First Belarusian Social Business Forum: Victories and Challenges

On June 28, when the world celebrates the International Day of Social Business, Minsk hosted the First Belarusian Social Business Forum. The day was packed with events, including speeches from successful representatives of Belarusian social businesses, presentations from guests from Russia and the Netherlands, informal networking between representatives of large commercial and social companies of Belarus. More than 20 Belarusian social companies showcased their products at the Social Business Alley. A representative of the Russian foundation "Our Future"  underscored that social entrepreneurship has been actively developing in Belarus over the past several years and that these are important steps towards future victories.

Organizers of the First Belarusian Social Business Forum: ODB. Brussels, Social Business Technologies, Global Compact Network Belarus, the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany, United Nations Development Programme in Belarus, Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship, Association of European Businesses, Berlin School of Social Innovation, Agency of Social News, SAP, Social Weekend and Russian foundation “Our Future".

Mutually beneficial cooperation

According to the organizers, the main goal of the Forum was to bring together representatives of large commercial companies and heads of social businesses. Alyona Lis, head of ODB. Brussels, added that it was important to demonstrate how commercial businesses can help social enterprises. Aliaksandr Skrabouski, Head of the United Nations Global Compact Office in Belarus, entrepreneur and co-organizer of Social Weekend, commercial companies nowadays are willing to get involved with social projects and do not deny that such cooperation is mutually beneficial. “However, it is important to make sure that large business companies understand: social responsibility is not about charity but about effective money-making opportunities for both parties”. Vyachaslau Shelegeyka, representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Belarus, was among the international partners present at the event. According to him, it was the UN that first started talking about social entrepreneurship in Belarus 12-15 ago, and progress in this area over the past several years is a cause for celebration.

Aliaksandr Skrabouski, Head of the United Nations Global Compact Office in Belarus, entrepreneur and co-organizer of Social Weekend, and Alyona Lis, head of ODB Brussels.Anna Brusnitsyna, representative of the Russian foundation "Our Future", Pavel Yankelevich, SAP CIS Partner Manager, Uladzimir Karyagin, Head of Presidium of Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship


Natallia Mantsurava, Research Institute of Labour of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection Vyachaslau Shelegeyka, United Nations Development Programme project coordinator


Galina Matsiushenka, Head of Social Business TechnologiesDmitry Krasousky, Deputy Head of the Entrepreneurship Department of the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Belarus


The Forum brought together representatives of large commercial and social enterprises, non-profit organizations focused on resolving urgent social problems and the government. Natallia Mantsurava, representative of the Research Institute of Labour of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, stressed the importance of such events. Over the past year, a group of experts at the Science and Research Institute has worked to define legal criteria to classify enterprises as social ones and provide them with special benefits to help them work efficiently. Only eight countries in Europe have special legislation for social entrepreneurship, and experts are convinced that Belarus can become the ninth country on this list as early as by the end of this year. The Ministry of Economy was represented at the Forum by Dmitry Krasousky, who noted that social entrepreneurs help dispel the common myth that businesses are only interested in making money and nothing else.

Guests at the First Belarusian Social Business Forum, 28.06.2017, Minsk Guests at the First Belarusian Social Business Forum, 28.06.2017, Minsk


Galina Matsiushenka, head of Social Business Technologies, a consulting company, shared with the journalists at a press briefing that another goal of the Forum was to underscore that businesses can help achieve ambitious social objectives and that it was necessary to popularize the idea of creating and developing social enterprises in Belarus. Uladzimir Karyagin, Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship, in his speech raised the important issue of having no positive image of entrepreneurs in our culture. Although the work of entrepreneurs is important for the society primarily because they pay taxes to the budged three times: first as an individual, secondly as a company and thirdly they pay taxes for their employees.

However, the successful image of a social entrepreneur in Belarus has been developing actively. First-hand stories of businesses that address social issues were presented in the first part of the Forum.

First Belarusian Social Business Forum, 28.06.2017, MinskFirst Belarusian Social Business Forum, 28.06.2017, Minsk


Success stories of social businesses from Belarus

Almost all the experts mentioned the UK when they cited examples of effective social enterprises. Social businesses in the UK bring in about 10% of the GDP. It is a high figure, and many countries seek to achieve the same. Experts from Russia, for instance, said that their programme expects social enterprises to reach 1% of GDP in the Russian Federation by 2020. Social enterprises in Belarus haven’t actively developed until recently, but a number of inspirational success stories were presented at the Forum by the entrepreneurs themselves, who got a chance to speak right after organizers gave their welcome and Anna Siratyuk and Natallia Astanina, wheelchair dancing world champions, gave a performance. Their act got an introduction from Valery Kalamiets, Head of the Belarusian Foundation for Assistance to Disabled Athletes and Merited Coach of the of the BSSR. He also shared that the team is getting ready to take part in a festival later this year, where the girls will do a 5000 meter skydive with a partner.

