On May 28, Minsk welcomed the Third Belarusian Social Business Forum, a platform to exchange best practices and discuss how businesses can contribute to solving social and environmental problems. This article contains an overview of new social enterprises and forms of cooperation with large businesses.
You can read our previous articles about the Forum here:
“Centre for Active Ageing” (Minsk)
The first to speak in the session was Yelena Dziamidava, Director of “Centre for Active Ageing”, who described their experience of establishing cooperation between her organization and “Galanteya” company. The Centre organizes educational courses, fitness classes and other activities for older people. Until this year, the company only worked directly with customers and provided services only to individuals. However, the Centre was getting an increasing number of requests from people who wanted to continue working but lacked either competencies or physical health. That is why this year the “Centre for Active Ageing” started cooperating with legal entities and large businesses.
Yelena Dziamidava explained that many “Galanteya” employees were getting close to the pre-retirement age, and the company did not want to lose this work force, so they approached the Centre with a request to organize an active ageing school for them. A special programme was jointly developed. One of their main demands was to maintain the health and well-being of staff and employees in the workshop. As a result, now instructors from the Centre visit the company three times a week and organize various classes (fitness and other recreational exercises) based on the needs of the workers themselves. The Centre has also developed a system of discounts, so they can develop additional competences. For example, if someone lacks knowledge of Microsoft Excel to keep their job, they can buy an Excel course at a discount.
Alyona Lis, Head of ODB Brussels, noted that one of the goals of the first Forum, held two years ago, was to connect traditional large businesses to social businesses. At the time, Belarus did not have any examples of such cooperation. “Using this example, it is particularly great to see there is a demand for services from social enterprises and not just products, as this is a b2b model businesses know and understand”.
Zero waste shop zerro.by (Minsk)
The next to speak in the session was Sviatlana Hatalskaya, co-founder of the first Belarusian zero-waste shop zerro.by. The shop sells products which help people reduce the amount of garbage they produce in their daily life. Their online store opened in January, and the offline store was set up just a month and a half ago. Sviatlana comments: “Originally, my colleague Yulia and I thought that only our friends would buy from us, but the shop began to attract other people, and this is really encouraging”. In her opinion, garbage sorting, which is becoming increasingly popular in Belarus, is very important, but is not in itself the answer to the huge environmental challenge that the humanity is facing. The goal of the store is to reduce the volume of recyclable garbage. That is why the range of goods includes bags that can replace plastic ones, reusable hygienic pads and menstrual cups, dish washing scrubs, steel shaving kits and much more.
Another major goal of the organization is to purchase and promote manufacture of such goods in Belarus. The shop already sells first Belarusian natural toys for dogs and cats by “Mops Shmops”, as well as the first locally made steel drinking straws, so there is no need to order them from China. Sviatlana hopes that in future Belarusian goods will account for at least 50% of all their stock. The project also plans to work more actively in the regions and develop the range, adding more specific products to their basic goods.
The next presentation was made by Anastasiya Zhdanovich, representing Belarusian Environmental Movement, who spoke about their successful cross-sector cooperation in the environmental field.
The organization pursues three main areas of work:
1. disposal of highly hazardous waste;
2. land degradation and climate change;
3. biodiversity conservation and green economy. The partners of the Belarusian Environmental Movement are many international organizations, government agencies and representatives of the business community.
At the moment, the organization is implementing the project “Mitigating the negative impact of climate change by eliminating the effects of the beetle epidemic in the Krasnopol region of the Mogilev region” with financial support from the GEF Small Grants Programme. As part of the project, on April 13th a promotional tree planting event was organized, bringing together a number of partners and resulting in more than 100,000 trees being planted. The event gathered more than 300 volunteers (administration of the district, local residents and schoolchildren), as well as a number of large commercial organizations (TUT.BY MEDIA, Coca‑Cola Beverages Belorussiya, CIVITTA, Belarusian Metallurgical Plant). Anastasiya Zhdanovich underscored that all these companies were part of the UN Global Compact – an international initiative which brings together companies that are ready to work with CSR and sustainable development goals. Therefore, civil society organizations can conveniently choose their commercial partners from the list of the UN Global Compact. “Dobra” Foundation also provided considerable support to the project. Thanks to this, 777,000 trees have been planted over the course of spring, which is an outstanding result for Belarus.
According to Anastasiya Zhdanovich, the key to successful cooperation between public organizations and business is preparing properly and sticking to a number of principles:
- collect information to make a profit-making offer;
- find common interests;
- start with volunteering programmes;
- act as partners and not as solicitors;
- work to build your reputation.
Anastasiya summed up: “You have to understand that it opens up broad opportunities for businesses in PR, marketing, recruitment and, most importantly, cooperating with government bodies, because all such international projects are implemented in a consortium (i.e. with the obligatory participation of public organizations, government bodies and business).
Vegan cafes Monkey Food
Marta Skugareva, communications specialist at the Monkey Food café chain, presented her company to showcase a non-monetary model of business participation in solving social problems, and spoke about the "relations environment" model. In the pre-industrial era, people lived in communities, so they used various practices that brought them together and allowed to provide mutual assistance (e.g. helping one another to build houses or giving surplus of crops to those in trouble).
