Four years ago, Olga Karatai fulfilled her dream when she opened her first store of children’s toys and goods "Umniashka" ("Smartie"). This November, she is launching an interactive game space, where people can come to play board games and buy those they like most.
Biz4all-2 training was part of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator” programme organized by ODB Brussels (Belgium) in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands) with financial support from the European Union.
Olga Karatai at one of the training events of Biz4all-2 social entrepreneurship training programme (Minsk)
Photo: Alyona Lis
It is typically only in the long run we can see how educational programmes inspire people to take the path of social business. Olga took part in the second Biz4all-2 school with her Barauliany-based project "EcoLife". Olga is an experienced entrepreneur: together with her husband, she has been selling children’s toys for almost 20 years (at a number of market stalls in the capital, as well as in her shop). However, she has been thinking about opening her own interactive game space: not just a shop but a space where people could come to play board games, find people to talk to and have fun.
A game space and social business: contact points
Olga remembers: “When I came to study in Biz4all a year ago, I was really impressed with this kind of work. I was amazed to see how many Belarusians wanted to go into business not just to make money but to solve social problems and help people. I would come home after the training sessions and could not fall asleep after all the inspirational talk and the overwhelming amounts of information. However, I thought at the time that I couldn’t really put a social twist on my own entrepreneurial activities”.
Final pitch of the "EcoLife" team from Barauliany in the final of the Biz4all-2 social entrepreneurship training programme: Olga Karatai and Aksana Bernatskaya
Photo: Vitaly Brazousky
During the training, when she learned all about various aspects of social business, the entrepreneur understood that her old idea — an interactive game space — could in fact be a social business. The main idea of the game space was to give people a chance to try board games before buying them. Barauliany did not have a space like this yet. A number of other leisure spaces sometimes organize board game nights, but this is going to be the first permanent place designed specifically for this, and one that will be open every day. It is also an opportunity to bring the local community together, fostering dialogue between children and adults in a fun way.
“Our store carries a number of board games, but if the customer has not played them, it can be very difficult for them to figure out which game to choose. I spent about three years thinking about how I could show people the games and help them make the right choice, so that every person would be satisfied with their purchases. As a result, I developed the project of an interactive game store”. Olga has already rented a space in a children's entertainment centre in Barauliany, which she is now renovating. Now negotiations are underway to make the game store a franchisee of the well-known and popular Russian manufacturer of board games Hobby Games, which came forward with an offer of cooperation with the entrepreneur.
Board games with schoolchildren a village in the Homel region
The 30 sq. m. space is a game room with a large table to gather round and play. The visitors have access to about five dozen games. The game space is going to open in November, so Olga is now testing demand and studies the needs of the target audience in order to make the games schedule.
There are racks with new games around the room, all of which people can buy. “For the time being, we are planning to hold a six-hour game night every month. This is going to be a free event open to everyone. On the day, we will invite professional consultants. Even though I have plans to invite teenagers who love to play board games to act as mentors”. Olga is a mother of three, so she knows how challenging it can be for teenagers to speak in front of an audience. According to the entrepreneur, such mentorship activities can help teenagers reveal their talents and overcome their fears.
Store of children’s toys and goods "Umniashka" ("Smartie") in Barauliany
Different generations can communicate and understand each other through board games
As mentioned before, the main goal of the game space is to allow people to test the game before buying it. However, Olga considers her mission to be a much broader one. “It is a great opportunity to bring together parents and children, children and teachers, educators or just schoolchildren. Our space will also give people a chance to come and play, without having to buy something afterwards. A lot of women on maternity leave also come to visit. While their children are running around the labyrinth under supervision, mothers can have some time in our game space and take some time off from “mothering”.
Olga Karatai brings games and organized game spaces at various charity and entertainment events in Barauliany and elsewhere
According to Olga, even now, as the space is still being renovated, a lot of people come to the centre asking what is going to open there. It was these people who have given the project its working title: “an interactive store”. The entrepreneur believes that the game store format is a great way for schoolchildren to spend their time offline. Olga recalls that earlier this year, when she took several days off to visit her parents in a village in the Homel region, she took a lot of board games with her. In the village, she arranged with the school director to come to the summer camp and play with the children there. “On the first day, when I came to the children with a huge stack of board games, nobody paid attention to me: everyone just sat there browsing their phones. Howeve, a couple days later the children became interested, so upon my arrival everyone put their gadgets away and gathered round the table to play”.
The entrepreneur emphasizes that she now plans to active develop another element of the game store, designed specially for teachers and educators. Many games are so detailed and well-made that they can be used in education. Follow the news, as the Barauliany game store opens already in November. Olga Karatai will welcome every customer and is open for cooperation and joint projects.
Text by: Valeriya Nikalaichyk
Photo: from personal archives
|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.