More Than Scholarships, Flora Stationery Funds Futures

When Ashley VanBuskirk was pursuing a degree in international studies and journalism from Miami University (Ohio), she took a summer-long internship at a national news agency based in Kosovo. Her assignments, typically human interest stories, led her to a woman named Ema, who couldn’t afford a college education because her father had died a few years prior. Ema’s family was living in poverty. She had no safety net to fall back on, and few viable options.

Ashley was moved by Ema’s story and started to look for scholarships that Ema could apply for to help reduce the cost to get the degree she needed to break the cycle of poverty and go on to build a career. But Ema didn’t qualify for traditional grants.floralogo

Ashley returned from her experience abroad, but Ema’s story continued to gnaw away at her. She shared Ema’s story with her sister, Victoria. In 2013, they decided to give crowdfunding a go as a short-term solution. But then, realizing that it only covered one semester for one woman, and knowing there were countless others just like Ema, they were determined to do more, and do it in a way that was more sustainable.

When they approached the idea of creating a social enterprise, the sisters considered several product-based ideas, such as school supplies, but landed on stationery. It was simple, everyone can use it, and they were able to identify women in Kosovo who designed and created beautiful journals. All indications pointed to this as the solution they wanted to pursue.

flora1“As social entrepreneurs, we have learned the importance of a fail-learn-repeat process,” said Victoria VanBuskirk, whose focus is on Flora Stationery’s social impact. “You have to be equally humble about what you learn, as you are eager to persevere. You can’t let failure or the fear of failure paralyze you.”

To give you an idea of Flora’s social impact math, 25 journal sales represents one semester’s tuition for one individual. Now fast forward and scale that to what the social enterpise has accomplished in just over two years. Today, Flora Stationery provides scholarships to more than 25 women each semester. They’ve been able to fund a total of 80 semesters so far.

Flora Stationery products are sold online and in more than 32 retail organizations throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. And all 32 of these organizations reached out to Ashley and Victoria because they heard about their cause and wanted to support it.

As Flora continues to flourish, Ashley advises others considering social enterprise to work with a great team.

“Communicate with as many organizations doing the same or similar things that you’re interested in solving for the greater good,” Ashley said. “We learned a lot going through the Center for Social Enterprise Development’s accelerator program. This process helped us recognize that beyond college tuition, we wanted to help these women build great careers.”

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Kosovo has the highest unemployment rate in all of Europe and holds a female unemployment rate of over 41 percent. Yet women with a university degree are over 28 times more likely to be employed than those with a basic education. Kosovo is also the poorest country in the region, with approximately 30 percent of the population living in poverty and another 10 percent who live in extreme poverty, living off less than one dollar per day.*
*Sources: Republic of Kosovo, Office of the Prime Minister/Poverty Spurs Mass Migration

The VanBuskirk Sisters

Central Ohio’s social enterprises dedicated to education and skills development

CSED maintains a directory of social enterprises throughout Central Ohio. We are in the process of developing at-a-glance profiles for each social enterprise, intended to inform consumers, funders, impact investors and individual donors of investment-worthy causes.

Here are the social enterprises we’ve identified to date, with special focus on education and skills development. We encourage you to learn more, consider supporting these organizations, or inform us of additional social enterprises that share this focus. Connect with the Center for Social Enterprise Development on Facebook and Twitter to follow all the latest updates on more than 85 local social enterprises throughout Central Ohio.