Small business development is an important priority for every community. If we combine this with the opportunities provided by the government grant program eRobota, we create favorable starting conditions for many communities, IDPs, and entrepreneurs. But progress is not yet as fast as it could have been. The experience of “Mykolaiivski Visti” simultaneously illustrates why this happens and how local media can contribute to accelerating the reduction of unemployment in communities.

In the editorial office of “Mykolaiivski Visti,” we conceived our project to create conditions for increasing employment in the Skoliv and Novyi Rozdil communities. In other words, it will help both IDPs and the locals find employment. We are situated in the city of Mykolaiiv in the Lviv region, and we emphasize this to avoid any confusion with the regional center in the south of Ukraine.

The problem we were attempting to address is evident – unemployment, which has been exacerbated due to the war. We have set the goal of assisting everyone – IDPs who have sought refuge with us, community residents who have lost their jobs, and local authorities tasked with promoting the maximum social adaptation of IDPs and supporting the local economy during the war.

The problem we were attempting to address is evident – unemployment, which has been exacerbated due to the war

Therefore, the solution that we developed was based on establishing partnerships between local employment centers and local communities. After all, the state provides certain financial resources for starting individual business. However, due to self-doubt, many people refrain from seizing existing opportunities, impacting both their economic and social well-being. At the same time, there are successful examples of IDPs who settled in the territory of the Vovyi Rozdil and Skolivka communities. Despite losing everything, they were not afraid to start from scratch and have become successful. Therefore, we aimed to share their success stories, which can serve as motivating factors for others to take decisive action. There are also many new mechanisms in the work of local employment centers, when they help people find new jobs and learn new things. So we proceeded from that.

Five important findings for communities

People tend to trust personal stories from individuals they know personally. Therefore, they are the best for motivation and moving forward. That’s why our editorial staff focused on featuring local personalities in the project “Entrepreneurial Saga: Success Stories that Work” – all of them are someone’s neighbors, friends, or relatives. The guests of our podcasts were aspiring entrepreneurs who dared to start their own businesses and achieve success during the war, without significant financial capital, thanks to the government’s eRobota grant program. We selected the characters for our materials based on this criterion. After all, these brave people live near us, allowing everyone to witness the authenticity of their words and achievements.

People tend to trust personal stories from individuals they know personally

And it worked. After collaborating with the Skolivka and Novyi Rozdil employment centers and launching our podcasts on social media, we have received requests from two entrepreneurs (both from the Skolivka community) who want us to create similar media products about their success stories. We hope that this chain reaction will continue in the future, as it presents an opportunity to monetize our work. And this is the first important conclusion that I want to draw.

Mariana Ivanytska, founder of Mudryk Center in Novyi Rozdil Community She openly shared her experiences, detailing how she faced rejection three times when submitting a grant application, the mistakes she made in budgeting, and what ultimately helped her stay resilient in the face of challenges.

The second point was that the unplanned partner, the Mykolaiiv employment center, expressed a desire to join the project. This served as evidence that the media product we produce is not only interesting but also in demand for other communities. Because there are other confirmations of this. The Lviv Regional Employment Center actively shared the video version of the podcast series on social media, and its territorial communities further reposted them. As a result, we’ve observed that the product coverage is larger than we initially predicted, and it continues to gain momentum in both reviews and distribution.

Third, during the preparation process, we discovered that awareness among local communities about the availability of the government’s eRobota program, if not to sound disheartening, is quite low. Let alone the understanding of mechanism.

Fourth, we’ve identified a “chronic” reluctance among entrepreneurs to cooperate with the authorities. In fact, all the guests on the broadcast said that they agreed to cooperate only due to the power of word of mouth. That is, if a colleague, relative, or acquaintance has already traversed this path, our guests were more willing to agree to use the products offered by the government.

Fourth, we’ve identified an actual “chronic” reluctance among entrepreneurs to cooperate with the authorities

Fifth. The already mentioned “word of mouth”. In small communities, and even during wartime, this has proven to be the most effective form of advertising. All our guests from completely different communities were unanimous – this mechanism works best, so they did not find it necessary to use third-party services. This, by the way, was the answer to the question of why local businesses are not actively advertising their services.

Three key findings for editors

I note that our editorial staff has never practiced such projects before. It was an experiment for us, and we are proud to have made it a success for everyone. In addition to the above, I highlight a few important points that should be taken into account by other editors, especially if you are going to do something similar.

The first is a new experience. We felt and understood what projects the audience cordially accepts. And this has affected our activities. So, at the planning stage, as I have already mentioned, we expected to collaborate with two employment centers: Skolivka and Novyi Rozdil. However, after the release of the first podcasts, the desire to join such cooperation was expressed by the Mykolaiiv employment center. Since, for this community, the issue of employment of both locals and IDPs is acute. At the same time, the use of government business support programs in the Mykolaiiv community is low compared to, for instance, the Skolivka community. A logical continuation of cooperation with our partners was the agreement to create a final podcast, with the heads of three local employment centers. The heads of large institutions didn’t just summarize the results – they had the opportunity to voice problematic issues out loud.

