In early November, a panel discussion “Social entrepreneurship as a sustainable model to solve problems of various target groups” was held as part of IV Republican Social Forum “Developing Inter-Departmental and Cross-Sectoral Cooperation to Ensure a Systemic Approach to Addressing Social Issues”.
The event was organized by Dortmund and Minsk International Education Centres, with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and active participation of many partner organizations.
You can read about successful social enterprises from Great Britain, which were presented by British expert Phil Tulba during the second part of the panel discussion, here: Successful Models of Sustainable Social Impact: Best Cases from the UK.
Alyona Lis, head of ODB Brussels who facilitated the discussion, noted that three years before, no uniform criteria had been developed that could be used identify an enterprise as a social one. Now, however, the situation has changed: Belarus has a number of social entrepreneurship schools; national (Social Weekend) and international (SAP UP) social start-up competitions are organized; new social enterprises are created. She asked the participants of the discussion — leaders of Belarusian social enterprises — to speak about their work, challenges they face, and things they thought could help them to overcome current difficulties.
Aksana Shauchenka (Head of Meteorite Plus, a social enterprise from Gomel), Maksim Padbiarozkin (ODB Brussels, Minsk), Alyona Lis (ODB Brussels, Minsk), Aksana Yelova (Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany, Minsk), Yelena Dziamidava (Centre for Active Ageing, Minsk), Dmitry Klimkovich ("Tsenny Kapital” (“Essential Capital”) and Centre for Active Ageing, Minsk)
Social businesses with additional CSR
Aksana Shauchenka, head of Meteorite Plus, a social enterprise from Gomel which produces educational and sports equipment for children (including those with special needs) and children’s toys, said that 13 years before, the company started as a trading and purchasing company. Today, they do not only make products for kindergartens and educational centres, but also gather input from their direct customers: special needs experts, speech therapists, physical education teachers and music teachers.
The enterprise also has a CSR programme “Sporting Adventures”, which provides children from a sponsored Homel orphanage with opportunities to try new kinds of sport (e.g. bowling, horseback riding, climbing, roller-skating and ice-skating) and organizes sports matches with university students.
Aksana Shauchenka noted that Meteorite Plus became a truly social enterprise five years ago, when a hearing impaired woman was hired to be a seamstress. Since then, the company has launched free-of-charge sewing courses “I am a seamstress” for women who are partially or fully hearing impaired. Now that seamstress helps to develop adapted programmes for the course and organizes training. Two groups of five women have already been trained: two of them were employed by Meteorite Plus, and the rest have received certificates and are ready to find employment in the open market. According to Aksana, while these women are often more qualified and are great team players, it is often challenging for them to find a job. As a rule, employers see no advantages in hiring a hearing impaired person. The situation is further complicated by the certification system: certificates issued after that training course are not state-recognized documents.
Another challenge, which was also mentioned by other participants of the discussion, is building relationships with the media, as they often perceive such projects to be commercial and refuse to cover their activities free of charge.
Examples of successful social businesses in Minsk
The next to speak was Dmitry Klimkovich, head of “Tsenny Kapital” (“Essential Capital”) enterprise, where almost every person on the team is a person with disability. The enterprise provides printing services, and supplies stationery and household goods, while providing discounts and flexible work and payment conditions for organizations and non-profit initiatives that help to solve social and environmental problems.
“Tsenny Kapital” opened in 2015 and was able to achieve self-sufficiency within a year. According to Dmitry, the government played a key role in this: sustainability was achieved thanks to a reduced rent rate, as well as a state program aimed at helping people with disabilities to adapt in the workplace, which provides compensations for the worker’s salary from the state budget. At the moment, half of the company’s staff work without this adaptation program, and three more people who went through it have no gone on to find employment in other companies.
In early 2018, the enterprise set up another organization — the Centre for Active Ageing. Yelena Dzemidava, its creator and director, said that the Centre employed people with disabilities as managers. The goal of the Centre is to help older people stay active for longer by organizing a range of activities: from painting and dancing classes to foreign language studies and computer literacy courses. While fee-based services of the Centre are mostly aimed at children of the elderly, the beneficiaries themselves have access to a range of free events, such as art exhibitions. Aside from classrooms and conference rooms, the Centre has “More Than Just a Cafe”, where people can meet each other before and after classes. Thus, retired people and elderly people with disabilities do not just receive support but also provide assistance to others.
In the opinion of Yelena Dzemidava, the work of the Centre for Active Ageing has both an internal and an external social impact, helping older people to stay active. In this context, she expects greater interest from businesses and the government to employ older people. The director of the Centre also stressed how important it was for stories of her clients to be represented in the Belarusian media in the right way.
Dzmitry Klimkovich and Yelena Dzemidava shared that the work of the Centre for Active Ageing was now at a risk due to a sevenfold increase in rent. According to the entrepreneurs, the government needs to revise the categories of social enterprises that are eligible for rental benefits, consider loan financing programs for social enterprises and organize training for social entrepreneurs.
How do social entrepreneurship training programmes help?
Tatsiana Labachova, representing My Freedom, an IT school for hearing impaired people which works as an informational and educational NGO, shared that the project was launched after it became a finalist of the Social Weekend competition and started a crowdfunding campaign. The project was initiated by Maksim Molnar, who completed a 3D modelling course along with hearing students. He put himself forward to be a teacher for a course for hearing impaired students. Three years ago, the school adapted their fee-based programmes for hearing students into programmes for the hearing impaired, thus allowing more than 50 partially or fully hearing impaired people from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to undergo training at My Freedom free of charge.
Despite some communication challenges they faced during their internships, some of them were employed by companies, and others now freelance in 3D modelling and design. The IT school has not yet been able to become self-sufficient, so the team is considering a format change.
Like other social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs, Tatsiana Labachova believes that preferential taxation could help encourage employers to hire hearing impaired people.
At the end of the discussion, Alyona Lis, head of ODB Brussels, pointed out that any discussions about difficulties and challenges faced by social entrepreneurs in Belarus must take into account the economic situation in the country. In her opinion, the bilateral dialogue in the social entrepreneurship sector places obligations not only on the state, business and financial structures, but also on the social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs themselves. They are the ones who have to calculate social and economic efficiency of their enterprises and prove it to everyone else.
Text by: Alina Krushinskaya
Photos: facebook.com and public domain images
|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.