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Lviv: an up-and-coming city for social entrepreneurship

Lviv: an up-and-coming city for social entrepreneurship

New entrepreneurship models are flourishing in Lviv, a city with rich history and a promising future. Labor initiatives, and others, including Citadel community center, and local trade union activists, organized an event showcasing four social enterprises based in Lviv. Oksana Buchkovska, Maksym Osadchuk, Borys Yergiyev, and Oleksandr Vitovskyi represented Emaus community, Citadel, Dogs Like Ducks cafe, and Fight Syndicate athletic supplies cooperative, respectively. They talked about ways to build small and innovative business models that also give back to local communities and help to create a fair economy and better working conditions for all.

Kindred values of community, solidarity, and worthwhile labor are a the vision for Emaus Home, an NGO, a residential community, and a social enterprise that helps people who have experienced homelessness reaffirm their dignity and find community while learning new skills. Founded in the early 2000-s, it’s been serving the Lviv community for over 15 years. Currently, 25 individuals are part of the community. Through community effort, Emaus members and activists maintain a number of projects: they collect and repurpose used clothing, maintain a furniture repair shop, and organize holiday events, giving out goods to people in need. Customers of the Emaus thrift shop are welcome to get any clothing they want for a donation of choice. Through a wide array of initiatives, Emaus fills the gap in addressing the issue of poverty and homelessness in Lviv and the region through integration, skills training, and legal support.

‘Cooperatives and alternative business models are poorly regulated by the law,’ said Oleksandr Vitovskyi, one of the founding members of Fight Syndicate athletic store cooperative. At the first glance, this online discounted sports goods store is no different from a multitude of other e-businesses. Yet beneath its slick web-storefront is a unique leadership structure where all shareholders are involved in decision-making, and the profits are split equally between cooperative participants. Fight Syndicate has the capacity to engage about 100 members who are invited to join the co-op on the basis of shared values of solidarity and community participation. The sports good store was launched by Ukrainian veterans, including IDPs from Crimea who relocated to Lviv after their military service.

Participants of the event noted that social businesses may fill a new niche in Ukraine, emerging out of activist communities seeking sustainable ways to advance democracy and a fair economy in Ukraine. ‘Ukraine needs a new generation of young activists who would be willing to defend their vision of freedom and equality,’ said Maksym Osadchuk during his presentation about Citadel community center and sports club. The Citadel gym unites socially active youth, offers free classes and gym membership, and focuses on mixed martial arts training – one of its alumni, Arsen Faitovych, has become a successful mma fighter. While the Citadel aims to strengthen the bodies and minds of Lviv youth, the activists who started this social business are involved in a number of local projects, promoting sustainability, advocating for preservation of historic urban sites, and educating the community on a range of topics around community organizing and action.

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When it comes to community projects, less is more – as the case of Dogs Like Ducks, a a vegan cafe and community center, demonstrated. The cafe started out selling a single dish: good-tasting vegan hot dogs. Eventually, they expanded the range of hot dog flavors and fillings – and started using the space of a cafe as a lecture hall and an impromptu movie theatre. All donations from events held in the space are forwarded towards animal rights causes and the needs of local nonprofits. ‘Leading a healthy lifestyle and limiting your meat consumption is good for the planet,’ said Borys Yergiyev, one of the cafe founders.

Young social entrepreneurs in Lviv are following a global trend and changing popular perceptions about grassroots, collectively owned, or socially motivated and run businesses. The discussion in Lviv generated great popular interest, showcasing eagerness of Lviv inhabitants to propel change in their communities. As interest is high, and the list of businesses run with a social mission is growing, the series of discussions on fair and innovative economic growth models will be held in other cities around Ukraine.