Ms.Azarina, Founder of Trust Pizza
With the recent Ukrainian offensive against Russia, the war is primarily being waged on the eastern front. However, periodic Russian air strikes affect all parts of Ukraine. Tensions across the four countries (Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine), where HERA supports women entrepreneurs, remain high. A major concern is that the Russian-Ukrainian war will enlarge and spill across borders, particularly to Moldova, Poland, and the Baltic states, and within Russia. Georgians, remembering August 2008, are equally worried that the conflict could lead to another Russian invasion of their country. Following renewed conflict in May, Armenia and Azerbaijan met in early June in Moldova to negotiate a peace agreement. However, any eventual agreement is not likely to hold until both sides demilitarize and resolve their respective territorial claims over Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh and the enclaves.
As in all wars and conflicts, inflation is spiralling with serious supply shortages and transport blockages throughout the region. Despite these challenges, young women entrepreneurs across all four countries determinedly soldier on to deliver essential products and services to their communities. This summer update profiles one such young woman entrepreneur, Ms Azarina[i], who received a HERA grant in 2022, and has applied again in this year’s competition. The final section of this update summarizes HERA’s recent organizational activities leading to this year’s Annual Grants Competition for women entrepreneurs from all four countries.
Ms. Azarina was born in 1993 in Donetsk, a region that has been affected by conflict since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. Ms. Azarina, along with many other Ukrainians, left for Kyiv following the 2014 offensive. In Kyiv, she studied law at Taras Shevchenko National University, which is internationally recognised and considered Ukraine’s top university. She practiced law in Kyiv until her office closed in 2020 with the COVID pandemic. Ms. Azarina then considered other ways to earn an income. Since she enjoys food and cooking, she decided to launch a pizzeria food delivery service. In October 2020, she bought second hand equipment and rented a small room with a takeaway window. She opened Trust Pizza with three other staff members: a cook, barista, and a delivery service courier, who traded off roles. They devised their own recipes (e.g., a “Cesar salad pizza”) They focused on offering just three products -- pizzas, pastas, and burgers – of high quality. With an immediate demand and rapid turnover, they broke even by early 2021. They then hired three more staff, including an accountant. In 2021, they served 6,096 customers and enjoyed a modest, steady growth that year.
When the war broke out in February 2022, some staff members immediately left Ukraine. However, Ms. Azarina proudly observes, “team members left when the war began but we never closed a day.” In 2022, they served 15,552 customers, provided food for volunteers, and made donations to the armed forces. Focusing on their work helped them to remain calm and carry on. To address the recurrent power outages, they bought a small generator and shifted to focusing on hamburgers that could be cooked over a stove. Their oven, which was old, was also starting to break down. When they received the HERA grant at the end of 2022, they used the funds to co-share the cost of a new industrial oven. In January 2023, Ms. Azarina sent the HERA team a video of unloading the new oven in the snow.
Since receiving the new oven, the demand for their products has grown although as many businesses, they are affected by inflation and supply shortages. To continue to grow, they have increased their marketing strategies: updating their website (see link below), advertising on several social media channels, displaying banners on the street, and developing a Trust Pizza app. Looking ahead, Ms. Azarina wants to brand “Trust Pizza boxes”. As she writes, “We dream to design and produce our own pizza boxes that will give us visibility and help increase sales.”
The Trust Pizza team has grown to 16 people, ranging in age from 20 to 65 years. Of the 16 employees, 12 are women, and six, including Ms. Azarina, are 30, or under, years of age. The team has opened a second takeout window and a small restaurant. In the first half of 2023, they have served 8,485 customers, representing a 20% increase over the same time last year. With a second grant, they plan to buy another oven and open two more takeout locations. As Ms. Azarina reports, it is important to build a strong team and to provide decent working conditions. Given this approach, the team's spirits remain high; and they are making the best of these challenging times (see photo below).
Ms. Azarina's motivations and determination resonate with many other women entrepreneurs funded by HERA across the four countries. In 2010, a HERA team started with a small handful of grants in Armenia and Georgia. This spring, thanks once again to our local partners and former HERA grantees, we received 144 applications online. Following a preliminary selection, four teams will conduct on-the-ground and if necessary, online, assessments to select up to 60 ventures. The women entrepreneurs can use the HERA grants to purchase equipment, register their businesses, and/or develop new marketing tools and strategies. We provide up to two grants per venture and a second grant may be awarded following a report and assessment that the venture has indeed grown and is providing employment and/or training for more young women. From HERA’s perspective, and, as exemplified by Trust Pizza, that also means opportunities for young women’s professional growth and development to offer a viable alternative to dangerous migration and trafficking.
On 12 July, to grow our own work and impact, HERA will participate in GlobalGiving’s “July Bonus Day” campaign. Any donation between $100 – 1000 (approximately EUR 92 - 920) on 12 July will receive a sliding scale, based on donation size, bonus until GlobalGiving’s $400,000 matching funds run dry. Participating early, starting at 9 am EST, is therefore advised. This year’s campaign donations will go towards HERA’s initiative to develop an online “Founders Platform”. The platform will be trialled first in Georgia and if effective, will be extended to the other three countries. The platform will encourage past, present, and aspiring HERA women entrepreneurs to share experiences and expertise with one another.
HERA France Association and HERA USA team members volunteer their time and expertise; and we welcome others to become involved in our association. We appreciate not only our donors’ financial support but also your experience, advice, and involvement in our work to extend HERA’s reach and impact. With the hard work and organization of Dr Nissen, we held this year’s Annual General Meeting in March in Berlin (see team photo below). This year’s AGM was the first, face-to-face meeting since the one held in early 2020 in France. In late May and early June, seven volunteers also benefitted from Beyonce’s and her BeyGOOD Foundation’s generosity in providing tickets to Beyonce’s concerts in London and Paris.
Thanks to the generosity and support of many donors, volunteers, and partners, we can provide funds towards a second industrial oven, or for developing a branded design for the pizza boxes, to Ms. Azarina and her team. Your generous gifts also help to support many other young women entrepreneurs, who are making a difference in their communities and the four countries.
[i] Permission has been given to use Ms Azarina’s and Dr Nissen’s names in this report. Those pictured in the group Trust Pizza photograph gave Ms. Azarina permission to share their images and those in the HERA gave Lynellyn permission to share their images.
Part of the Trust Pizza Team
HERA AGM in Berlin