Olena, a 34-year-old from Dnipro region, loved bees. She saw that she could earn an income if she raised them, so, with no business experience, she tried her luck with one bee colony. Beekeeping is a challenging job that does not yield immediate results and only gives a profit after a while. It requires planning and patience, but, to Olena, bees were an inspiration in the way they all work together for a common good and a shared goal. Things were going okay, and the bees helped her as a single mother raising 4-year-old Ivan.
Then war came to Ukraine. The fighting made planning nearly impossible, life unpredictable, and everything more expensive. It “shattered everything around, and then slowly destroyed what was left,” said Olena
The war shattered Olena’s confidence as well. She lost faith in her abilities and was endlessly scared for herself and Ivan. Under the Russian occupation, they could not leave, and Olena feared they would not have enough to eat, or, worse, be killed or tortured.
She found support in an unexpected place, her business coach Oksana. Olena met Oksana through the USAID Ukraine National Identity Through Youth (UNITY) activity, led by IREX. Making Cents International is supporting IREX in implementing UNITY’s programming including activities focused on providing grants and coaching support to existing youth-led small- and medium-size businesses. This assistance is vital for these enterprises to pivot and sustain their operations within the challenging war context. Olena registered for the program and was matched with Oksana, who helped to remind Olena how strong and brave she was, that she was an entrepreneur, and that even war could not take away her ambitions.
Coaching was new for Olena, and she did not have a clear sense of what coaching was or even a specific goal in mind. Oksana immediately showed her what was possible, and Olena worked to improve her business structure, and reflected on and understood her mistakes. She embraced coaching as an opportunity to learn and took her apiary from only 1 bee colony to 100.
Olena did not stop there. She began to watch YouTube videos to learn about the selective breeding of highly productive bees. The learning process was difficult, and there was a lot of trial and error, but, today, she sells her honey at local markets and to wholesale buyers, and her bee colonies continue to grow.
She, also, worked with Making Cents to improve her access to business financing opportunities. She structured her business needs to develop a solid business plan and then applied for several grant programs. Thankfully, she won a grant that changed everything. With the funding she received, Olena was able to buy equipment and find land suitable for the apiaries so that she could relocate her colonies and produce honey in larger quantities.
She continued to apply for funding and received grant support from two additional programs: one from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) grant program for war-affected micro and small enterprises in Ukraine and the other from the Estonian Refugee Council’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Empowerment Program in cooperation with Garage48. Olena now has a manufacturing line and a waxing machine thanks to the funding. She also now fosters bee nuclei to better support the stages of bee development and continue to expand the business.
Olena’s outlook has changed. She has the courage to believe that more opportunities will come and credits Oksana’s coaching support with helping her regain faith in her abilities and trust her ideas. While the grants allowed her to purchase equipment, the coaching support helped her acquire the skills to find and participate in various business support programs independently. Olena dreams of scaling up her business and developing new markets. She has plans for a progressive beekeeping farm with 2,000 families (20 times more than she has now), staff to service them, a strong queen cell business, and a marketing and sales department to support it all.