Borsch soup: a business idea fostering social cohesion among young people24 February 2023
Nikita, 18, a young Ukrainian refugee living in Estonia found a sense of purpose and belonging through a skills-building programme that helped him and his friends to set up a small business selling the traditional Ukrainian soup.
Nikita stands in the middle of Tallinn’s Freedom Square, Estonia, together with 700 young entrepreneurs from all over Europe who have gathered to showcase their businesses, products and prototypes to potential customers and investors.
He is being interviewed by the Estonian public TV broadcaster, telling the story of how he came up with the idea of setting up a student company selling the traditional Ukrainian Borsh soup.
Credit: Tonya Bulgakova, JA Europe
Nikita attended Europe’s largest entrepreneurship festival to showcase his company
Five months earlier, as the war in Ukraine intensified, Nikita left his home in the southern part of the country with his mother. They settled in Estonia and Nikita joined a school attended by other young refugees from all over Ukraine.
Finding a new purpose through developing business skills.
His life was about to change again a month later, when he attended a presentation at school about a programme that helps students set up a business.
“26 April 2022. That’s when it all started! The other students and myself heard at school about a programme offered by Junior Achievement and we were asked if we wanted to join! We really did not know each other that well, as we had been in school for just about a month. Out of the 50 students, around 15 hands went up. I thought: we are young, creative, and tenacious, and we will succeed at anything we put our minds to.”
Nikita and another eight students from Ukraine then decided to set up a student company.
Credit: Junior Achievement Estonia
Nikita and seven other young Ukrainian refugees team up to create their student company
“Very quickly, we had to decide what our company would produce and sell and get ready for the fairs taking place a few days later. We also wanted to honour our country and our culture and promote it as an integral part of Europe. We assumed that Estonian and European customers would be willing to buy products that represent Ukraine. We realised that there’s nothing more iconic than our national cuisine. We tested and tasted, and after a few weeks we decided to focus on the traditional Borsch soup. It was a big success at the fairs! We started selling it warm and then we develop a pre-packaged product, as well as soups in jars. We also sold them to companies for their employees.”
Developing skills and a mindset for success
The team of eight, with Nikita at the helm as CEO of the company, met every other day to discuss how to get support from business mentors. Looking back, Nikita realises how much they managed to do in so little time:
“We only had a few weeks to come up with a product. We had no money and no experience. Our team members were total strangers to each other. We were starting a company in a new country and had no business contacts. All of this was a big mountain to climb and we were naïve in not realising this. But in a way, I think this was our strength, as otherwise we might have not made it. Working on our project step-by-step with the help of our amazing mentors and supporters has helped us to overcome many of these challenges.”
The Company Programme, delivered to high school students over a full school year, builds their entrepreneurial skills and allows them to take a business idea from concept to implementation. Students then set up their own enterprise and learn first-hand how a company functions.
On top of the business skills acquired, the programme helped these intrepid Ukrainian youth settle into their new lives:
Credit: Junior Achievement Estonia
Nikita and the team used family recipes to create their company's product range
“This experience is unforgettable and has helped me in a very challenging time of my life, Nikita says. I had never been abroad and in a couple of days, I was living abroad. Thanks to the Company Programme, I made new friends, met young Estonians and Europeans, talked to local customers and felt I was doing something positive for my country. It gave me a taste of what entrepreneurship is, and I am sure I will go back to it after my university studies!”
The Company Programme is part of Junior Achievement Europe, an organization teaching entrepreneurship skills to young people. UNICEF supports this programme through UPLIFT, an initiative that aims to equip the most vulnerable youth and adolescents, including refugees from Ukraine, with the skills and mindset to build thriving communities. The project fosters integration and social cohesion among young people, while also giving them a chance to transition successfully from learning to earning.
More information about how JA Europe and its partner organisations empower Ukrainian children and youth through education: http://www.jaeurope.org/education/initiatives/2514-bring-back-hope-how-ja-and-its-partner-organisations-empower-ukrainian-children-and-youth-through-education.html