Feb 22, 2019

HERA Winter 2019 Update

Assessing a Dairy Venture
Assessing a Dairy Venture

At the start of 2019, the HERA team updated our outcomes to date. Here are our most recent figures:

  • Since 2005, HERA teams have trained 952 women in mentoring and/or entrepreneurship in eight countries to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking;
  • HERA teams have awarded 254 grants at an average cost of $US 712 per grant for women for their ventures in five Eastern European countries to prevent dangerous migration and trafficking;
  • Our operating costs are under $95,000 per annum; our assessment costs for the international grants average 30%; and our overhead remains less than 5% of total costs. 

Despite rising anti-immigrant sentiment, HERA UK trafficking survivors continue to find work; study for advanced degrees and training; and pilot a few ventures.  In a brief survey of 15  women, who attended the holiday party this year, all (100%) reported positively about their mentoring experiences this year. 

To prevent trafficking and increase women’s employment, HERA’s France Association provided grants this year to a record 45 women entrepreneurs in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.  To date HERA teams, who follow up the ventures a year or more later, have evaluated 78% of ventures funded through 2017.  Of 78% evaluated, 94% are sustaining or growing their ventures. The 254 ventures funded through 2018 have created some 463 new jobs in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine at an average cost of $390/job. Through hard work and determination, these women entrepreneurs are helping to prevent trafficking by employing and training young women at risk of dangerous migration and trafficking. They are also delivering essential goods and services to local economies. 

A few Reports from the 2018 Entrepreneurs

A Bakery Owner in Armenia, writes that with the freezer HERA helped to purchase, her team now produces 168 packets of frozen dough monthly from which she earns an additional $121/month.  For the new dough production, she employed two more young women (24 and 31 years of age), who according to the owner, “refused to go to Russia and stayed to work with us.” 

The Director of a Montessori Program in Tiraspol, Transnistria, writes that with the printer she bought with the HERA grant, “we increased the quality of classes for children under three years old. Now we can print colorful pictures for crafts.”  She also writes that their resident young, woman psychologist used the projector provided by through the HERA grant to deliver seminars on parenting and breastfeeding. With the HERA support, the program was able to offer another job to a young woman (bringing the total to seven women employed) and its monthly profit increased by 17%.

A Dairy Farmer from Moldova, reports that with HERA’s provision of a fodder mixer, she improved the quality of her cattle feed and saved 20% on feed costs. She also writes, “I hope that I will be able to increase the number of cows in order to produce more milk. In the future, we also want to raise cattle for meat, because we have the opportunity, with approximately 300 animals, to improve food supplies.”

The President of an Armenian Social Enterprise, writes that the “industrial sewing machine [bought with the grant] made our production process faster, now we produce 3 times more than before. We also provided employment opportunities to two more unemployed, socially disadvantaged women.”  She also reports that their average monthly turnover increased from $170 (EUR 150) to $507 (EUR 450) and their sales outlets from five local ones to seven local, five in Yerevan, and one in Aghtala in the south.  The enterprise team is also working on developing an export market. 

HERA UK Activities 

During this last quarter, HERA UK organized monthly entrepreneurship and business seminars for the 2018 women summer graduates (who survived trafficking and other forms of violence), as follows: 

In September, a communications expert spoke to the HERA women on “How to Tell Your Story.”  The speaker had a career in politics as special assistant and speech writer for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and for UNHCR in Geneva. She has also led her own business for over 12 years and written on presentation and personal branding. 

In October, a young woman entrepreneur addressed “My Entrepreneur’s Journey and What I Learned.” She explained that entrepreneurship had been part of her life from an early age. As many entrepreneurs, she wears several hats from impersonating Diana Ross to being a keynote speaker and coach. She described her several attempts to launch ventures before succeeding and why they had failed. She urged her audience to take care not to waste time with a venture where there is no demand and to trial the business with a small audience first. She advised the HERA women "to be patient, passionate and to remember that you can make it work even when all does not go as planned." Her observation that “failing is just learning” was well received by the HERA audience.

