Gomel Hosts a Seminar on Social Entrepreneurship for Students

On October 13, 2016, ODB Brussels hosted a seminar “What Is Social Entrepreneurship?" The event was organized within the framework of “Youth and Entrepreneurship” programme and “StartUP-Cooperation-2016”, an international competition of business projects organized by Belarusian Trade-Economic University of Consumer Cooperation (Gomel).

Students and teachers from Gomel, Baranavichy, Minsk (Belarus) and Belgorod (Russia) studied examples of socially-oriented businesses together with ODB Brussels representatives Alyona Lis and Maksim Padbiarozkin, as well as Belarusian social entrepreneurs Dzmitry Klimkovich (owner of “Printing Laboratory”, which employs people with disabilities) and Aksana Shauchenka (Head of “Meteorite Plus”, a company that produces “smart” toys and sports equipment).

 Students and teachers, participants of the seminar "What Is Social Entrepreneurship?", Gomel

Social entrepreneurship – when a business aims to resolve or mitigate a specific social problem using a sustainable business model – has been gaining in popularity in the past 20 years. In Great Britain, for example, the growth of social businesses has already surpassed traditional small and medium businesses. Social entrepreneurship is actively developing in the USA, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, South Korea and Belarusian neighbours Poland and Russia. The range of problems resolved by social entrepreneurs all over the world includes environmental protection, preservation of cultural heritage, employment and support of vulnerable groups, improving the welfare of senior citizens, single mothers, as well as matters of education, healthcare and many other issues.

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, and small recipients of his shoes

One of the most well known examples of social enterprises is TOMS footwear brand with their famous One for One model. Every time you purchase a pair of high-quality shoes in their shop, you can be sure that the company will select and send a pair of shoes to children in countries where help is needed. Over time, the brand has expanded its product line, built partnerships with medical companies in 13 developing countries and launched production of stylish sunglasses. Prices for products of the brand are quite high and comparable to the world's leading manufacturers, but, in the end, an amount of money equal to the purchasing price is sent to partner organizations, which in turn provide free services for the diagnostics, treatment, including surgery, and production of vision correction glasses for people in need – for free!

While today TOMS is a company that works with 70 countries from all over the world, promoting responsible consumption, creating jobs and helping various groups of the population, mere 10 years ago it started as a charity project. However, entrepreneurial skills of its founder, Blake Mycoskie from Texas, made the model sustainable and financially successful.

Another striking example presented to the participating students was Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, a restaurant by the well-known British chef, which gives a start in life to "teenagers at risk".

Not every employer will hire young people who have been in trouble with the law, but Jamie Oliver has never been shy of a bold experiment. While working for him, boys and girls, who once took a wrong turn in their life, can learn tricks of the trade and become sous-chefs, obtaining valuable practical experience, as well as get a good line on their resume and re-socialize.  None of them - unlike their less fortunate peers - commits further offences. Also, the restaurant has three Michelin stars – is this not the best possible recommendation?

Jamie Oliver and staff of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen


In Belarus, where no legislation on social entrepreneurship has been adopted so far, social entrepreneurs are already working for the good of the society. "We have worked for many years, aiming to provide our children with full development and sports opportunities, and we did not even know that our business was a social one", says Aksana Shauchenka, whose company, “Meteorite Plus”, which produces special education toys for children with autism and cerebral palsy, as well as functional children's toys for physical therapy and recreation, Christmas and carnival costumes, equipment for sensory rooms. The business is focused on children, their harmonious development, convenience and comfort, which is supported by a special warm atmosphere in the team. New products are tested by children, including children of “Meteorite Plus” employees. All employees of the company are mothers with children, who do not want to gain excess profits but wish to have a stable source of income, knowing that they are doing something good on the way. “Meteorite Plus” has its own charity programme: the team supports an orphanage and organizes regular charity events, "sports adventures", contests and competition for children.

Aksana Shauchenka, Head of “Meteorite Plus”


Summing up her own experience and that of her colleagues, Aksana Shauchenka notes that social entrepreneurs are people who have faith and the desire to be useful, to "make the world a better place", they are decisive, have original thinking and "healthy impatience", which does not allow them to sit back and wait for the world around them will get better on its own.

At the moment, “Meteorite Plus” cooperates with Belarusian public institutions, children's care homes, corrective education centres, local clinics and hospitals, and the company plans to get access to the retail trade network, so that people could be high-quality educational toys and board games produced domestically. With her project "Our Children", Aksana Shauchenka participated in the second series of  "My Business", a project by the ONT TV channel, and reached the top 20. 

Another example of a social business that employs people with disabilities and provides access to cheap services (photocopying and making passport photos) for vulnerable groups of people: “Printing Laboratory”, a company by Dzmitry Klimkovich, a young entrepreneur from Minsk. The entrepreneur had the idea to create a company that would offer stable employment to the disabled and help the elderly in June, when he was doing an internship in the USA within the framework of the International Visitor Leadership Program by the US Embassy in Belarus, and set up his company in August. Following the example of other countries, the aspiring Belarusian social entrepreneur aims to work in an "ecosystem", i.e. supports his counterparts. For example, he sells souvenirs produced by "Art Idea", another social enterprise. To use services of the “Printing Laboratory”, anyone can come to the first floor of the Administration of Moskovsky District of Minsk. Seniors and people with disabilities receive a 50% discount for its services.

Social entrepreneur Dzmitry Klimkovich presenting his experience to participants of the seminar in Gomel

Dzmitry Klimkovich told students about opportunities that the government provides to entrepreneurs who wish to employ people with disabilities: a support programme, which allows businessmen to get professional consultations on training their staff, certain tax and other benefits, and about his plans to expand his business to other city districts.  

The seminar "What Is Social Entrepreneurship?" brought together future entrepreneurs and businessmen, who came to Gomel to pitch their future startups, and some of their ideas are socially oriented. In the near future, students of Belarusian Trade-Economic University of Consumer Cooperation will be able to get further information on employment opportunities for people with disabilities and even gain practical experience at “Meteorite Plus”.

Organizers and participants of the seminar "What Is Social Entrepreneurship?"

ODB Brussels