On August, 29-30, the Berlin Social Innovation School "Eastern Partnership" and ODB Brussels organized an intensive course on green economy and social innovation in Hrodna. The event brought together more than 30 participants from all over the country. These are people working to develop the green economy in Belarus: production and reproduction of vermicompost, promotion of EM preparations (those containing effective microorganisms), restoration of fertile soil lands, creation of the first landscape park in the country, and journalism for a green portal.
Participants and experts of the seminar met in the Hrodna branch of the Republican Scientific and Technical Library. After that, the Belarusian and German experts made their presentations in the "Domashniy Ochag” (“Fire-side”, 10 km from Hrodna (the village of Zhukavichy). Siarhei Miadzvedzeu, head of the Berlin Social Innovation School "Eastern Partnership", told the seminar participants about his organization and invited them to apply to Soin pre-acccelerator and Autumn School in Germany (Dortmund-Berlin).
|Siarhei Miadzvedzeu, Head of the Berlin Social Innovation School "Eastern Partnership"|
Cooperation between regions to achieve common goals
Siarhei Tarasiuk, Director of the International Development Fund of Rural Territories. He has worked in regional development programmes for more than 10 years now, closely cooperating with Germany and European institutions. For the past several years, the fund has focused its activities on a number of regions, one of which is the Homel region. “We are trying to work with local partners over a long period of time, going through ups and downs. This helps us understand what exactly is going on, because any good project always ends up to become not one but several projects, and this is where development happens”. At the moment, five districts of the Homel region are cooperating with the Fund. These five districts engage with each other on the basis of the fund-supported work for the past three years. The situation in these regions is quite common: the economy is weak, they have an outflow of population, dependency, increasing social burden on the budget, aggravation of environmental challenges and limited local development resources.
|Siarhei Tarasiuk, Director of the International Development Fund of Rural Territories|
"Local authorities are doing the best they can, but the Fund has made an arrangement to strengthen regional interaction in three stages. At the first stage, we listed 200 initiatives: environment, social issues, entrepreneurship. The second stage was to see how the initiatives influence the development of the territory where they are implemented, and the third – to develop regional cooperation to achieve the objectives. In this way, organizations that are trying to achieve some goals have found a lot of supporters, and international partnerships are being developed. Under the EU/UNDP programme “Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus”, 3 out of 5 districts already have civil society organizations that work. As an experiment, we are trying out how development departments can work in local executive committees. Local authorities understand how important it is. We are building individual and regional partnerships with members large European networks".
Siarhei Tarasiuk presented a number of best cases to the participants. He described an interregional project “Green Garden Economy for Village Revival (Trees Against Poverty and Land Degradation)”, which has been implemented in Bragin and Krasnopolle districts since June 2014. The goal of the project is to introduce green economy approaches in order to improve the well-being of low-income families in these two areas of Belarus that suffered in the aftermath of the Chernobyl catastrophe. Within the framework of the project, a tree nursery is established in a rural school and now sells seedlings. 15% of the profits go to cover the needs of the school, 55% - to develop business potential of the centre, 20% are used to purchase seedlings that are sent to families with many children and families at risk (when they plant these trees, they care for them responsibly, thus making a social impact), and 25% go to support local projects. About 50,000$ has already been invested in the programme, the process continues, and the mechanism now spreads over to other regions.
|Participants of the green economy seminar in Hrodna|
Thinking in a practical way and taking responsibility
Franz Mamul, First Chairman of the Hrodna Regional Association “Entrepreneurs’ Club” and coordinator of the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany,
Franz Mamul spoke to the participants about green economy development in his region. “Today, the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany works with social issues and sustainable development. We have to help with preparation of funding applications, participate in competitions, provide support to individuals and public associations. Our goal within the framework of sustainable development is to teach people to think in a pragmatic way and know that their future depends only on their personal position. People are used of going to jobs created by the government, but the main goal of the programme is to get into this mind set: you need to develop an idea, create a job for yourself and your neighbour, Thanks to the work of many foundations, the UNDP, Eurasia, all the EU projects and support programmes, we have managed to change people’s thinking”. These words were echoed at the seminar, where representatives of different regions met to listen, understand and learn to realize their idea and fill it with more meaning. Hrodna region is actively developing the regional partnership sustainable development network. 20 participants have already signed the agreement, and in future this number should grow to 50: the region already has many civil society organizations and new public associations are created.
|Franz Mamul, First Chairman of the Hrodna Regional Association “Entrepreneurs’ Club” and coordinator of the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany (on the right)|
Franz Mamul shares: “Green economy is the dependent component of the natural environment. It exists within that environment and is a part of it. In order to shift the economy to be a green one, you need to diversify your work. All in all, Belarus has about 2,000 farmers, two hundred of whom are in the Hrodna region. Farms represent the link that may raise the profile of the rural areas, because they make it possible to create their own jobs. Organic farming is being actively developed in cooperation between the Hrodna and the Minsk region. Declaring and certifying land is not difficult, and it takes three years to process the documents. However, it is hard to constantly produce and organize truly organic farming: without pesticides, without mineral fertilizers and in harmony with nature”.
"Selskaya Stolinschina": life is possible after subsidies
Viktar Velesnitsky, Director of the Stolin District Rural Development and Entrepreneurship Support Centre, founder of “Selskaya Stolinschina” (“Rustic Stolin Area”), presented his experience in this area. You can learn more about the company, its history and operation on our website "Selskaya Stolinschina»: how a Social Enterprise Solves the Problem of Plastic Waste.
|Velesnitsky, Director of the Stolin Region Centre for Rural Development and Entrepreneurship, founder of “Selskaya Stolinschina”|
Viktar is also the director of a non-profit organization “Stolin District Rural Development and Entrepreneurship Support Centre”, founded over 11 years ago. The main mission of the organization is to help local residents implement their initiatives, focusing on support to vegetable growers. The district sells $50 million worth of vegetables every year, but this number is not reflected in the official statistics, because it is about individuals. Viktar says: “After we worked with clear film, we worked with seeds and fertilizers. We started in 2001 in the red, then we broke even, and only since 2015 we have started to make profit, and all our business is now subsidized by clear film sales. We invested our profits to grow five hectares of blueberries. This year, we have already got the harvest, so next year we are planning to sell the blueberries”.
Christian Heymann, an expert from Germany, was the foreign guest at the seminar. He is a farmer and member of the SOLAWI solidarity agricultural network. Christian spoke about his farm Speisegut near Berlin. Clients can join the enterprise and pay a fee to get a basket of farmer’s organic vegetables and greens every week. Apart from paying the obligatory fee, every participant of the farm must help take care of the crops 1-3 times a year. You can read more about the farm on our website: Solidary Agriculture in Germany: CSA&Solawi Speisegut Farm near Berlin.
|Christian Heymann, an expert from Germany and farmer at the solidary agriculture farm Speisegut.|
During the second day of the seminar, Ivan Viadzenin, creative director of the crowdfunding platform talaka.by, organized a workshop on the business model canvas: how to grow your project from the idea into a business concept. Maksim Padbiarozkin, programme coordinator at ODB Brussels, helped the participants identify the social financial instruments they need to develop their company. At the end of the second day, everyone exchanged contacts in the hope of establishing future mutually beneficial cooperation to develop green economy and social entrepreneurship in their regions.
Text and photos by: Valeriya Nikolaichyk