In November, a Woman's Corporate Network presented an online learning platform. The HERA women went to the corporate offices in the City of London to learn about the platform. Prior to the event, the HERA Coordinator, worked with the Women’s Network to design platform content specifically tailored to the HERA women graduates’ career interests and requirements.

In January, a young woman trauma survivor shared her positive experiences of resilience and learning.  She spoke about “Becoming an Overcomer in 2019.” Many HERA graduates are currently discouraged by lengthening asylum waits. The speaker advised the women not to let bad experiences drag them down but to look forward. For making 2019 resolutions, she recommended the HERA women ask themselves, “What do I want to pay attention to this year? What resources do I have for that? What will I do next?”  The speaker said that her personal motto when life becomes difficult to handle, and bad memories resurface, is: “Fearfully made, uniquely loved and eternally purposed.” 

Halloween Bake Off 

In early November HERA UK held its first Halloween Bake-off, where children from age 8-14 met at a Community Centre in London to raise money for HERA.  The owner of a Cake School and Cookbook author judged the children's baked products. The 8-10 year old winner wowed all with his amazing ‘Day of the Dead’ sponge cake. The 11-14 year old winner's product was inspired by ‘Skulltrooper’ from the latest XBOX trend Fortnite.  All in all, the youth raised £1,200 for HERA.  Many thanks to these young bakers and to the HERA Trustee, who volunteered many hours of her time, to organize this event.  


The HERA team wishes all our supporters a happy and fulfilling year ahead. Once again, please accept our heartfelt thanks for your contributions!

Fodder Machine
Fodder Machine
Nov 19, 2018

HERA 2018 Update

Rabbit Farmer in Moldova
Rabbit Farmer in Moldova

As we head into the end of 2018, the HERA teams would like to provide a few updates of our activities and accomplishments this past year that you have generously supported.  

With your support, we were able to:

  • award 43 grants to women entrepreneurs in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine (including to refugee and displaced women in Ukraine) to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking;
  • organize four entrepreneurship seminars and networking sessions in Armenia and Ukraine and train 38 women;
  • hold our annual London summer training for 21 trafficked women survivors at Imperial College's new Innovation Centre; 
  • train 25 business mentors to advise the 2018-19 HERA cohort of women survivors in the UK;
  • organize monthly seminars at Imperial College, Salesforce Tower, and Weil law firm, for all trafficked women survivors, who have attended past and present HERA programs.

Your support this year alone has helped to:

  • create at least 40 new jobs this year for young women at risk of dangerous migration in regions of high rates of trafficking in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine;
  • sustain at least 140 women-owned ventures in those same regions;
  • develop or expand innovative women-owned businesses in marketing, printing services, wine making, and dairy production, as well as social enterprises that employ and train women in remote rural and border communities; 
  • support 21 young women survivors in the UK to attain a greater sense of self-worth and esteem and to develop new plans for the future to avoid being re-trafficked;
  • allow these young women to demonstrate their resilience and willingness to make useful contributions to the UK economy and society;
  • assist UK women survivors in obtaining leave-to-remain, employment, apprenticeships and/or internships; in continuing schooling or training, and three women from this year’s cohort, in launching their own ventures;
  • bring the total in the UK and coming from 26 countries that HERA has trained to date in entrepreneurship, business, and leadership skills to 326 women survivors of trafficking and other forms of violence;
  • develop new business networks of women entrepreneurs in Central and Eastern Europe, including women farmers, and new social  and professional networks for women trafficking survivors and their business mentors in the UK.

