Minsk Hosts a Seminar for Belarusian Social Entrepreneurs

On November 16, 2016, ODB Brussels in partnership with the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany hosted a seminar "Social Entrepreneurship in Belarus and the World". The event was organized within the framework of Global Entrepreneurship Week in Belarus with a view of exchanging experiences and establishing professional contacts between Belarusian social entrepreneurship. Participants of the seminar in Minsk were presented with examples of environmental, catering, trade, education, transport, sports and leisure social enterprises from the Netherlands.

The seminar involving Dutch experts was possible thanks to the Incubator of Social Entrepreneurship programme, implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with the TNU Network University (the Netherlands), International Civil Association  "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland" and  Youth Public Union “New Faces”  (Belarus) with support from the European Union.

The Netherlands is experiencing social entrepreneurship boom: just in the last 5 years, the number of social enterprises in the Netherlands has doubled. As Gerd Junne, Chairman of the Board of e-learning of the Network University, says, at the moment there are about 5 thousand social enterprises working in the Netherlands in various areas, having created 25 thousand new jobs. In the nearest future the number of such enterprises is going to grow rapidly, claims the Dutch expert. And, although their share of the economy is negligible in comparison with other industries, these companies have significant social impact and bring a lot of social changes in the Netherlands.

Gerd Junne, Chairman of the Board of e-learning of TNU Network University (Netherlands), and Alyona Lis, ODB Brussels

Gerd Junne cited a few examples of successful social businesses working in Amsterdam. In particular, he spoke about Colour Kitchen, a social restaurant business created to employ young people with disabilities or previous criminal records, and about Yumeko, a social enterprise that produces cotton items using exclusively environmentally friendly methods. According to the expert, there are a number of signs that can be used to distinguish social enterprises from ‘regular’ enterprises: unique social products (meeting the needs of people with special needs or disabilities), manufacturing process (having a positive effect on the society), staff (usually, these are workers who have difficulties finding employment (previous prison convictions, disabilities, age, etc.), customers who the product or service is created for.

Gerd Junne

Belarus has the potential and the necessary preconditions for the development of social enterprises, says Junne. "People in Belarus are among some of the most educated in the world. I think the percentage of population with higher education here is even higher than in the Netherlands. Having such a large share of formal higher education is an advantage. The IT sector can provide innovative solutions for other sectors of the economy. Compared with other countries with the same level of income, Belarus has good infrastructure. There are many prerequisites for being active in this sphere. However, sometimes people lack the spirit of entrepreneurship, and this cannot be taught», notes the expert. According to him, limited public funds can be a great incentive to develop social entrepreneurship: in many countries, state budgets are being cut, and Belarus is not an exception, as here the social needs are greater than public funds can account for.

To set up a social startup in Belarus, one can use support of investors or crowdfunding. Anna Cheriakova, social entrepreneur from the Netherlands, advised budding Belarusian social entrepreneurs to manage their time and energy wisely: if convincing the investor takes longer than persuading potential clients to pre-order future products/services through a crowdfunding campaign, then it is better to choose the latter. The customers will not only help create or improve a new social product but will also tell what they really want from the market.

Anna Cheriakova, social entrepreneur, co-founder of Bin Bang, creative director at Crowd Effect, co-founder of Waste Away Challenge school (Netherlands)

"You need to compare the time you will spend persuading investors with the time you will spend convincing customers. If the customers make pre-order possible, always choose this option. Your time as the startup is very valuable. Usually you don't have any", – explains the Dutch social entrepreneur.

Anna Cheriakova, co-founder of social enterprise BinBang, described how their team got the idea to manufacture containers from recycled waste that can be used for separate waste collection and tracking raw materials for processing. With the help of customers, who donated 40 thousand euro in a crowdfunding contain, the team not only designed the containers but launched the production. Special sensors for different types of waste, which are installed inside the containers, are connected to a mobile app, helping raw material processors to track the amount and types of waste on a map, which makes the market transparent and convenient for the collection of raw materials by specialized companies.

According to the entrepreneur, anyone who wants to solve a social problem with a business has to be aware of not just the target group of consumers but who will get the added value. A comprehensive approach that involves as many stakeholders as possible will help to find a business model that will work and will be effective.

Anna Cheriakova, social entrepreneur, co-founder of Bin Bang, creative director at Crowd Effect, co-founder of Waste Away Challenge school (Netherlands)

Talking about the waste recycling issues, Anna Cheriakova presented the Waste Away Challenge social education project. The goal of this educational course for Dutch students was to launch small social enterprises in schools, with students devising the business models themselves. Combining game elements and and entrepreneurship elements in education, according to her, is important to foster social initiative.

According to Pavel Daneiko, head of IPM company group (Belarus), a number of factors are conducive to the development of social entrepreneurship, including reduction in transaction costs and crowdfunding economy (sharing of property (equipment); ability to form groups; ability to make cheap purchases; etc.). The expert gave this advice to the participants: "Look to the future, look at these trends, look at the tools that are emerging, and try to develop projects that will be of benefit".

Pavel Daneiko, head of IPM company group (Belarus)


Igor Striga, director of "124 Services Hypermarket"

Participants of the seminar also learned about the work of Belarusian social enterprises. Igor Striga, director of "Services Hypermarket 124", spoke about the services provided by "124" outsourcing contact centre that employs people with disabilities. This centre services banks and online stores, provides website promotion services, creates contextual advertising, etc. (see here). This is a successful example of a Belarusian enterprise employing people with disabilities: out of 70 workers of the "124 Services Hypermarket", only 2 don't have any disability. People work here remotely over the Internet: from Vitebsk, Hrodna, Homel, Miory, etc. Everything they need to work here is a broadband Internet connection and good computer skills. The company helps the disabled people socialize and build a career.

Participant of the seminar were introduced to products of Belarusian social enterprises: Art Idea workshop, Budzma public campaign, "Heta Belarus, dzietka!", "EcoIdea", "Our Masters" and others.

Natallia Ampleyeva, head of "Art Idea" social enterprise (Belarus)

In particular, Katsiaryna Kaurova, Belarusian social entrepreneur, presented "Our Masters" social enterprise, which employs people with alcohol addiction. ODB Brussels already covered this unique enterprise for Belarus. Products by "Our Masters" were also exhibited on stands for the participants of Minsk seminar.

Products of "Our Masters" social enterprise (Belarus)

Participants of the seminar were also presented with opportunities for free-of-charge social entrepreneurship education in Belarus.

For example,  Social Innovation School Berlin (SOIN) organizes special accelerated social entrepreneurship courses (see here). According to Sergey Medvedev, head of SOIN, the programme is intended for social entrepreneurs from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. The professional 3-day workshop for participants of the accelerated programme will most likely be organized in Minsk. The education course was organized with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany.

Katsiaryna Kaurova
Sergey Medvedev

In cooperation with New Faces, ODB Brussels also organized a school for teenagers in Minsk "SEI Youth: My First Business". The first group of 27 people already took part in the course in August 2016. Now, half of the participants are already launching their own social startups. During the 2017 summer holidays, the one-week business school will be organized again. Another social entrepreneurship programme Biz4All, which consists of 28 study modules, will give participants a free-of-charge opportunity to get business skills and mentorship support from representatives of Belarusian diaspora who are willing to share their experience and help develop social entrepreneurship in Belarus.

See photos.

ODB Brussels