Ukrainian businesses define all the odds under the most trying conditions - what difficulties do they encounter in the face of war?

The sixth Empowering Women Ukraine programme for existing businesses concluded at the end of May. This year's edition brought 40 businesses together for 10 days to recover and adjust their operations that have been disrupted as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine. At the end of the program, 12 existing enterprises from central and east of Ukraine got a grant and six months of coaching to help them turn their written plans into real-life activities. Garage48 and the Estonian Refugee Council are working together to help female entrepreneurs rebuild their livelihoods and sustain long-term local economic activities.

Many businesses have had to relocate their activities or have lost their equipment or facilities besides their own homes and belongings, due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The Empowering Women entrepreneurship programme has been built up to support female-led businesses with such circumstances. This year the programme was improved considering also the previous programmes feedback and a more practical, hands-on approach was taken. The workshops, led by field experts, were a place for participants to conduct a critical audit of their business and were a safe space for peer-to-peer learning. The practical approach at the workshops enabled businesses to pinpoint the strength and weaknesses of their business in the current environment and make a renewed business plan that leans on their strengths and foresees or softens the unfavourable circumstances due to the surrounding conditions.

What are the biggest challenges for businesses during the war?

From the input we gathered from our programme participants there are multiple challenges business owners have to tackle to continue or restart their business during the war. War itself is a daily survival mission not only for their business but for their own lives. People need to constantly monitor the situation and be ready to shelter or entirely relocate. There is a continuous risk of power outages, lack of communication and other resources. Generally, the economy has been hugely affected. Inflation, unstable exchange rates, and lack of funding are some of the major factors that have a significant impact on business processes and their survival. Migration from Ukraine to abroad has multiple repercussions for a business in Ukraine. Battling with one’s own survival and financial instability, they also have to deal with finding alternative suppliers, workforce and customer base. Similar results have been brought on due to the relocation of the family and their business. The traditional way of doing business has been turned upside down and women have to invent as they go to make their business work to provide for their family.

Hardships bring people together and make them stronger.

The participants already have a running business when they join the programme. The companies involved have a range of experience from six months to twenty-five years, and everything in between. The firms operate in the agribusiness, food production, animal trade, retail, educational, health & wellbeing, textile, and cosmetic industries. At the end of the day, everyone deals in some manner with the same problems caused by the conflict, regardless of the industry they are involved in. Their mutual support for one another has had a significant impact, which is evident even in online mode. Despite the ongoing hardships and barriers, this group of ladies demonstrates their courage and fortitude by managing to live and support their families. They rise up and show up!    

Throughout the program, the companies received ongoing support from lead and specialized mentors. Our outstanding lead mentors, Maarika Truu, Maryna Goncharenko, Valeriia Holierova, and Liliia Holierova, provided constant guidance to the teams.

The participants had the chance to partake in the workshops on BMC, SWOT, design thinking, marketing, branding, mental health, financial planning, legal, pitching, and team dynamics. Lucine Ayanian, Olga Sushko, Yelena Zhovnikova, Oleksii Tribusian, Maarika Truu, and Anastasia Sylenok led the workshops in addition to Maria Yarotska, Valeriia Holierova, and Olga Sushko. The teams also had access to a team of subject-matter experts who assisted them in overcoming difficulties they encountered while participating in the program. The following individuals make up our outstanding group of regional and international field experts: Ilya Vasilyev, Alexandra Iliashenko, Julia Bulgakova, Jana Budkovskaya, Iryna Vilgash, Galyna Litosh, Anna Morgun, Victoria Sergeychuk, and Maria Vydysh.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Empowering Women Ukraine 2023 as an expert. We value the hard work and dedication you put into this program and to these remarkable ladies.

Asset-based grants of up to 150 000 UAH (4 900 USD) were given to 12 teams for the tools, equipment and services they would need to carry out the activities outlined in their business plans. This year's Empowering Women Ukraine 2023 program businesses were particularly strong, with many excellent and sustainable women-led organizations. We were delighted to be able to award two additional grants this year. The Estonian Refugee Council's Ukrainian branch will assist with the grant request procedures. In addition, individual expert mentorship is provided alongside the entrepreneurship grants for a period of six months.

Meet our program grant recipients.

For over fifteen years, Добрий кошик has been cultivating, processing, and selling meat from domestic, broiler chicken, hens, ducks, and geese. Inga and her family are internally displaced and currently reside in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Despite the fact that their production, as a result of the war, was completely destroyed, they have kept going and put a lot of effort into their business to keep it alive.

