Internally Displaced Woman Helps Others Through a Social Enterprise

Speeches Shim

Friday, November 27, 2020
Olha Ovsiannykova

Olha Ovsiannykova moved from Donetsk to Sviatohirsk in 2014 after Russia-backed rebels took over the city and the eastern part of the oblast. In Sviatohirsk, she met several unemployed women who had kids with disabilities. The urge to help them was so great that Olha decided to start the Boomerang of Kindness charitable organization to raise money for the children’s medical treatment.

Wherever she turned, she continued to see internally displaced people in need, including women who had kids with disabilities and couldn’t find jobs to provide for them. They became her main motivation for action. In 2017, Olha re-registered the charitable organization in Sloviansk, where she had relocated. She used a grant from a Czech humanitarian organization to open a center for IDPs and young people with disabilities. It became a magnet for local creative youth and children.

Olha had plenty of ideas and participation, but lacked financial resources or the knowledge of how to attract investments. To learn more, she joined a social entrepreneurship training organized by USAID’s Economic Resilience Activity (ERA).

Her priority was to understand whether her charitable organization could organize entrepreneurial activities for its members, and how to go about doing so. She wanted to sew and sell protective masks, but she was registered with the government as a non-profit NGO, which meant she couldn’t show a profit through her organizational activities.

“The training was very useful, and I managed to resolve many legal and tax issues,” Olha explained.

As a social enterprise, she now understood that she could produce and sell protective masks, but would have to do so at cost. The upside was that she could incorporate her overhead and labor costs into the price of the masks, which allowed her to hire displaced women who have children with disabilities. They now had a way to make some money and take care of their children.

“We had only one sewing machine from one of the women who agreed to sew masks. They started working on it, bringing in scraps of fabric that they had,” explained Olha. “People on the streets of Sviatohirsk saw us in these face masks and began to order them. Others came forward to help with donations of fabric or with elastic. One displaced woman called us and simply gave us her sewing machine.”

As the face masks became more and more popular, they decided to distribute some for free to people with the greatest need.

“We handed out about 1,000 face masks to people near a church; old people, IDPs. We wanted to help those who could not afford to buy a face mask,” said Olha.

Today Olha’s Boomerang of Kindness charity is still getting orders for face masks.

To make additional money, the five women who work at the center sew custom handbags and clothes. They are always looking for additional opportunities to strengthen their social enterprise and secure their livelihoods and their children’s future.