Social business was trending in Yerevan in early November, with two workshops on social enterprise hosted by the Prague Civil Society Centre and Impact Hub Yerevan.
A two-day workshop November 4-5 welcomed local civil society organisations from Armenia whose mission is to promote democracy and human rights to develop an idea for a social business that will bolster their sustainability. Participants came with the broad strokes of a concept and worked closely with an international team of experienced mentors to refine their business model and practice pitching it to investors. Following the workshop, selected participants were invited to compete for a start-up grant from the Prague Civil Society Centre.
“The workshop gave us the chance to develop and change our idea, and the mentors’ critical questions helped us look at our idea from different angles,” commented one participant.
“I got a sense of satisfaction from sitting down with the team to do some basic math, counting revenues, expenditures and profits. I finally got an idea of what we need to do to be profitable,” said another.
This workshop for local civil society was followed by Exchange Your Impact November 6-10, an international event for experienced social entrepreneurs from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The leaders of 45 successful social businesses run by civil society organisations came together to talk shop and exchange ideas on how to scale up their operations with peers from the region.
Participants shared their experiences managing a social business, including the pitfalls they’ve encountered, and swapped hacks for saving time and resources. Experts in business development and management lead the workshops, in which participants worked on a scaling plan and development strategy for their own business. They discussed how to carve out new markets, measure impact, create a buzz around a brand and forge partnerships for joint projects.
Among the social businesses represented at Exchange Your Impact were cafes, co-working spaces galleries and theatres, as well as charity clothing shops, a language school, and several organizations selling various handcrafts. All of these enterprises use their profits to fund a social cause and help people in their community, creating unique public spaces where civil society can flourish in the process.
Many of the social enterprises focused on the inclusion of marginalised groups. For example, the handmade furniture sold by one business is made by the disabled individuals they employ, and a theatre company invites children with mental health problems to perform. These initiatives help integrate marginalised groups into the larger community while working to dispel stereotypes about them held by the broader society.
“I met such interesting and strong personalities moving society forward,” said one participant. “I got a clear picture of the kind of society I want to live in, as well as several ideas I’m now considering.”