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Businesswoman Valentyna Sukacheva knows how to deal with the hard stuff of everyday life. She is the Director of the metal service centre ‘STB’ in Chernigiv, a city in the north of Ukraine. Since the prolonged post-Soviet stagnation, Chernigiv has struggled economically. However, businesswomen like Valentyna, who has run a business in the rolled metal trade for over 20 years, are working hard to revive its economy.

"Metal is the base of any residential construction and machine-building. It assures their firmness and durability. So, it's natural that we set a great, far-reaching goal to strengthen the world with metal," says the STB Director. Her success story was presented as a showcase by the Chernigiv Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) at a recent conference ‘Building a community of businesswomen’, part of the EU’s East Invest 2 project ‘Enhancing support for SMEs led by Women’.

East Invest 2 is a regional investment and trade facilitation programme being supported by the EU and implemented by the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry (EUROCHAMBRES) and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME). The programme is working to improve the SME sector across the countries of the Eastern Partnership. East Invest 2 has brought three cities from Lithuania, Spain and Ukraine together to strengthen support and services offered to businesswomen. Their partners from the Spanish city of Seville and the Lithuanian city of Siauliai came to Chernigiv to share their experiences of helping women start up and manage their businesses.

As a result of the programme, the CCI has established a new Businesswomen’s Committee. The Committee was officially unveiled at the recent conference and will work to make women's business networking in Chernigiv and across the three countries sustainable. "Business has its stages. The first one is always establishing contacts, afterwards people either build trust or not," says Kostiantyn Ivanov, President of the Chernigiv CCI. “Trust and ideas are more important than money.”

Valentyna also shares this opinion. She has to balance her heavy workload with family life, as she has two children. Her older son finishes school next year and her younger daughter has just started kindergarten. Her business is on the rise. In 2011 they launched their own retail store ‘Metallomarket’. Everybody and everything needs her assistance. The businesswoman doesn't think it's worth distinguishing between women’s and men's entrepreneurship, however the right support can make a big difference to women in business. "If you assume responsibility, you should just do your job. You can't say that if you are a woman, you need to have some special rights. Although it would be really good if, just as in Seville, loans with low rates of interest were provided for women start-ups in Chernigiv," says Valentyna.

Seven female entrepreneurs from Chernigiv recently had a chance to travel to Spain and learn how the local Chamber of Commerce supports businesswomen in Seville. Natalia Romanovska, Director of the Chernigiv clothes factory ‘Elegant’, was one of these. She emphasised the importance of networking, learning and support. "In the EU, businesswomen are especially assisted. In the Ukraine, many women are trying to start their own businesses and we can learn from European initiatives, like from Seville. There, a woman can come to the local Chamber and she might have little or no capital and they will help her to draw up a business plan, provide her with an office and access a loan with low interest. She is also exempted from taxes!”

Natalia manages a team of over 500 workers, 95% of whom are women. Her company has successfully survived the post-Soviet economic depression and economic downturn of recent years. Now it works with partners all across Europe. Natalia took part in the training on ‘participation in international fairs’ and ‘assessment of export readiness’ delivered by Grazina Garuoliene, the Lithuanian female entrepreneur and head of the Businesswomen’s Network in Siauliai, Lithuania. "Go to any clothes shop in Europe, take any jacket or coat and check the place of manufacture on the label. You'll read Turkey, China or Ukraine," says Natalia.

Altogether, 115 Chernigiv businesswomen took part in the recent gathering organised under the East Invest 2 programme. They all stressed how important it is to develop their skills and to get some inspiration from their European colleagues. Apart from inspiration, they agree that women really need better training, networking, access to new markets and access to finance. And it is through this support provided by East Invest 2 that the businesswomen from this area of Ukraine, like Valentyna and Natalia, will be better equipped to grow their business and contribute to the economic development of the region.

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