How to support women seeking economic security: What Ukrainian women told us about the WINGS project
This year, 79 Ukrainian women explained to us what has helped them to become more economically secure in an environment torn apart by the full-scale war. All of these women were participants in the Global Affairs Canada-funded Women Included: Nurturing Growth and Security (WINGS) project (2020-2025) which equips vulnerable and marginalized women in Ukraine with knowledge, skills and a nurturing environment to promote their employability and entrepreneurship. In July and August 2023, they joined focus group discussions (FGDs) organized by Pact to understand what motivated them to participate in the project, what they have achieved as a result of project activities, and to hear their recommendations for the project going forward.
More than 1,800 women – most living in rural areas and facing multiple barriers to success – have participated in WINGS since its launch in 2020. WINGS provides 8-10 weeks of individual counseling and group sessions to address personal challenges, build self-confidence and teach business skills and employability skills, followed by access to funding and mentorship. Graduates have started hundreds of businesses such as a confectionary, a bicycle repair shop, a vegetable farm, an embroidery and sewing workshop, production of home décor, production of laminated educational games for children, a barbershop, a school of breastfeeding services and design and printing of postcards.
Focusing on how WINGS activities have affected change in their personal lives, FGD participants shared that self-confidence from gaining skills has led them to acknowledge themselves first as individuals, not just as mothers or homemakers, and helped them to shed fears and doubts about their ability to learn, to acquire new contacts, and to seize opportunities for communication and networking. Thirty of the 79 FGD participants shared that they have either started their own business or gained employment. All remaining participants were on their way to starting a business or were in search of employment.
Asked what motivated them to participate in WINGS, FGD participants agreed on a number of reasons. Many answered that they were seeking psychological support and assistance, had suffered a loss of income and had been forcibly displaced by the war. Some participants shared their desire for change and to step out of their comfort zone. Many were searching for places to socialize and engage in learning. All participants sought support either for starting a business or securing employment.
“I have never regretted participating in the project for a single day. The project was a turning point, giving me the strength to rise from the bottom and move forward. The WINGS project is like a vaccine for women.”
FGD participant from Kharkiv
The FGD participants explained that meeting other like-minded women in a space devoted to growth has led to their own initiatives beyond the project. Three women’s initiative groups, “Obukhiv Sandbox” in Kyiv, “Arakhna” in Kharkiv, and “Women with WINGS” in Kharkiv, have been established by project participants. After graduation, many FGD participants pursued additional education opportunities, participated in other grant programs and projects and included their family members in growing their business.
“You realize that making money is relatively easy if you have the tools, if you know how to set goals to achieve them. Taking care of yourself, your psychological needs, not just thinking about how to earn money for food, but already thinking about development, how you can help yourself and others [are critical for success].”
FGD participant from Lviv
The FGDs themselves, originally intended to serve only as a mid-term qualitative assessment of the project, became a platform for generating new ideas, networking and additional empowerment for participants. Pact will continue maintaining regular feedback loops with participants to help them address their needs and adapt accordingly.