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How do you inspire entrepreneurship in a conflict-affected region?

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71 year-old Pavlo, blacksmith from Lugansk, opened his workshop in the Kharkiv region. Photo: UNDP Ukraine

The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine has not only disrupted everyday life in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk but also led to staggering unemployment. Out of 23 major enterprises in Luhansk region, 19 are currently not operating, while half of the enterprises in the Donetsk region have lost about 950,000 jobs.

Supporting employment is challenging in the best of circumstances and far more so in conflict situations.

How do you talk about the benefits of entrepreneurship to people who lost everything and, after being displaced, are just trying to find their place in a new community?

At UNDP Ukraine’s Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme, we have an ambitious goal: to promote entrepreneurship in Donbas, inspire people who worked all their life in mines and factories to step into the unsure path of entrepreneurship, and make them believe in themselves and their country again.

So we decided to start by showing the joy of creating and developing your own business through the stories of ordinary people. Stories of people like us, who, despite all the difficulties, have succeeded.

That’s how the “Big Stories of Small Businesses” campaign came about. We partnered with the Molodiya Social Advertisement Festival to screen the stories of people affected by conflict, who had opened or re-opened their businesses with our small-grant support. Like 71-year-old Pavlo, a blacksmith who moved from Luhansk and opened his own smith workshop in the Kharkiv region. “Humans are made to work, and in work, one finds joy,” he says.

People like Pavlo need to collect funds for their businesses, and our small grants cannot be available forever. We wanted to teach them how to generate support on their own in the future. Exploring several innovative financing instruments, we identified crowdfunding as the way forward.

Crowdfunding allows the backer to give money directly to the person without transferring it to some agency or fund, therefore enhancing trust and transparency and creating a personal link.

For the people collecting funds, it is a great way to showcase the products, strengthen their marketing, and build a community of supporters around their businesses.

Fifteen businesses run by displaced Ukrainians were selected for the  first Crowdfunding Academy in Ukraine. Teams gathered in Kyiv to work on their ideas, create narratives for promotional videos, and develop all the elements of the campaigns, including perks and social media plans. They were guided by experts from the Croatian Crowdfunding Academy, UNDP’s Alternative Finance Lab and the Ukrainian crowdfunding website “Spilnokosht”.

undp-rbec-uk-crowdfundingCrowdfunding Academy, Kyiv. Photo: UNDP Ukraine

Participants have worked hard on their campaigns, and are now ready to get support from the public, in Ukraine and abroad. Their business ideas range from designing a highly durable Ukraine-made electric bike to creating fashion patches for clothing, from developing individual quests for travelers to challenge each other to proposing educational games with scientific experiments for kids.

I’m particularly taken by the story of Oleksandr Dovzenko and his son, who moved from Donbas to Reshetylivka. Passionate about the preservation of Ukrainian traditional arts, Olexander wants to revive the famous Reshetylivka carpets, once known all across the Soviet Union. On Indiegogo, Oleksandr will promote this forgotten art and look for funds to build an educational centre for carpet artists.

For us in the UNDP team, it has been an exciting journey. We witnessed tremendous amounts of enthusiasm and learning. The crowdfunding process is inspiring people to work hard and create new things for their communities and the whole country, as they share their ideas, work publicly and engage directly with others. Now it’s your turn to witness the energy coming out of these entrepreneurs and support their ideas.

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