Final broadcast with the participation of three heads of local employment centers of Novyi Rozdil, Skolivka, and Mykolaiiv communities. That broadcast featured an interesting discussion on the importance of emphasizing the results of project implementation.

The second is an important focus of local media editorial efforts. I have already noted, and I want to emphasize in addition, that by “helping” others, we help ourselves. It is very important to help the local community develop its financial stability and viability. After all, when a community is financially stable and prosperous, its entrepreneurial market has the available resources to order media products that haven’t been very popular over the past two years.

When a community is financially stable and prosperous, its business market has a resource for ordering media products

Third, local authorities do not fully understand the internal potential of communities in terms of investment by small entrepreneurs. Most community administrations focus on large-cap cooperation. There’s nothing wrong with that. Business sharks are few; there are more applicants for their hand and heart than you can imagine. And while the “hunt” continues, there is a huge resource nearby, in every small community, that can easily be capitalized.

There are many small entrepreneurs in every community. And, at the same time, there are employment centers in each community that, as soon as they can, emphasize that they assist in obtaining non-credit funds from the state for individuals, both novice and experienced entrepreneurs. Let’s look at the figures for last year alone using the example of three employment centers operating in three small communities that acted as project partners:

– Novyi Rozdil employment center invested more than UAH 3 million in its community,

– Mykolaiiv employment center spent UAH 4 million on projects support,

– Skolivka employment center has reached a scale of UAH 12 million!

Eleonora Ostafiichuk (left), IDP. Having settled in the small community of Skolivka, she initiated a craft production of healthy sweets. To develop her business, she collaborated with the local employment center, successfully attracting several additional IDPs who now receive stable salaries through this process.

But employment centers can increase these amounts tenfold. This requires only the assistance of local authorities. If local authorities dedicate just an hour to understanding how this works, it will become apparent that every small community can quickly capitalize on this valuable resource.

If local authorities make efforts to collaborate with small entrepreneurs, every small community will quickly generate new jobs and experience an increase in tax revenues

There is no doubt that all community leaders know that such a government program is in effect. But none of them sees this program as an investment, because these are small amounts. Yes, 150 thousand UAH or 250 thousand may not seem like much, but if at least 20 local entrepreneurs (only 20!) receive these funds, it will already amount to 3-5 million hryvnias. The strategic utilization of the grant program from the state will promptly guarantee the financial stability of the community, provide crucial support, and accelerate the development of local businesses, ultimately creating new jobs. This investment will swiftly return in the form of taxes paid, further catalyzing the development of other businesses. After all, entrepreneurs do not work in isolation – they buy both goods and services from others.

Our conclusions

Of course, it is still too early to see results as media projects inherently operate for the future. It takes time to perceive, receive, and rethink information, and we’ve just worked with three communities. And, of course, based on our initial experience, we cannot yet count on the fact that there will be a queue of willing applicants in employment centers seeking grant assistance from eRobota immediately after watching or listening to the podcast. But despite this, we can still talk about a certain effectiveness.

Andrii Kobryn, the owner of a private kindergarten, shared with the podcast audience how he opened his business in 2022 in the sparsely populated Mykolaiiv, where municipal kindergartens already existed. How he managed to overcome the problem of blackouts and lack of financing. His experience is also noteworthy because he utilized the free assistance of consultants from the Mykolaiiv employment center, and the entire process, from submitting an application to receiving funds, took only two months.

First of all, from our little experience working with grants, I can already say that projects often change in form during the implementation process. Therefore, you need to be flexible and adopt these new forms, very often they give a better result than planned.

Secondly, the content we created was viewed and listened to by quite a large number of people. And, what is crucially important, among those interested in this information were also entrepreneurs. We saw this from an analysis of the distribution of our content in social media. And our project partners – namely, employment centers – not only participated but also actively distributed our podcasts on their platforms. All this is good evidence that we hit the target. After all, as a rule, the pages of employment centers are visited by people who are connected with business, and those who are actively looking for a job. The fact that the regional employment center actively distributed and encouraged subscribers on its platforms to view – this is also considered a plus in our work. According to the figures in social media, the total number of viewers who viewed the promo and video version on Facebook is 22.6 thousand people; in Instagram – 4 thousand people.

After showing several success stories of small entrepreneurs, we received two orders to create such stories outside the project. Plus a few hundred new followers

And finally, third. If we go back to the values of our project, it showed real people, with real stories. Our audience knew these people, because they were someone’s neighbor, relative, or friend. And now, they share with the general public what is usually discussed in the kitchen within a narrow circle. And perhaps, that’s what attracted our readers to our media. And a few hundred new followers is significant for us.

So, in conclusion, it is indeed value-based media products that are worth creating.

AUTHOR: Iryna Telka, editor of “Mykolaiivski Visti” and Oleksii Pogorelov, UMBA

This publication was created with the support of the European Union. The content is the sole responsibility of the Ukrainian Media Business Association and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, whose financial support made the project possible.