Pig Sty in the Ukraine Doesn’t Detour Business
In 2007 I took a two week trip to the Ukraine. I traveled with a small group of local women, two of whom were connected to the Cherkassy Women’s Center and they arranged the trip. I had two main objectives; I wanted to connect with Jewish women because my family ancestry is Jewish and Russian/Polish (depending on the borders at a given time) and the Ukraine is one place my great grandparents and prior generations lived. Secondly, meeting women in business or people helping women in business was of great interest to me. When we arrived in Kiev (our first stop before Cherkassy) it was a definite departure from life as I knew it! The hotel was probably considered 4-5 stars and it was like nothing I had ever experienced! I hadn’t realized I was arriving in a 3rd world country. The transition to the Ukraine was immersed in after their separation from Russia was apparent, trying to merge from backwards to contemporary. This hotel, like most of the country, had not yet made the leap. :)
The highlight of my time in Kiev happened the very first evening we were there. We were jet lagged and hungry! We went underground to the “mall” (a very strange sensation, to encounter a whole city under the city) in search of dinner and found a cafeteria style restaurant. When we arrived at the food counter, I looked down and burst into tears! The dishes they were serving were the foods of my childhood - kasha varnishkes, stuffed cabbage rolls, and borscht. Those of you who know Jewish food get the picture! I was touched on such a deep level to “know” the food of my people in current time. In that moment, I knew this is where I had come from and that I had come home.
This trip was remarkable in many ways, both personally and professionally. As I mentioned earlier, one of my overarching goals was to connect with women in business and know what, if any, business opportunities were available. The story I want to share has to do with entrepreneurship at its very best. It highlights how, when a need is uncovered/discovered, the next step is finding creative ways to fill it. I will paint the picture so you get the beauty of the situation.
Ukraine has historically been the bread basket of Europe, a successful agrarian culture. When they became independent from Russia in 1991, many Ukrainians left the countryside and went to the cities looking for work and opportunities. This resulted in a new generation of Ukrainians who were raised in the cities but knew their roots to be in the countryside.
I don’t recall how the project I am going to tell you about got started, but during our stay we met with a Canadian woman who was working with Ukrainian farmers to create Bed and Breakfast accommodations on their farms. When I say farmers, I refer to the women, as they were the worker bees. They were intent on providing for their families and the way they were going to do this (their business goal) was to provide vacation housing to young and displaced Ukrainians who longed for a taste of the country i.e., their family’s roots.
When I say Bed and Breakfast, I imagine you have a picture in your mind of what that looks like. Or maybe you are more evolved than I was back then and understand what a Bed and Breakfast in a rural 3rd world country might look like! We visited several and two are most memorable.
The first was a separate room outside of the main house and the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the smell of farm animals. In my opinion, it wasn’t a pleasant smell; it was overpowering and all encompassing. As we walked by the main house towards the B&B, the reason for the smell became evident; there was the family pig pen! The room itself was done in “Ukrainian country” (remember these folks have little money and a different aesthetic) but pleasant, clean and if you were capable of overlooking the smell, quite charming. The other B&B that remains vivid in my mind was the entire second floor of a large farm house. Imagine your stereotypical version of a Russian brothel, everything in fake velvet, and you are the path to understanding what I saw.
I am not sharing these stories to poke fun, but to acknowledge that entrepreneurship is alive and well in ways and places I never would have imagined. The beauty of this story is the rural women being able to fill the needs of the city people and to create a revenue stream from what was possible. These women were so proud of what they had accomplished and were confident their financial rewards would be coming soon. I guarantee that the smell of pigs did not detour the average Ukrainian!
There are many more stories to tell from this trip, to date it was one of the best I have taken. What I want to ask you is this: What need are you filling for your ideal clients and is there a creative spin you could take to better get their attention?