At The Free Woman, we love learning more about women and organisations that are doing good in the world. In this interview, we chatted to Ashley VanBuskirk, one of the Flora Stationery Co-Founders.
Right after my sophomore year of college I studied abroad for a summer in Pristina, Kosovo. While there, I met an incredibly inspiring young woman who was trying to go to college part-time while also attempting to support her widowed mother and family of five. She was, and still is, incredibly passionate about getting an education, not just to better her own future, but the lives of those in her family and community.
After coming home from the trip, I decided that I needed to find a way to help fund her education, but also realized she was not alone. There were many women who immensely desired an education, but just needed some support to get there. This desire to fund an education, or as we like to say, fund a future, blossomed to the social business called Flora Stationery, which supports college scholarships for young women in Eastern Europe through the sale of unique stationery products.
Kosovo is just over a dozen years past a pretty intense war, which altered the lives of many men in women – in irreparable ways. Many lost family members in the war, and the country had to quite literally start from ground-up in re-building the government, economy, and all aspects of a developed state. Because of this, unemployment is rampant among the youth in Kosovo, and currently reaches over 60 percent of individuals and the poverty level is just under 30 percent.
We believe that an education is not the only answer to pulling women out of poverty or unemployment, but when combined with other proactive steps can offer greater opportunity in building the futures of these young women. Starting in 2016, we are planning on launching a mentorship and job-training program. This will help support the women we are already interacting with to connect them to successful, business-minded women already in the marketplace and help develop a mentorship relationship. Additionally, through connecting the women with job-training opportunities, such as internships or apprenticeships, we believe this trifecta of resources will not only empower them out of unemployment, but into the future leaders, innovators and business women of their country.
As a result of this support you’re giving, how are lives already being changed?
I just got back from a trip to Kosovo in June where I was able to meet with several women who we support and to learn more about their lives and to see how they have been affected already through our support. I spent the night in the home of the young woman who originally inspired Flora, and it was incredible to see how her family life had change in just a year or two. There was a renewed sense of purpose, confidence, and hope for the future within their family and life. It was awesome to see how our support of a scholarship was not only affecting the young woman’s life, but the lives of her family as well.
I’ve learned to ask myself, “How do you measure success?” I’m a competitive person and feel the need to constantly compare the successes (or failures) of Flora with other organizations and individuals. Since learning to ask myself (and our team), this question, both myself and the rest of the team have been able to not only manage expectations, but hyper focus on what is truly important: how to best continue to fund the futures of these women.
What’s been a personal highlight or memory from the journey so far?
Although there have been numerous highs and lows, I would definitely say the best moment was when I realized we were able to fund the very first scholarship. Realizing that the initial idea of Flora Stationery would actually work in practice was surreal!
There are several things – the first is to help us share our mission and organization by liking us on Facebook and following us on Instagram @FloraStationery. The second – shop our products or donate – we’re a 501(c)3, so a donation is tax-deductible!
The final way is simple, we’re always looking for men and women who are passionate about our mission and would like to support us with whatever unique talents or gifts they have been blessed with. If that sounds like you, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat!
– images provided by their Facebook Page