The sudden and unexpected spread of COVID-19 has not only claimed lives, it is having an unprecedented impact on global economic activity. Azerbaijan followed the suit and imposed a special lockdown regime across the country to tackle the further spread of the new virus. A vast majority of small and medium enterprises are noticing the critical or medium impact of the pandemic and resulting prevention and control measures on their businesses.
Private sector became very unstable in minds of local communities. People lost their jobs, couldn’t get any compensation and stayed home thinking of how to manage their expenses. Young people, including students, do their best to support underprivileged families. They try to help with masks, disinfection devices, food products and other charity activities. Of course, observing those activities is great, we can be proud of our young people, who showed empathy and dedicated their time and energy for helping others. But the reality shows the dark side of charity in those cases – charity doesn’t solve any economic and social problem of marginalized groups of people. We bring food products for those families, but they will be finished in a week and those families will be again dependent on people, who brings again those products.
Social entrepreneurship is a new sphere in our country – it has been popular since 2015 among our people. Because of governmental restrictions, local NGOs couldn’t get any grants from international organizations and run their projects. This crisis resulted development of new sphere, where people would work on their social missions, while being financially independent.
During COVID-19 crisis after observing both success and failure cases of local enterprises Social Business Youth Center decided to contribute in organizing the first online international forum of entrepreneurs in Azerbaijan. It was very important for us as we wanted to inspire local entrepreneurs to be strong in these challenging times, bring international experience and change perception of locals about private sector.
On 22-23rd September with support of Small and Medium Business Development Agency local organizations organized the first online international forum of entrepreneurs. 16 speakers from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Pakistan, Finland, Italy, Spain and Thailand joined our event and shared their experiences, cases and insights about managing enterprises during crises, new opportunities in social entrepreneurship. More than 200 participants, including youth, local entrepreneurs, heads of departments of public and private institutions, chairs of NGOs, had an opportunity to learn from those speakers, during two days. At the panels, speakers introduced the topics of digital wellbeing, design thinking, sales during pandemic, impact of COVID-19 on personal and business development, trends in digital marketing, new trends in social entrepreneurship and other topics to local audience.
Among most memorable speeches we can mention presentations of two Y&Y Fellows, who supported us in organizing a useful event for locals.
Y&Y Fellow from Spain, founder of Needlab, Sameera Chukkapalli in her keynote speech introduced the case of Needlab in accelerating impact across the borders. Her presentation became very inspirational for local youth, who wanted to start their own businesses with social value.
Our dear friend, Y&Y Fellow from Turkey, founder of Biryudumkitap, Alparslan Demir delivered his speech at the panel, named “What awaits youth in entrepreneurship?”. In this presentation he introduced the cases of social enterprises in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey under the topic of social entrepreneurship in Turkic world. Conclusion part of his speech was especially impressive as for the first time locals listened about connection of entrepreneurship with literature and the importance of own history and literature on development of entrepreneurship and economy.
This forum experience exceeded all our expectations. We got so many positive messages about organizing this project. It was our first experience, we had 0 experience in organizing international online project for hundreds of people in Azerbaijan.
Together with our team and speakers we realized much more how it is important to work on mindsets and changing approaches. We understood once more that crisis only exist in our brains and just with an approach we can either see opportunities, or challenges. Changing mindsets is the most challenging side of social entrepreneurship. It is extremely hard to change habits, thoughts, stereotypes and behaviors of people, who are used to use them for long time. When so many people around us were depressed because of crisis results, our team, speakers, supporters and participants showed dedication, strong faith in changing future and proved to everyone, that if a person wants, he/she/they will change the world even with having 0 budget without going to any offices.