A gift to the guests and participants of the First Belarusian Social Business Forum from the Belarusian Foundation for Assistance to Disabled Athletes: a performance of wheelchair dancing world champions. 28.06.2017, Minsk

Ihar Striga, director of "Services Hypermarket 124" shared the first success story of a Belarusian social business. Ihar is a wheelchair user himself who came to work for this company about seven years ago as a customer service specialist. He was the first employee with a disability and showed great results.

Ihar Striga, director of  "Services Hypermarket 124" , 28.06.2017, Minsk


Ihar soon got a promotion to work as the manager of a department which was recruiting people with 2nd and 3rd group of disability, mainly wheelchair users. Today, the "Services Hypermarket 124" employs forty people, and only two of them have no disability. Ihar has been managing the company for more than five years, using the profit to create new jobs. Of course, they had some losses and had to take loans, but got saved by their commercial business approach. They gradually expanded the list of the services they offered. “We have a department that creates and promotes websites”, says Ihar. “It does not bring in a lot of money yet, but we try to develop this line of work as it is in great demand. Services Hypermarket dispatchers do outsourcing work as they serve food delivery companies, banks, shops and make cold calls. It is very important that we take part in a programme helping disabled people adapt to the labour market. In a year, about twenty people do internships at our company, and most of them already find a good job within a month after graduation".

Dmitry Klimkovich (in the centre), founder, "Essential Capital", 28.06.2017, Minsk


Dmitry Klimkovich shared the story behind “Essential Capital", which employs people with disability. Dmitry and his team are taking part in the  EU-funded Biz4all "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator" programme, which is implemented by ODB Brussels and TNU Network University. You can read about his company in more detail in “Essential Capital”: from a Small Photocopy Shop to a Stationary Store and a Printing Office.

Uladzislau Kaurou shared the story of “Our Masters" company: two workshops employing alcohol addicts in remission now operate in Minsk and Smaliavichy. Helping addicts adapt to normal life is an opportunity to help children who grow up in a dysfunctional environment.

Uladzislau Kaurou, founder of “Our Masters”, 28.06.2017, Minsk


"From 1999 I worked a lot in programmes to help children from disadvantaged families. But then I realized that it was impossible to help children until their parents get back on their feet. To do so, two years ago we opened a plaster workshop. Now we have 8 people working there, and it is very important that they do not just receive help passively but are actually engaged in work”.

Marina Kalinouskaya, representative of the UN Development Programme in Belarus, spoke to guests and participants of the Forum about two important aspects of the development of social entrepreneurship in Belarus. On the one hand, she stressed, business tools are increasingly being used to solve social problems. On the other hand, however, social enterprises still quite often cannot compete in the market.

Marina Kalinouskaya, representative of the UN Development Programme in Belarus, at the First Belarusian Social Business Forum, 28.06.2017, Minsk


Corporate social responsibility: benefits of cooperation with social enterprises

Maria Charakova, speaker and social entrepreneur from the Netherlands, cited practical examples to highlight the benefits that large commercial companies can derive by cooperating with social enterprises. She talked about large companies such as Philips and Coca-cola, which helped social enterprises and got mutual benefits from their cooperation and improved their image.

Masha Charakova, consultant of the ODB Brussels "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator" programme realized with support from the European Union (Netherlands), and Alyona Lis, 28.06.2017, Minsk

Anna Brusnitsyna from Russian foundation “Our Future" discussed the cooperation between traditional businesses and social enterprises using the example of Russia. The second part of Forum focused on CSR and best practices using large Belarusian companies as an example. Read about this in more detail in the second article about the Forum "Business should also have a soul”. CRS Projects at the First Belarusian Social Business Forum.

The International Day of Social Business has been celebrated annually on June 28th since 2010. Muhammad Yunus, a social entrepreneur from Bangladesh and a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his efforts to ensure economic and social development, was born on this day.

The goal of the First Belarusian Social Business Forum “Social Business – Best Innovative Practices and Opportunities for Social Investment” is to encourage participants to discuss important characteristics of social businesses, its benefits, achievements and challenges, development plans for social enterprises and future opportunities for social businesses, as well as to inspire people to establish their own social companies. Events held on or around this day bring together social entrepreneurs, authorities, civil society organizations and people who are partial to urgent social problems.
Text: Valeriya Nikalaichyk

Photo: Vitaly Brazousky, find more photos from the Forum here: album 1, album 2, album 3

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.

ODB Brussels