Social Entrepreneurship in Belarus: Success Factors

Mariya Cheryakova, social entrepreneur from the Netherlands (on the right), together with Oleg Sivograkov, expert on regional development (Belarus)

Development factors and conditions of social entrepreneurship in Belarus, matters of solving social problems with the help of social business, working conditions and areas of social enterprises: these were the topics of discussions that was at one of the four sections of the 3rd National Social Forum and was organized by ODB Brussels. The 2016 Forum was dedicated to innovations in the social sphere of Belarus and its priority areas of development, all the while drawing on best international experience.

The event was organized within the framework of the the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany by Dortmund International Education Centre and Johannes Rau International Centre for Education and Exchange in Minsk  in partnership with ODB Brussels (Belgium), ACT International Educational Non-Governmental Organization (Belarus) and the  Office for European Expertise and Communication (Belarus).

Belarusian youth festival on economics and entrepreneurship "Ladder of Success 2016"


Mariya Cheryakova (in the centre)

People should be taught to find solutions to social problems using entrepreneurial approaches when they are still at school, says Mariya Cheryakova, a Dutch social entrepreneur who co-founded SocStarter Belarus and authored the book "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!", consultant in the ODB-lead Project "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator". She cites the example of the Waste Away Challenge, a Netherlands initiative which teaches kids how to recycle waste and supports schoolchildren in creating their own container prototypes: "Children are taught the problem-solving thinking", says the Dutch entrepreneur.

During her mini-lecture to Belarusian high school students at the annual economics and entrepreneurship festival "Ladder of Success 2016"Ms. Cheryakova appealed to the students: "You can achieve whatever you want as long as you don't give up!" and offered them to take part in The Little Solution Game in Belarus, the goal of which was to choose a real-life problem from their own experience or their environment, a resource to solve this problem out of the objects in their bag or in the room around them, one person from their environment, and then present their innovative approach to resolve the situation.

According to Ms. Cheryakova, you can play this game with friends, using it as an exercise to develop your thinking and getting an entrepreneurial approach and ingenuity.

The lack of formal and informal entrepreneurship education, says Mariya Cheryakova, is what makes Belarus stand out in the eyes of representatives of international institutes and structures. In comparison with Western countries, entrepreneurship culture is yet to be developed and nurtured, including at schools and universities, says the expert. Entrepreneurial spirit, the interest of financial sector (banks, investors and business angels), active development of crowdfunding and CSR programmes at private Belarusian companies, in her opinion, are some of the key factors of social entrepreneurship development in Belarus.

Mariya Cheryakova, who is an ODB Brussels  expert at the Social Entrepreneurship Incubator, presented the survey of social enterprises at the 3rd Republican Social Forum, pointing out that many social entrepreneurs in Belarus lack knowledge and training in marketing and sales. According to her, social corporate responsibility campaigns organized by businesses in Belarus are more oriented on charity and not on providing support to social entrepreneurship. There are almost no partnerships between social and regular businesses. At the same time, young and budding social entrepreneurs can easily raise the start-up capital for their initiative or future social enterprise manufacture using crowdfunding platforms (UlejTalakaMaesens).

Yuhen Klishevich, Director of platform (Belarus)


"Belarusian social entrepreneurs need to have an opportunity to see best cases and examples of work of social entrepreneurs from other countries", said Yauhen Klishevich, Director of Belarusian platform. According to him, the 3-4 years in which the platform has been in operation have already helped identify socially active persons, authors of social initiatives and successful projects who have managed to find their own financial sustainability model. In his opinion, social entrepreneurship development requires an "ecosystem": partnerships and cross-collaboration with businesses, media support, ways for social entrepreneurs to network and exchange experiences.

Oksana Yerofeeva, Belarusian State University (Belarus)

Talking about areas where Belarusian social enterprises are developing well, Oksana Yerofeeva, representative of Belarusian State University, noted that almost half, or 46%, of 184 enterprises that can be classified as "social businesses" produce goods. Many enterprises are focused on the labour "integration" of people with various disabilities (Svetopribor124 Services Supermarket, etc.). These were the findings of the first survey of Belarusian social enterprises (the survey was initiated by ODB Brussels). 

At the same time, social entrepreneurship is not limited to social inclusion and labour integration of people with special needs; initiatives of social entrepreneurs can also work in the area of services and education (this is how Anti-Cafe "13:87" of social entrepreneur Natallia Khalanskaya works in Babruisk).

Maksim Padbiarozkin from ODB Brussels  presented the survey results to participants of the 3rd Republican Social Forum, suggesting that social entrepreneurship should be defined as "social activities aimed at alleviating or resolving social problems which are less focused (in comparison with traditional businesses) on making a profit".

Maksim Padbiarozkin (on  the right), ODB Brussels


Analyzing problems faced by Belarusian social entrepreneurs, participants of the meeting pointed out the lack of development tools for microfinancing targeted at these actors of the Belarusian market, strong competition from large companies and impossibility of getting public contracts in certain spheres.

Participants of the Forum learnt about microfinancing opportunities provided to social entrepreneurs in Russia using the Our Future fund as an example. This fund provides Russian social entrepreneurs with interest-free loans for a certain period during which they can start up their own social business. Our Future fund was set up in 2007 with private funds of Vagit Alekperov, owner of the Russian oil company Lukoil. The fund currently provides social entrepreneurs and enterprises opportunities to sell their goods in retail outlets at Lukoil gas stations. Speaking about the problems faced by social entrepreneurs when trying to sell their products, participants of discussions stressed the need to develop online trading and mutual cooperation of the social entrepreneurs themselves, using the "networking" partnership experience.


When presenting the Our Future fund experience, Russian expert Anna Brusnitsyna noted that franchising tools can be used very effectively in social entrepreneurship. Here, social entrepreneurs can choose the business models and successful business cases that have already proven to work: for example, in the context of Russia. The expert noted that successful business projects in the area of social entrepreneurship can be good for "replication" in different regions.

Anna Brusnitsyna (on the left), expert at  Our Future regional social programmes fund (Russian Federation), Aliona Lis (in the centre), Head of ODB Brussels (Belgium), Galina Matsyushenko, Head of Social Business Technologies (Belarus)


Participants of discussions held during the 3rd National Forum agreed that social entrepreneurs can become social innovators by putting forward solutions to the existing social problems and changing life of society for the better. Such innovators can draw attention to areas where social business, as a rule, brings forward large-scale social change.

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ODB Brussels