Bolstering Resilient Youth Entrepreneurs in Ukraine

By Hillary Proctor, Senior Director, Economic Opportunities
Youth entrepreneur in Ukraine poses with her product.

Youth entrepreneurs in Ukraine are leveraging the offerings of UNITY such as coaching to sustain and even grow their businesses. 

In May, I had the honor of traveling to Ukraine as part of my work with Making Cents International, an organization dedicated to supporting youth entrepreneurs. This trip, against the backdrop of an ongoing conflict, was a deeply moving experience that left me inspired by the incredible resilience and determination of the young people I met. 

Since the Russian invasion, the youth of Ukraine have faced unimaginable challenges. Many youth entrepreneurs have been forced to relocate, rebuild after devastating shelling, and create safe environments for their employees. Recognizing the trauma, challenges, and opportunities inflicted by the war, Making Cents quickly adapted our programming on the USAID UNITY activity to provide targeted business coaching and grants to youth entrepreneurs. This support is designed to help these entrepreneurs sustain their businesses in a wartime economy, seize new opportunities, and respond to social needs. 

During my time in Ukraine, I met numerous young entrepreneurs, each with a compelling story. These individuals are not just surviving; they are thriving despite the odds. They have relocated their businesses, rebuilt after destruction, created safe environments for their teams, and found ways to support their communities, IDPs, and those on the front line. One business, a cosmetics producer, had to move its entire business to Lviv after its original location was destroyed and temporarily occupied by Russian forces. Despite this setback, they managed to rebuild and expand operations to include a new line of creams in small, easy-to-carry packaging and created a new burn treatment and scar reduction cream specifically for the armed forces on the front line. Another young woman who owns a bulk retail business transformed part of her shop into a shelter for IDPs, providing not just food but also a safe space for those in need, and converted the front of the shop into a soup kitchen offering hot meals to newly arrived IDPs. Now, her shop is back to business, and she’s focused on selling sundry household items with less plastic waste. And yet another young entrepreneur relocated his tailoring business to a nearby facility with a more consistent power source, allowing employees to work their normal hours and retain their full salaries. These stories showcase the unyielding spirit of Ukraine’s youth. 

As I listened to these young entrepreneurs’ stories, I was humbled by their courage and ingenuity. Their ability to adapt and grow their enterprises in such challenging circumstances is extraordinary. These entrepreneurs all leveraged the business coaching, financial linkages, and grants provided by UNITY. They found ways to maximize the advice and input from UNITY coaches to sustain and even expand their enterprises. Some of the youth I met were so inspired by the UNITY coaching process that they became business coaches to other youth themselves. Others have used the UNITY grants to help rebuild their businesses by purchasing equipment and tools that were lost or damaged during the shelling or offering new products that respond to today’s wartime demands.  

The impact of the UNITY activity is evident in the successes of these young entrepreneurs. They are not only keeping their businesses afloat but are also finding innovative ways to contribute to their communities and the broader effort to rebuild Ukraine. Their stories are a testament to the power of resilience and the importance of providing targeted support in times of crisis. 

My trip to Ukraine was a deeply moving and inspiring experience. It reinforced the significance of our work and the incredible strength of the youth we support. Their determination to not only survive but to thrive and help others in the process is a beacon of hope for a brighter future. 

While the gratitude expressed by these young entrepreneurs is heartwarming, it is they who deserve the utmost recognition. Their relentless pursuit of growth and their unwavering commitment to their communities is what truly make a difference. Being a part of their journey is both humbling and inspiring, and it drives us to continue supporting their incredible efforts to rebuild and strengthen Ukraine.