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From A Cup Of Tea To A New Career – The Small And Big Steps Supporting Refugees – Anastasia Koptsyukh

Anastasia Koptsyukh
Anastasia Koptsyukh

June 20th marks World Refugee Day – an internationally recognised opportunity, organised by the United Nations, to recognise, honour and celebrate refugees from around the world whilst shining a much-needed spotlight on the conflicts and crises which have forced people to flee their homes in order to seek safety.

Going further, each year, World Refugee Day champions the right for refugees to find economic and social inclusion, as well as to visibly advocate for finding solutions to the root causes of their plights.

Business schools and universities – institutions which exist to educate the next generation, shape future society and find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, support refugees through education access and support, outreach initiatives and research.

In recognition of World Refugee Day, BlueSky Thinking speaks to students around the world, using their experiences, voices and actions to help make the world a better place…

  • Name: Anastasia Koptsyukh
  • Job title: Doctoral Researcher at the Entrepreneurship Unit, Department of Management 
  • Studies, Aalto University School of Business; prior background: tech startup founder and CMO 
  • Education: Has a BSc in International Business and Economics from Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona, Spain, and an MSc in Marketing from Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain. Currently enrolled on the Doctoral Programme in Business, Economics and Finance at the Aalto University School of Business, Finland

What inspired you to start a nonprofit organization focused on assisting refugees?

The compassion to help others who are in pain. I am Ukrainian myself, so I could not see it any other way. We started working on our prosocial initiative at the end of February with another Ukrainian girl who took the initial lead and directed our first team efforts.

The initiative developed with the support of an existing organisation specialising in Ukraine and Ukrainian matters – the Ukrainian Association in Finland – who helped with securing the location for the Center and aided with initial capital to help the project move forward. Eventually, the project was embedded into the structure of that organisation. We then had other fantastic helpers and supporters.

The success of this initiative is a team effort, even though unfortunately many of the wonderful people that made it happen remain behind the scenes. It is an effort of hundreds of volunteers and as many support partners and organisations. I still feel saddened that not everyone got as much recognition for their contribution. So, I would like to take this opportunity to thank anyone and everyone involved.

Could you provide an overview of the services and support that your nonprofit offers to refugees? 

The Help Center was not officially registered as a non-profit, but rather embedded into the efforts of another organisation. It is a 1300m2 space divided into several areas.

There is an informational desk area where Ukrainian-speaking volunteers and partners from other organisations specialising in refugee matters (ranging from employment to education) can provide information to incoming Ukrainians, there is an emotional and psychosocial support space where expert psychologists and emotional counsellors work with the visitors and provide group relief and support sessions, there is a visitors’ cafeteria area where guests can have some snacks or a cup of tea, an events area with a projector where distinct organisations introduce their services to the visitors or provide other informative presentations, a kids’ zone where children can draw, play with toys or just enjoy some creative workshops provided by partnering organisations specialising in child wellbeing and welfare, and there is also a specific humanitarian aid area where visitors can select and take any items they might need like clothes, shoes or home accessories.

“I wish such success could spread worldwide to accommodate the needs of not only Ukrainians, but other vulnerable groups.”

What are some of the biggest challenges your organisation has faced in supporting refugees, and how have you worked to address them?

I would say an ongoing topic we had to pay attention to were the very dynamic and changing needs of protection seekers arriving from Ukraine – at first, we informed visitors about accommodation and where they could receive essential items. Later on as we went, the Centre’s visitors required long-term support in terms of learning the language of their host country, schooling for their kids and healthcare support.

Also, some help requests we managed have been very specific – for example one visitor needed hearing aid as her hearing aid support has been damaged while fleeing the war. We then tried our best to find a partner specialising in such devices that could provide it as soon as possible.

Our main goal was to always provide support as fast as possible and as best as we could. We had to learn as we went. Nobody is ever really prepared for the devastating and horrendous consequences that an event such as the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine can bring.

How did your business education help in your venture?

I would say a lot. In the first months I already took the lead in the Centre’s operations, made sure the Center areas worked accordingly, implemented the Customer Relationship Management system, took care of organising the volunteers’ schedules, onboarded partners, preparing onboarding documents and guides, creating a code of conduct, establishing scrum-like weekly meetings and routines, coordinating with other core-team members, and delegating tasks.

A lot of my work has been behind the scenes – defining the processes and taking care of the admin work. Thanks to my business education and entrepreneurial background I knew how processes should be organised. Now the already-established routines and protocols keep working – and working well.

In addition, I took a lead in coordinating the biggest and first job fair for Ukrainians in Helsinki. This was the first such-scale recruitment event for Ukrainians in the region with hundreds of attendees and tens of companies represented. My business education was essential in establishing a strong partnership network for the Job Fair and monitoring the smooth running of operations.

Could you share a success story or example that demonstrates the positive impact your organisation has had on the lives of refugees?

I would say that there are many successes. The Center has helped over 10,000 Ukrainians to date, that’s about 1/5 of all Ukrainians arriving in the host country. Similar centres with the same structure followed in our footsteps, opening in other cities. I would say, almost in a franchise-like fashion. The representatives of these centres have reached out to us many times for advice on how to structure and organise their work.

Spreading our know-how and empowering others to scale their support activities for those in need has been of utmost importance. I wish such success could spread worldwide to accommodate the needs of not only Ukrainians, but other vulnerable groups. Hopefully, similar centres could open wherever they are most needed.

I would also like to add and highlight the importance of our institutional work. By working very closely with governmental institutions we were able to aid them in better addressing refugee-related matters, simplifying documentation processes for refugees and protection seekers for housing, employment, or municipality application procedures for local and nation-wide services. Non-profits, community- and grass-root organisations and governmental bodies can achieve so much more by coordinating joint efforts.

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