Kendzer Meat uses turkey meat to make natural craft products. Tetiana and her family began producing two sorts of products four years ago, and the selection today includes twenty items. They produce products fresh within 24 hours of order submission and ship them to consumers throughout the country in safe packaging that retains all of the product's qualities.

Oksana and her team produce natural craft chocolate, glazed candies and bars. Жу-жу shop is a producer of chocolate with ecological ingredients and without chemical additives. Today, Oksana manages a chocolate workshop, which they produce under the Жу-жу shop brand.

Грибні Джерки produces vegetable snacks on a mushroom basis. Irina offers a new, innovative product - dried mushrooms - a natural, low-calorie product.

Olena has 5 years of experience in beekeeping and breeding, now having an apiary including 100+ bee colonies. Промислово-селекційна племінна пасіка 250+ has a specifically defined goal to collect a large amount of honey harvest due to breeding and testing of breeding material will open up new opportunities for honey collection for beekeeping throughout Ukraine.

Katerina with her family breeds dairy cows. With the programme’s support, they would like to open a cheese factory. The Сироварня від родини Скрильник farm works according to the principles of a circular economy, their businesses complement each other and provide raw materials. Protecting the community from the humanitarian crisis by supporting the supply of dairy raw materials for local product producers.

Every cow is my child. I am concerned about feeding my children and thanks to you we will be able to expand. My 

dream is to start a festival of cheese making in our village. 

I will be happy to welcome you to our farm and I will be 

happy to acquaint you with our cows and treat you to our cheese.

- Katerina

Eco Mias'Ko produces high-quality craft sausage, smoked meats and jerky products. The city of Balaklia is unoccupied and fortunately has minimal damage from the consequences of Russian aggression. Valentina feels that the restoration of the Eco Mias'Ko production will have a positive effect on increasing economic stability in the region and reducing the level of unemployment as they plan to purchase their raw materials from local farmers.

Katerina with her team offers a warehouse fulfilment service for owners of online stores. Склад фулфілмент includes a set of services for online stores for receiving, storing, accounting for goods and sending orders to the final buyer.

Nadia and her family had a salon where they sewed self-made models of kitchen and room sets curtains, and lambrequins, as well as made special orders for tablecloths, bedspreads and bed linens. After the start of the war, their city was almost depopulated. The salon in Pokrovsk was destroyed and they managed to only save and transport a part of the goods. When the war started the family left for the western regions but after 3 months they returned and stayed. Now their dream is to restore Штори Лаванда which has been successfully operating since 1997. With the programme’s support, they want not only to restore the store salon but also open their own sewing workshop.

I’m surprised, shocked and very happy right now. In the beginning, when we learned we were selected for the programme, we thought it wasn’t very realistic to dedicate a full week while running the business.  After the very first lesson, I realised it was something much more than just another programme. It was something very worthy and we participated with great involvement. I’m very thankful to all the team for all the matters. You are not giving a fish alone, you are giving the rod to catch this fish. I am very happy for you. 

Thank you!

- Nadia

Домашнє копчення began by producing and selling chicken meat. They were forced to evacuate from the Donetsk region because hostilities were taking place in their city and her house was destroyed. Now living in a village in the Poltava region they decided to produce and sell additionally smoking meat and fish products. From the programme the plan is to purchase a second large smokehouse to expand their business and product range.

Alwair Kids is a Ukrainian children's clothing brand that brings joy to children and makes life easier for parents. Anna creates clothes that help parents keep their children comfortable and stylish. Her collections include casual and sportswear styles for children from 0 to 12 year olds.

Крафтова сироварня "Сирна скоринка" produces various kinds of handmade cheeses (soft, semi-hard, hard cheeses, cheeses with mold, cheeses with herbs and dried vegetables). Their uniqueness lies in the fact that Julia attends to the production of each type independently. Each type of cheese ripens according to unique technology, therefore it has a unique taste and aroma.

Winners were from Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kirovohrad oblasts.

Thank you all for participating in the program. You really are all winners!

It's time to put all of your newly acquired information and connections to use and put your company strategy into action. Best wishes and continued success!

Logos from some of the participants' businesses.

re-watch the award ceremony

The Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Program is organized in collaboration with Garage48 and
Eesti Pagulasabi / Estonian Refugee Council, and is financed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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