Women in isolation are building an alternative reality in which selfless help is not considered lame and kindness brings more joy than money
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Business women are used to living their lives running around, constantly meeting people and taking on new challenges. Loneliness, the lack of contact with others and overburdening women with obligations related to crisis management of the company and the home are the biggest problems reported by the study “My business in the age of COVID-19”, conducted by the Network of Entrepreneurial Women (Sieć Przedsiębiorczych Kobiet, SPK), which supports both female startuppers and experienced investors, as well as mothers returning to the job market. “There has been a regression of emancipation that we have spent years working towards. Due to the pandemic, in addition to professional work, we now have to run a household, manage our children’s remote education and maintain a good atmosphere in the family during home isolation all at the same time. It’s a bit too much. In such a difficult situation, it is particularly important to support each other, giving others some positive energy,” says Katarzyna Wierzbowska, the president of SPK.

This is why she regularly publishes on Facebook under the hashtag ‘#wspieramywsieci’ (#wesupportontheweb). Her goal is to appreciate initiatives that bring something positive into the lonely reality of isolation. In this way, she recommended free mental assistance offered by therapists as part of the “Dawka wsparcia” (“Dose of Support”) campaign, online yoga and meditation classes conducted by Karolina Murdzia, the “Książka na telefon” (“Call Book”) campaign that allows you to shop in small bookshops online or the campaign of the female students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, who encourage discovering the potential of balconies as places to pursue your passions.

The inspiration behind the #wesupportontheweb campaign was the results of a study showing how difficult the coronavirus pandemic is for self-employed women. “Each of us who intends to reach the summit needs not only the technology, but also a friend’s phone number. The campaign’s manifesto proclaims that during this difficult time, one of the most important and priceless things we can offer is support and assistance.”

“We encourage ladies to boast on social media about the dress from their favourite designer they got to buy, about the pizza they had delivered from their favourite eatery, about visiting the small shop around the corner instead of going to the mall. I do it myself whenever I can,” says Katarzyna.

A duvet in exchange for advice

She considers promoting innovations introduced by companies during the crisis to be the most valuable. “Talking about them inspires other female entrepreneurs to reach for innovative solutions, which may allow their business to survive. They might even create a new product or service that will build their position after the pandemic is over,” Wierzbowska wonders.

Innovations often have a pro-social value because during the time of the coronavirus crisis, people feel the need to help others. This was the case with Katia Roman-Trzaski, owner of ‘Little Chef,’ a cooking school for children. When she had to suspend classes for the youngest in mid-March, she instantly switched to cooking meals for medics, senior citizens and the homeless. “We feel responsible for the people we employ and for the place where we operate. We also feel responsible for those who, due to their life situation, can’t isolate themselves in their own homes, and those who have no one to do the shopping for them,” explained Katia.

She collects the money for preparing the soups through the zrzutka.pl portal. To date, she has collected over 50 thousand PLN and given out more than 6.3 thousand portions of soup, 50 litres of which is cooked every day. Instead of succumbing to the crisis, she created a new business model. Not only did she not dismiss employees, but she also had to hire new people to deliver the soup to the recipients. Additionally, many people have heard about the activities of ‘Little Che’f and they now perceive the company as sensitive and socially responsible.

Magdalena Kot, the owner of the ‘My Alpaca company,’ which produces luxury linen, also took up an activity aimed at the virus – she started sewing masks. Bed linen, which she used to sell mainly to companies, is now also offered to individual consumers. She also changed the billing and settlement system. She bartered with a mentoress in the field of finance, with whom she started working before the pandemic, paying for services with a duvet. “Some see this as degradation and a step back in economic development. I think it’s an innovation,” praises Wierzbowska.

Longing for contact with other women and for mutual support, women have begun to organise themselves. They arrange meetings on Zoom to set goals together and give each other advice. “It’s not just about advice related to entrepreneurship: how to save a company, how to cut costs. For me, tips on how to organise everyday life are also important, e.g. what to make for dinner for my kids, because after two months of cooking at home it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find ideas for tasty dishes,” says Wierzbowska.

More and more female Internet users have started to offer specific support to others, free of charge, at preferential prices or through bartering. More experienced female entrepreneurs, for example, announce that they will allocate ten hours a week for free mentoring for those that are starting out. Others ask for support, e.g. in the field of e-commerce, in return offering help in creating a brand.

