Valeriya Golovach, 23, is still a student, studying music, rhythm, and choreography at the Maxim Tanka State Pedagogical Institute in Minsk. In parallel, she works at the Social Services Centre, a government agency that helps people in difficult life situations.
There, Valeriya teaches music therapy and pop vocals; in the classroom, they practice relaxation, listen to the sounds of nature, study the basics of pop vocals, and understand how music affects your psychological state.
On top of this, Valeriya has another business - she and her grandmother make gift packages with sweet fillings: bouquets of sweets, boxes with compliments and wishes, cone decorations.
How grandmother's hobby grew into a business
Valeriya herself is an orphan: when she was 13, her grandmother became her guardian. She describes her grandmother as a creative person, someone who always turned her creative ideas into reality. She started off by decorating bottles at the request of friends. Over time, there were more orders and creative ideas, but the family no longer had enough money to implement them, so Valeriya offered to make gift wrapping with sweets and sell them.
In September 2019, Valeriya took part in the EU4Youth project. She was trained in entrepreneurship, developed her business plan and in February 2020 received a grant worth 3,500 euros to launch her business. After receiving funds, Valeriya and her granny started to develop the business.
About the social orientation of business and the difficulties with registering a social project
Valeriya has a plan: to make gift packages with her grandmother, sell them on social networks, put up her products for sale in shops, cafés, restaurants, and make corporate gifts for companies. And in parallel to organise master classes for pensioners, take them into the team and sell their products too. So Valeriya will have more products for business development, and pensioners will have additional earnings and creative pursuits.
Valeriya says that she knows many elderly people who want to sell their handicrafts, but do not know how: "And we already have agreements with some shops, and we decided to help them," she says.
“Why did we decide to help the pensioners? It all started with my grandmother’s hobby, and at the place where I work there are a lot of retired people who come and make various products. They cannot sell it. But they also want to earn a penny. My grandmother has a pension of 300 Belarus rubles (about $120), which is a living wage. She is insulin-dependent, she constantly needs to take injections and eat every two hours - she will not be hired for any job. What part-time work can pensioners get? A watchman? Now even this area has been tightened: many demand that the watchman should be a man who served in the army or who has completed special courses of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
Valeria wanted to formalise her business as a social project and register a social brand in order to officially conduct master classes, and then sell the resulting products in various stores.
In the meantime, she and her grandmother are working as artisans, but soon they will register the business as an individual enterprise, and they will conduct master classes on their own. For example, the Social Services Centre, where Valeria works, has agreed to provide a room for classes. But she still needs to find a place to sell her products.
Cooperation with shops and cafés
Valeriya began to work with shops belonging to people she knew, then began knocking at the doors of larger networks. Some agree and others refuse, some cannot be reached at all. “It's about the attitude of people to such projects and humanity in general,” Valeriya says.
The young woman has found from her experience that smaller businesses are generally happier to help: "One café, which was one of the first to agree to exhibit our products, made a stand and programme list themselves, they were telling visitors about our packages. They have been very supportive."
But she is confident that over time she will be able to come to an agreement with other stores who are not responding now: “I believe that Belarusians are not indifferent people, and over time they will hear us.”
How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected business
Master classes had to be postponed until the epidemiological situation improved, and preliminary agreements with companies on corporate gifts were cancelled. Restaurants and cafés who had agreed to exhibit her products were closed. Items are now being sold in two cafés and via Instagram.
The pandemic, the impending economic crisis and the current situation in the country are frightening, but the young woman does not lose hope. She cites the metaphor of waking up in the morning: "When you get up every morning, you don't know if it will rain or shine – so I hope it will be sunny tomorrow."
The EU4Youth project and the entrepreneurship course she attended inspired Valeriya to develop her business, to help pensioners and to go through the nightmare of Belarusian bureaucracy: "What motivates me most is when I see interested people who come with you, and speakers who succeed and convey positive emotions. They are ready at any moment to answer questions and suggest something. A person can get knowledge anywhere, but an emotional message is given only by live communication."
In addition to participating in the project, Valeriya is motivated by her grandmother, who really wants her products to be sold, and the example of other pensioners, who work with love and passion. The young woman is motivated by her faith in change: “In Belarus everything will change and improve,” she smiles.
Author: Alyona Starostina
EU4Youth - Employability and stability in Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine project contributes to creating better prospects for employment and entrepreneurship among disadvantaged youth and to increasing their active participation in the labour market in Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine. The project is implemented by SOS Kinderdorf Ӧsterreich (AT) in partnership with International Public Organization "SOS Children's Villages Belarus”, Charity Foundation “SOS Children's Villages Armenia”, Center For Business Communication “BELBIZ” (BY), Alliance For Civil Rights (UA), BSC Business Support Center (AM), Stichting Aflatoun International (NL) and International Charitable Organization "SOS Children's Villages Ukraine".