The humankind has now entered a post-industrial era, passing a crucial turning point on May 23, 2007, when the urban population of the Earth exceeded the rural one. Unlike pre-industrial era people who all spent their time in the same space, most of city residents now spend their lives in 4 different places: at home, at work, in “social relations spots” and in transit (metro, buses, queues, etc.) . At the same time, it is still very important for people to meet their social needs. In Soviet times, social functions were given to canteens, cultural centres, parks, and other infrastructure objects that city planners included in all their plans.
At the moment, although these places still exist, they do not perform their functions sufficiently, which leads to the disruption of social ties. Marta Skugareva noted that in many cities (Minsk being no exception) all social life in residential areas revolves around shopping centres, which do not perform this function really well, and sometimes contributes to even greater estrangement.
The expert considers social exclusion to be a serious problem, which leads to real consequences: people perform worse at work because they want to chat; they consume too much; petty hooliganism in shopping centres is on the rise. As a response to this challenge, Monkey Food has promoted the principles of solidarity economy since its very inception. Both their cafes offer food at a “solidarity price”: meals are more expensive for people who can pay more and less expensive for people who are less wealthy. This gives people a chance to stop and think about exactly how many resources have been invested to produce this particular thing. Thus, the buyer becomes responsible and does not overconsume.
Another project organized by Monkey Food is the “Twelve Monkeys Kitchen”, which organizes regular meetings with interesting people and activists who come for a day to cook their own vegan dishes and teach master classes in their own fields. In this way, guests do not only get to try food on a pay-what-you-wish basis but also get learn something new. Marta Skugareva announced that this year the project would expand beyond the premise of the café and would become part of the SPRAVA festival.
Marta summed up her presentation: “We believe that charity is a model which will always have paternalism on the one hand and irresponsibility on the other, so it does not quite fit within our values. That is why we prefer solidarity to charity: solidarity between various people, between various projects and between projects and people. For example, at the end of every year we make up and publish a list of projects which achieved some social impact that year and give them pies as a token of our appreciation, and we provide consultations to new environmental organizations in order to share our experience”.
”Apteka Group” holding
The next to speak was Yulia Shpak, head of advertising and communications of the management company of “Apteka Group” holding, which is implementing “Senior Specialist”, a training project for workers at the age. Of 55+. The expert admitted that the project was not originally rooted in altruistic values: “Since pharmacy chains are developing rapidly and the number of graduates from relevant universities is decreasing, there is an urgent need to solve the problem of high attrition rate and staff shortages. For personal reasons, my goals was also to change the attitudes to older people. That was how we got the idea to search for and recruit staff from a target audience that is being ignored by our competition — from retired people.”
The company decided to implement the project in cooperation with the “Centre for Active Ageing”. Stylists, makeup artists, healthy eating consultants and a psychologist were invited to take part. In the end, 12 people completed the full training course for the position of administrator, and 9 of them were willing to start work. The company also has a course for young employees, changing their attitudes towards older age and older people. Yuliya Shpak was confident that the project results would prove economically efficient for the business, and other companies would start organizing similar programmes.
Inclusive Educational Centre “Avocado” (Brest)
The last to speak was Aliaksandra Hrin, deputy head of the Inclusive Educational Centre “Avocado” from Brest. The organization has operated since August 2017, providing comprehensive assistance to families that raise children with special psychological and physical needs. This social business was an answer to the need of the head of the centre, whose child was diagnosed with autism. At the time of diagnosis, Brest did not have any similar centres, despite the fact that the number of children with autism increases every year. This means that state centres are unable to meet the needs of all those in need of support. Aliaksandra Hrin also noted that many parents consider it a big emotional challenge to undergo the psychiatric evaluation, which is a prerequisite for getting a spot in a state centre.
Since it is not just the child, but the whole family that becomes isolated, an important part of the mission and work of the Avocado centre is to support parents and work with the public using various methods:
- informing the public about autism;
- educating parents and raising awareness;
- creating a community of parents;
- providing psychological support for families and running a parents club;
- creating an inclusive educational space;
- organization of training seminars.
One of the difficulties faced by the company is the fact that a huge part of the funds is spent on training their own employees. A training course on modern support methods for one person $ 1,500, but the company is willing to take on these financial risks. Avocado Centre earns its money from two sources: individual and group classes with children and an innovative bioacoustics correction device. At the moment, the company has 7 full-time employees, and the business itself has grown from an individual enterprise to a limited liability company. Thus, the centre is able to provide an integrated approach and an individual programme for its clients. Alexandra Grin underscored the centre's readiness to cooperate, including training specialists from public organizations.
Organizers of the Third Belarusian Social Business Forum:
the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany. The programme has been implemented since 2002 on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). By supporting this program, the Federal Government has contributed to the development of German-Belarusian initiatives, which, having started as humanitarian programmes, have now turned into partnership-based project work.
ODB Brussels. The organization supports local initiatives, non-commercial organizations and professional associations in Belarus, introduces and adapts the best European practices to create a society based on high values and standards.
Office of the UN Global Compact Network in Belarus.
The visit of the foreign expert was supported by the European Union within the framework of the Social Entrepreneurship Incubator project.
The forum was held with the support of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus.
Partners of the Forum:
Social enterprise “Tsenny Kapital” (Essential Capital)" (Minsk).
Text by: Alina Krushinskaya
Photo by: Vitali Brazouski