I had a step-by-step implementation plan. I am now registered as an individual entrepreneur. One of the notable results is the new useful acquaintances and contacts.

Tatiana Buraya, individual entrepreneur, non-formal education trainer, coach, volunteer, project “Poleznye Sladosti” (“Healthy Sweets”):

For me the course brought a new vision of entrepreneurship and a lot of useful knowledge. The most important thing was that the programme covered topics that are really essential for both aspiring entrepreneurs and everyone who has been in business for a long time.

I have been volunteering in non-profit organizations for a long time, and I think this is a complex activity that requires people to constantly search for resources or continue volunteering indefinitely, but at the same time all non-profit projects and organizations need resources.

Thanks to the “Female Entrepreneurship with a Social Focus” I have been able to see that it is possible to combine two useful things: actual entrepreneurship and solving social and environmental problems for the country as a whole and for some specific regions. This is a sort of beneficial symbiotic relationship between having permanent profits and solving important social problems —of course, provided everything is planned correctly. We have to inject a little courage, and some people have already been successful with it, I have seen the examples. We have had a number of study visits to operational social enterprises in our country, which allowed us to see those pioneers in entrepreneurship of such kind. Another great thing was the opportunity to see the potential of other women and girls in the programme: even though they have to multitask so much in their lives, they still want to be entrepreneurs, which inspires me greatly! Thank you for the course, it was useful and really necessary!

Nasta Bazar, founder of the "Padvorki" project developing children's spaces at events and in corporate facilities, and co-founder of the “Child-Friendliness Index” project:

First of all, I would like to say “thanks” again for the programme. It has had a great impact on my projects, ideas and plans, as well as my understanding of values.

As for what the project offered:

•    Professional speakers. Thanks for the quality information provided during the course trainings. It was really useful.

•    Focus on participants and support. That is incredibly important for me in any programme. I understand that attention is required from the same side, so I do not deny the need for my own inclusion. I would also like to thank everyone for being attentive to me, for supporting me when I was at a point “I’m quitting because everything has gone wrong”.

•    Opportunities to visit events.

Over the course of the project I’ve developed a number of recommendations to develop social entrepreneurship and female entrepreneurship in Belarus:

We need to speak about social entrepreneurship, develop it and organize programmes and conferences. I am open for cooperation. I am good at speaking about my own needs and the needs of other people, to work out the obstacles until they are resolved, to get to the bottom of everything. So I am ready for cooperation in the form of lectures and trainings for future social entrepreneurs which I can develop and organize. I also think it would be great if more organizations spoke about social entrepreneurship and trained people in it.

As for female entrepreneurship. Statistics show that in Belarus 7 out of 10 women are hesitant about opening their own business. Here is where I see a gender motive. Therefore, to develop female entrepreneurship with a social aspect I consider it important to conduct trainings, lectures and courses on gender issues. We need to raise the level of gender equality in the Republic of Belarus. Then women will be more active in business.

 

I am grateful for the training programme and eager to cooperate with others in order to develop social entrepreneurship in our country.

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The project “Support for Female Entrepreneurship with a Focus on Social Business in the Brest and Minsk regions” aims to support women’s entrepreneurial activities in Belarus with a focus on social business through training, strengthening interaction between legislative bodies and private entrepreneurs to further develop the social sphere, as well as organize international exchange of experience and strengthen the German-Belarusian cooperation in solving the tasks set by the project.

The project is implemented as part of the Support Program for Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany. In Belarus the project is realized by the Brest Local Fund for Regional Development, Brest Technopark, the Belarusian Association of Entrepreneurs, ODB Brussels, Association of Businesswomen and Creative Women, Social Technologies of Business. In Germany, the project partners are the Belarusian and German Society and the IDEA-Coop-Forum International.

Photo: social media accounts of the programme participants.