I first went out to Zaporozhye, Ukraine, 12 months ago. I was embarking on a journey into the unknown, into a world in which the echoes of Soviet-era communism – big, grey tower blocks dominate the landscape - are everywhere, in both buildings and mentality. Zaporozhye is not a city synonymous with entrepreneurship of opportunities… but hopefully that’s changing!
Twelve months ago I went to interview candidates to receive business support from World Jewish Relief’s entrepreneurship programme, which I have invested in. The programme supports young, budding entrepreneurs to build their own businesses, people who would not otherwise have had this opportunity. My ambition is for people to develop their own businesses and eventually to employ other, more vulnerable, members of the community. It’s extraordinary and almost unheard-of in modern-day Ukraine that this opportunity should exist, for entrepreneurs not only to receive funding, but also mentoring and on-going support to grow and develop their business.
The programme speaks to my own journey in business. I was lucky enough to have had a mentor from early on in my career, which gave me access to an experienced businessman who could guide me through tough business decisions. I want young members of the Ukrainian Jewish community to have similarly positive opportunities to create businesses. I am determined that these businesses flourish and then employ the most vulnerable people who otherwise struggle to find work. I can already see the positive ripple effect that this is having on the whole of the city’s Jewish community.
Many older Jewish Ukrainians have for years depended on Claims Conference and Jewish community hand-outs to survive, but that’s simply not sustainable. The community has to create its own future and it’s a privilege to be able to enable and empower them to do so.
The most impressive person who I met was a young lady with an extraordinary talent for jewellery design. I interviewed her one year ago and since then she’s made great strides. Having received a grant, she set up her own business, has taken new manufacturing premises and now she employs a member of staff. She had the ideas and the talent, but not the funding and I’m proud to have enabled a young woman to be able to realise her dreams.
I would urge other businessmen like myself to take a step outside of our everyday lives and utilise our own experience to give something back to one of the world’s poorest Jewish communities.