Here are three examples of how your support has made a difference:

  • Gayane, the owner of "BeeArt" in Northern Armenia, received two HERA grants to purchase: (1) a machine to make honeycomb paper; and (2) packaging equipment. Since receiving HERA’s support, Gayane has mentored five other women entrepreneurs in her town in a region that has suffered some of the highest rates of migration and trafficking of young people from Armenia. From her mother's honey production, Gayane creates beeswax candles, honeycomb, cosmetics, and other products which she sells in Yerevan’s Central Market and in Western Europe through Homeland Development Initiative Foundation, one of HERA's partners.  Depending on the demand, Gayane employs five to ten young women working in their homes to make the products.  This past year, on her own initiative, she extended her sales outlets to Georgia.  Gayane has spoken about her venture at two HERA seminars and organized a training session for the women in her village to apply for HERA grants.
  • Natalia, one of the HERA UK 2017 students, came to a recent monthly seminar and told the HERA team that not only was she accepted for an undergraduate degree in psychology at Birkbeck University, but she also won a full scholarship. From hundreds of applicants, Natalia was one of 23 students chosen! She started her course in early October and reported that she is loving it. 
  • Oxana from Kiev started a marketing firm four years ago, only a few months after she had fled the conflict in Donetsk near the Russian border. She had been a successful entrepreneur in Donetsk where she co-owned a marketing firm. When Oxana arrived in Kiev she decided to re-start her own, sole proprietor business. Beginning all over again was initially very difficult. Kiev banks would not give her a loan, because all her tangible assets were in a war zone. After some negotiation, Oxana managed to obtain a small loan at a very high percentage rate. With support from friends and relatives, she then had just enough capital to rent a room and start again on her own. Her high energy, entrepreneurial spirit and excellent social networking skills helped her quickly find clients. Over the last four years she has earned enough to pay off her debts and employ two other young refugee women from Donetsk. With the HERA grant, she purchased a high quality computer screen and plans to employ and train another young refugee woman.

Why HERA?  

  • See the link to Bryerly Long’s film. This vertical film was developed with HERA women.  Three actresses portray their stories and Lynellyn D. Long, HERA Founder, and Elise Do, HERA UK Chair of Trustees, tell about why they volunteer for HERA.

We wish everyone a lovely Holiday Season ahead.  Please consider contributing to HERA on “Giving Tuesday” - November 27 – when your donation may be matched. Or, if you give to HERA any time before the end of this year, you can help us towards reaching our funding goal of $100,000.  The current campaign, launched in 2012, is making a difference in allowing all of us to support women’s economic empowerment and to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking.  We could not have done it without all the support of many generous individuals.  

Thank you!

Cafe in Armenia
Cafe in Armenia
Dried Fruit Producer in Armenia
Dried Fruit Producer in Armenia


Aug 20, 2018

Preventing Re-Trafficking and Dangerous Migration

UK Entrepreneurship Training
UK Entrepreneurship Training

In this Second Quarter, HERA UK and HERA France Association members conducted three major activities to prevent re-trafficking of women survivors in the UK and dangerous migration of young women from Central and Eastern Europe through strengthening women’s entrepreneurship.  In May and June, the HERA France Association’s expert panel concluded its review of the Sixth Annual International Grants Competition submissions from women entrepreneurs in four countries – Armenia, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine -- and informed all applicants of the competition results.  In June and July, HERA’s UK team ran its 11th Entrepreneurship Training and Mentoring Program at Imperial College London for 22 trafficked women survivors.  In July, one of four HERA France teams carried out the assessments of the highest ranked ventures in Armenia, delivered networking and training sessions in three different regions, and met with local partners.  What follows is a brief summary of our outcomes and results from these three activities. 

Sixth Annual International Grants Competition – The international assessment panel of seven reviewers received 133 applications this year from the four countries, which is the highest number received in any competition to date.  Of the 133 applications, the panel rated 41 in the top category (10 out of a total 15 points).  The seven reviewers came from Germany, Britain, France, and Italy and included a banker, business professor, economist, engineer, NGO manager, and agricultural specialist.   

After the peaceful revolution and transfer of power in Armenia in May, several applications from there came in later so the assessors held the competition open through mid-May. Three former grantees in Armenia also spread the word far and wide and helped women to fill out the forms correctly. Caritas, an NGO working with the Government, also wanted to send us over 100 applications but we persuaded them to take their top five that best fit with our criteria of supporting ventures that would employ young women at risk of dangerous migration and trafficking.  We also agreed to open our networking and training sessions to their Government applicants.  In addition, several applications came in later from Ukraine which we considered to the extent possible since many are refugee women, who only heard late about the competition.  When all the applications were eventually scored, only 30% were in the bottom quartile; and the overall quality of the applications this year was higher than ever.  HERA France Association then organized teams of two to evaluate the ventures in the four countries over the summer and early fall.  The teams agreed to consider ventures in the top two quartiles to the extent possible and to follow up with ventures from earlier years to assess their progress.  