Elwira Urbańczyk, the owner of the ‘Make Break’ tourism company, organised a virtual trip to a hotel in Zanzibar, owned by Joanna Frenkiel. This cooperation will definitely pay off when it will become possible to travel freely again.

Statistics say that the coronavirus crisis affects women more than men. It’s not just about the additional responsibilities that they are forced to take on, but also about companies with a strong technological component are doing much better nowadays. And among these, those run by women are a minority. This is why it is so important for women to boldly enter the world of new technologies and offer their services online. “The crisis is throwing us off the beaten track and forcing us to look for something new, create innovation, learn new things,” says Wierzbowska.

Helping builds mental resilience

This is also a time of numerous new ideas and activities initiated by women, which other women promote and take up. We are witnessing the creation of an alternative reality, in which barter trade is being revived, selfless help is not considered lame and kindness brings more joy than money. “It significantly contributes to building a community and is a response to sisterly needs. Business thinking is fading, what’s more important is to offer each other a helping hand. It is fantastic that today we are building something out of what is currently needed, without thinking that it might come in handy some day. But these relationships will bear fruit in the future,” says Wierzbowska.

Anna Radzikowska, a business consultant and coach, believes in the therapeutic power of helping others. This is why in the first days of the lockdown she launched free online support sessions for women.  “I followed my instinct. On Wednesday I was still at work, I had appointments and since Thursday I’ve been at home. I thought that people would start freaking out, that they would need support,” she says. “That’s why I offered intervention sessions for women on Facebook.”

She wasn’t expecting such a huge response. At first, there were women worried about the future. Some of them were under quarantine and were not allowed to meet anyone. There were also female emigrants facing the dilemma of whether to go back to their country or stay abroad. Later, topics began to revolve around professional matters. Women wanted to talk about what to do if they get fired, but also how to work remotely and not go crazy. “Now, unfortunately, I’m being contacted by many women on the brink of burnout. Limited social contact makes the various negative things that happened in our lives more evident. This hits hard, because women who previously managed suddenly realise that life before the pandemic was not good for them and that they no longer want it back that way. At the same time, they are so tired that they don’t know what to do with themselves,” says Radzikowska.

She has had further online appointments with some of these women, because a one-time session was not enough for them. “They badly need a safe space to share their innermost emotions or to have a cry. But I also do these sessions to save myself. I teach students that one of the key ways to build mental resilience is helping others. I didn’t realise it at first, but now I know that I have done something that also gives me strength to face the hardships of the current situation,” says Radzikowska.

This is why she is also eager to help in other fields, including providing free consultation as part of the ‘Career Angels campaign,’ advising students and graduates of the Business School of the Warsaw University of Technology or appearing in remote lessons for elementary school students.

Ola Budzyńska, known on the Internet as Pani Swojego Czasu (Mistress of Her Time), runs online courses, a blog and a PSC Club that help women organise everyday life, build business and make their dreams come true. She emphasises that women have always had a need for mutual support, but it is even more prominent during the pandemic. “I often meet women who would like to start self-employment, but family and friends tell them that it won’t work out. During the lockdown, they have an additional argument, because the situation is uncertain and an economic slowdown is coming. This is why even more than before, women are seeking support in female groups whose members show them that success is possible,” says Budzyńska.

It is easier to act in a community

The women who are looking for the support most eagerly are those who were already supposed to implement their idea when the world suddenly came to a standstill due to the pandemic. Now they’re wondering whether it makes sense to go on with it or whether it’s better to wait. The second group looking for support are women who run offline businesses and must quickly move them online or retrain.

Budzyńska is happy to see that many female entrepreneurs with a large online reach are keen to promote those that are starting out. The latter are not sitting on their hands either. In one of the PSC Club groups, they have set up a thread in which they brag about their businesses and advertise their services. “It is much easier to act when you are a member of a community and you have kind people around you,” she says. “In the real world, we rarely have contact with people who know the industry which we intend to enter. Those closest to us, out of concern, warn us that we will fail. But the opinions of our family or neighbours cannot be treated as market research. For this you need the people who are your target group. And these are easier to find in online communities than in the immediate vicinity.” 

“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.


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