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Ivano-Frankivsk– a tiny but mighty hub for social entrepreneurs

Ivano-Frankivsk– a tiny but mighty hub for social entrepreneurs

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On the outside, Promprylad looks like a run-down factory, a post-industrial relic still standing strong just on the outskirts of the historic Ivano-Frankivsk downtown. Yet the flaking outer walls of the former appliance plant conceal a newly renovated space any hip urbanite would envy – an entire floor, where, separated by glass partitions, a number of nonprofits, local businesses, and co-working spaces reside.

It is at this hidden urban haven that Labor initiatives, in partnership with local union and civil society activists, hosted the third in an installment of events on alternative business models. The previous two events were held in Kyiv and Lviv, and more discussions are in store, as social entrepreneurship trends begin to take center stage in oblast centers and smaller cities of Ukraine.

Promprylad itself is a result of alternative business thinking. “One of the vital issues for Promprylad is the urgent need for reinterpretation and innovative and rational use of (post)industrial areas that have lost their economic role, and also for creation of quality communication space for the growing local communities” – says the mission statement of the initiative. It was founded upon the concept of crowdinvesting, where anyone can invest $1000 and up to further develop the space. Ultimately, it will foster cooperation between business, local government and the civil society.

“There are thousands of ways we could structure economic activity, and it is not necessarily at the national level where the engines of innovation, democracy building, fair wages are situated.” – said Tristan Masat, Country Program Director for Solidarity Center in Ukraine, during the opening remarks for the discussion. – “There are many purposes of economic activity beyond profit that can serve the community, as well as increase economic participation. As the international experience has shown, the majority of socially meaningful innovation happens in small businesses and small efforts.”

Indeed, Ivano-Frankivsk is one such example of a relatively smaller city pulling together its best innovative efforts to benefit an entire community.

Consider the restaurant and community center Urban Space 100. Marta Gladka, coordinator of the initiative, was one of the speakers at the event. According to her, part of the vision behind founding Urban Space 100 was to keep talent in Ivano-Frankivsk, create a resilient and responsive business model, as well as spur the development of innovative public spaces that would attract tourists and help promote the city to potential investors.

100 initial founders gave $1000 each to make the space happen, and 80% of its profits go towards micro-granting for local non-commercial, secular, non-political community projects. As of now, Urban Space 100 spent 2 million UAH towards such projects, 83 of which were successfully funded and brought to completion in the four years of Urban Space 100 existence.

The restaurant also boasts its own radio, (http://urbanspaceradio.com), that creates unique podcasts and programs about arts, culture, business, and primarily – urban development. More Urban Space side projects are planned, and a chapter of the initiative, Urban Space 500, is bound to open in Kyiv in December, founded upon a similar model of co-shared responsibility and mutual decision-making.

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Two of the other speakers talked about educational initiatives they are running – both are physically situated at the Promprylad space. Roboclub is an IT school for kids age 4 and up. “It is important for us to provide kids with a space to experiment, and apply their knowledge in a safe space. They learn teamwork, design thinking, IT-management, as well as software development itself – so that they are exposed to a number of roles they could assume in the IT industry beyond the stereotypical ones.” – said Serhiy Nykonorov, one of the founders of Roboclub.

“We supplement traditional education with all the stuff kids don’t learn at school – soft skills, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, teambuilding” – this approach guides the work of Dribnota, a family space and education center. Dribnota tutors run alternative summer and winter camps for kids, engage them in project work and community work. For instance, Dribnota students ran a fundraiser during the Christmas season and donated a significant amount of money towards local charities. Community-oriented activities teach kids to actively participate in urban life, giving them a sense of confidence and agency that is meant to translate into future momentum for Ivano-Frankivsk.

About 50 people attended the event, showcasing immense curiosity about local businesses with a social mission. Most importantly, Ivano-Frankivsk poses an example of a city with a closely knit community that deeply cares about the city and its development. Frankivsk creative energy is truly contagious, setting stage for social business ambitions in communities across Ukraine to follow suit.