From boots to business

    The recipients of the Boots to business program's grants

    Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

    Every month, hundreds and sometimes thousands of Ukrainians become veterans of the war in the Donbas, which has been going for more than seven years. As of early 2021, over 405 thousand Ukrainians had the official status of the war’s veteran. To date, more than 500 active soldiers and veterans have committed suicide.

    When Ukrainian soldiers come home and become veterans, many of them face two major problems: post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and lack of jobs. Ukraine’s economy has been in shambles for several years, and in many regions, there are very few jobs available. Government services to reintegrate veterans into society also remain limited in Ukraine.

    To address this acute problem, the Canadian office of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, in cooperation with Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Caritas Spes and Ukrainian Social Academy, carried out the “From Boots To Business” program that gave the Ukrainian veterans knowledge, skills and funding to start their own businesses.

    The program’s approach followed the old parable to teach a person to fish rather than give them the fish. The program consisted of intensive training of veterans during which they were expected to develop business plans. Throughout the process, the mentors provided legal, financial, spiritual and psychological support. After the businesses were launched, the coaching of the veterans continued to engage them in other programs.

    The program was implemented in two cities: Sumy (northern Ukraine) and Kamyanets-Podilsky (south-western Ukraine) from September 2018 to September 2019. For the initial training program, which spanned over three days in both cities, 75 applicants were selected who received 84 lecture hours. The lectures covered the following topics: Social Entrepreneurship, Virtuous Leadership, Project Management, HR Management, Financial Management, Social Marketing & Communication and Legal Aspects.

    For the incubation program, 27 projects were selected. Each participant of this stage received ten hours of mentoring; 23 professional mentors were available. The participants took part in four speed dating sessions with experts and visited successful social businesses to learn best practices.

    For the project demo stage, ten finalists completed 15 business plans. The program’s judges selected the four best projects that received UAH 52,000 (around CAD 2,600) each in funding:

    Café Prouch in Kramatorsk, Donetsk oblast ( coffee to go. This café is a business of the Centre for the support of ATO veterans and their families “Poruch”. The café allocates 80% of its profits to support the Centre and employs socially vulnerable people. in Sumy ( an open space FabLab: a space where ordinary people can learn how to create engineering and design projects and can access high-tech equipment to realize their own designs. The lab allocates a third of its rental income towards resident education and the updating of the workshop and a third of its profits to the social projects of its residents.

    Rehabilitation centre “Інсульт” (stroke) in Sumy ( rehabilitation and social adaptation of people who have suffered a stroke. The project strives to reduce the mortality and disability of people who have suffered a stroke in Sumy and Sumy Oblast. They carry out information campaigns on the prevention and diagnosis of stroke symptoms.

    Antykor: roof cleaning and painting. The project employs vulnerable youth, especially graduates of boarding schools.

    Volodymyr Shevchenko, the owner of seven Veterano Coffee cafes and business trainer, had this to say to the participants: “it is important for me to inform the society that the veteran business is cool; that a person who has returned from the war has the experience, has a resource that gives him or her the benefits of doing business. Because the experience we received in the war and the atmosphere of business are very similar. Much of what we learned there can and should be used in civilian life and in business. This is one of my main goals.”

    Leonid Ostaltsev, a member of the jury of the final competition, Ukrainian soldier and entrepreneur, founder of Veterano Pizza, said: “Do not count on the amount of money, do not count on those who do not believe in the project. I received 22 refusals, had only $50 at the start of the Pizza Veterano, and I got it all! Work persistently, and you will succeed!”

    During a session of the Boots to business program