HERA UK Entrepreneurship Training and Mentoring - This year’s entrepreneurship program, the 11thto date held at Imperial College London, was the most competitive ever.  For the first time, the program was held at Imperial’s newly created Innovation Centre and was supported  by the University Provost and Vice President.  Given this university-wide support, the team decided that this year’s program had to be selective and only enroll women who were ready for and wanted this training and that it could make a difference to the women's self esteem and careers.    

Following individual interviews with Sarah Videau, the HERA UK Director, and Jo Chidwick, HERA UK trustee, to assess the women’s readiness and desire for the program, 22 of the 34 applicants (representing a 65% acceptance rate) were enrolled. The 22 women ranged in age from 19 to 45, with an average age of 32.5 years old (which corresponds with international findings that the average age of women entrepreneurs is the mid-30’s). Together the women represented 14 different nationalities of origin, including Nigerian, Zimbabwean, British, Jamaican, Senegalese, Pakistanis, Iranian, Filipino, Gambian, Bangladeshi, Colombian, St Lucian, Vietnamese and Chinese. They were referred to us by HERA’s partnering charities: Medaille Trust, Sophie Hayes Foundation, Caritas Bakhita Project, Hibiscus Initiative, Catholic Workers Farm, Women @ the Well, and Hestia. 

The women all came with the objective of acquiring new skills and eventually opening a business. Although some already had strong ideas about what their venture and/or career plans, a few joined HERA with the hope of gaining clarity. Each of their unique backgrounds and skillsets came together during the three weeks at Imperial Business School to produce accomplished presentations of their business plans.  

Prior to and during the course, the team trained 26 mentors over three sessions and thus, were able to provide each woman who successfully completed their business plan presentations with a mentor tailored to their plans and interests.  The additional mentors will be assigned at a later date as some mentor-mentee relationships invariably do not work.  A mentor may move and/or find that s/he cannot make the expected time commitment.  As with any relationship some just do not work so the team arranges mentor-mentee exchanges in September.

For the entrepreneurship training, the UK team engaged a wide range of professionals and academics, which again ensured a very high quality level of training. The women appreciated having the chance to study at Imperial College.  They were also hosted for an afternoon at Salesforce offices in the City.   The team kept the same MBA format as previous years.  They divided students into teams to present final projects together and organized a Market Exercise with a real-life entrepreneurship test where the students interviewed businesses at the Borough Market, and then in teams, had a small amount to invest and/or build on from which to generate a profit.

Some positive features of this year’s program were:

  1. The smaller class size (22 students versus an average of 34 in past years) meant that each student had more one-on-one time  with the speakers and HERA team members alike, which led to the high quality of the final business plans;
  2. Throughout the programme every student remained actively engaged and some took photos of the slides and almost all participated with pertinent questions and note taking; 
  3. For the first time, an overwhelming majority (20 out of 22) plan to open a venture in the future and a couple have already begun;
  4. As in earlier years, the students bonded and supported each other over the course of the three weeks;
  5. Attendance, as in past years, was high – all students, save for medical and legal/migration meetings, attended 100% of the course; and
  6. This year’s Academic Director, Dr. Filipa Figueira, a professor from UCL, taught at least one class per week to ensure continuity with the students that both encouraged and reassured them.

The students wrote at the end of the course: 

“This program is one of a kind! You teach minds, touch hearts, transform lives!” 

“I suggest we should not stop this program because there is a lot of people out there that still need this type of program to empower themselves.” 

“I would love to work and give back to HERA in a very near future!”

“Thank you to all the HERA team and all those professors and participants. You are doing an excellent work to help other human beings. I am grateful. Well done HERA.” 

“Thank you for helping us find ourselves.”

