Inspired by his 2015 Community Connections exchange experience, Yuri Kolesnik implemented a number of ideas and projects to spark social entrepreneurship in his hometown of Gomel, Belarus upon his return home. Through Community Connections, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Yuri connected with professional counterparts in the United States, establishing professional connections, learning about the advantages and disadvantages of the U.S. economic system, and examining best practices to adapt to challenges in Belarus. Yuri observed many similarities between his host city of Detroit and his home town, including a similar level of industrial development, which has led to issues of unemployment, the need for job training, and past economic breakdown and renewal.
Yuri aims to improve career opportunities for members of his local community and help them achieve their professional potential by providing re-training resources for those who need enhanced skills or want to change their occupation. As an expert on organizational development and financial literacy, he is helping his local business community do the same. To maximize the potential of the rural areas, Yuri provided recommendations to local businesses that will allow them to promote development and maximize their human capital resources. Recommendations included creating an activity plan and hosting trainings for local activists, representatives of NGOs, and business aimed at solving these issues in the region. As a result, resource centers have been created in two cities in the Gomel region.
Not stopping there, this year Yuri created the project “Successful Ways to Get a Job,” using the open café concept he learned about during his internship in Detroit. This program aims to improve employment opportunities for vulnerable groups by using a unique, open format that brings together employers and potential employees. This format facilitated effective communication and resulted in several job offers for participants. In addition to establishing a resource center that supports local entrepreneurial initiatives, the project convened three master classes led by successful entrepreneurs, and two tours to rural festivals that showcase traditional crafts as a way to promote small-town entrepreneurship.
Focused on how he can support the next generation of social entrepreneurs, Yuri and his team of 15 other Community Connection alumni won the 2017 Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) competition to promote social engagement among young entrepreneurs and business school students, including young people with disabilities. The first social entrepreneurship school program in the area, the project will bring together more than 15 alumni and regional experts to serve as mentors for 100 youth who plan to start their own businesses. The participants will then have an opportunity to pitch their social enterprises and compete for assistance to implement their ideas.
Yuri is also promoting social entrepreneurship by adapting a co-workspace model he learned about while visiting PONYRIDE in Detroit, a space that provides members with the tools and resources to develop small businesses with a focus on social enterprise. Adapting the model to fit the needs in Belarus, Yuri is establishing a career center where experts provide entrepreneurship training and there is collaborative work space for business development.
“I believe in order to achieve the best results one should set ambitious and, at first glance, unrealistic goals,” said Yuri. With his expertise on workforce development and entrepreneurship along with the knowledge gained during his exchange experience, Yuri is creating favorable conditions for businesses that practice and promote social entrepreneurship, which is needed particularly in Gomel. For his impact on his local community and inspiration to others to give back, we recognize Yuri as the November 2017 Exchange Alumni Member of the Month.
Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Office of Alumni Affairs recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Yuri Kolesnik is this month’s outstanding alumnus, and his work will be recognized throughout the month on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.