On a scale of 1-5 (with five being the highest score), 16 of the 22 students rated the program at five, three rated it four.  This year’s program, with an 87% response rate, received an overall score of 4.8 out of five. 

Armenia Assessment – Two HERA France Association members, Lynellyn Long and Sonia Boubekri, met with Armenian venture owners whose applications had been ranked in the first two quartiles.  During the assessment, they met 26 women-owned ventures and funded 16.  They also funded the mentoring/transport costs for two women entrepreneurs, former grantees, who are actively mentoring other women venture owners in their region.  

Of the 16 ventures funded, only three – a bakery, printing business, and meat packing business – were second time grantees.  These grantees had clearly  demonstrated that their businesses were growing and they were employing more young women.   In the case of the bakery, the owner also plans to open a new Syrian sweet line and employ three young Syrian women refugees in her village.   The first time ventures funded included three social enterprises in the arts, handicrafts, and fruits/jams; an English and math center; kindergarten; cosmetic production; hair dressing; bakery; wedding events planner; florist; fruit farm; and leather production.  All demonstrated a track record of sales and market demand, good financial management, and the capacity to grow their enterprises.  

In addition to the applicants, the team met with five former entrepreneurs – all of who had businesses that are performing well.  One of the former grantees agreed to produce and ship another 100 scarves for HERA UK. Another former grantee has opened a new market for her products in Tbilisi and two others are selling their products internationally.  From one of HERA's partners, the team also learned that one of the former grantees, a single mother, who had suffered extreme violence and was supporting her children and parents, was continuing her bakery business and had received a fellowship to continue her university education.  

In addition, to meeting with past and current grantees, the team met with three local NGO partners, including the Armenia General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the Homeland Development Initiative Foundation (HDIF), and Caritas.  One of the partners, HDIF subsequently opened a new market for one of this year’s grantees; and AGBU and Caritas are providing ongoing support to the grantees that they recommended to HERA.  Their collaboration is making a serious difference to advertising the program widely, helping HERA to select ventures, and providing needed support to help the ventures grow their businesses.

As promised to our partners and former grantees, Sonia and Lynellyn organized three entrepreneurship and networking workshops that brought together 12 women entrepreneurs in Gyumri, two entrepreneur owners in Dilijan; and ten in Yerevan.  Through Caritas, the Government Employment office, offered to send many more women to the networking event in Gyumri but since the team had promised to give current grantees some serious networking opportunities, they limited outside participation to five for this round.  However, there clearly is a demand for networking and entrepreneurship training events. One woman travelled over two hours by mountain roads at night to meet with the team in Dilijan.  At the other two events, several women travelled an hour or more away to attend. Given this demand and commitment, the HERA volunteers discussed the idea of collaborating with the NGO partners to organize more such events in the future.

To meet with all the grantees this year, the two HERA France Association volunteers travelled some 288 kilometers, north-south from Koghb to Yeghegnadzor, and covered many more kilometers west to east to reach ventures close to Armenia’s western border with Turkey and to its eastern border with Azerbaijan.  The team benefitted from an excellent driver and a translator, two Armenian men, who refused to increase their rates from last year (but clearly covered more ventures and kilometers). They were very proud of the women’s ventures; and kindly encouraged and championed all owners along the way.  It was very hard for the team to turn down any of the ventures.  Thus, the France Association funded more in Armenia this year than ever – partly by keeping assessment costs below 30% so as to allocate more funds to the ventures.  The average grant size of Euro 453 per venture is small but the potential impact large.  As one of the NGO partners wrote the team recently, “Love what you guys do!”  Working in Armenia is extremely gratifying because the women entrepreneurs themselves want to make a difference not only for themselves but also their families and communities.

In looking ahead, other HERA France Association teams will soon travel to Ukraine and Moldova and at time of writing, Nico Nissen and Elise Do are assessing ventures in the Republic of Georgia. Meanwhile the UK team is organizing a networking picnic and monthly entrepreneurship seminars for this year’s and former HERA students in the UK. 

Florist Shop Venture in Armenia
Florist Shop Venture in Armenia
Mentor in Armenia
Mentor in Armenia
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