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Project number: 2015-1-IS01-KA204-013171


/November 2017/

2 » Rural Network Groups by FREE 5 » Enterprise Circles TM: Transfer from Face to Face to Virtual 6 » For some inspiration: Success Stories of Female Entrepreneurs 7 » News & Events This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NEWSLETTER 03 /November 2017/

Rural Network Groups by FREE 3-1 In the 2nd Newsletter ( we outlined the concept of Rural Network Groups. At that time groups’ leaders in each partner country had just started to organize networking activities and we could not tell how this British motel would work in different cultures. Now, over a year later, as we approach the last phase of the project, we interviewed several network leaders from each partner country. They have expressed their views on what they have achieved and the lessons they have learnt. Network Groups: Same Methodology, Different Experience

Some leaders say that it was a real challenge to get women to “talk” and share their stories.

Our network groups are spread over Europe: Iceland, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Croatia. All of the groups are using the same methodology, group leaders attended a joint fiveday course in Sheffield (UK) to learn about the concept of the initiative. But in practice each group differs from each other and can present some new insights into the project. These may depend on the nature of the group leader and country specific aspects. There are 3 network groups in Iceland, covering Wetfjords, the North-West and the East regions of the country. They all have their personal Facebook pages, where they can discuss and share information in addition to face to face meetings. Even though the networks are in 3 different areas the participants share the same challenges. Women say that for many reasons living in rural areas makes networking difficult, because of the long distances and the fact that the market is small and hard to reach. United Kingdom has established two networks which have a very innovative approach to networking – women combine walks in the beautiful nearby Peak district with networking and call their walks “Netwalks”. One of the network

leaders, Jill Turner, has even called her network “Think Outside – the Entrepreneurial Walk”. “The great outdoors requires very little of us, other than showing up. So leave your stresses behind and put your computer into sleep mode. Come and THINK OUTSIDE, share your successes, ideas and creative problem solving with like-minded women.” – this is how Jill invites her group to meet up. Two Lithuanian network groups cover one district, Marijampole. Each group meet once a month separately, but one meeting was held jointly with a guest lecturer. After getting acquainted with each other, the Lithuanian women have developed several occasional joint projects in business. It is interesting that women from different groups had different expectations from such meetings: women in one group were keen to know more about business development issues and another group contains women who are more interested in soft skills development. Bulgaria now has two network groups in their country. Both groups are led by women who at the same time are business consultancy and lifelong learning professionals. At first women who participate were reluctant to share their experiences and future plans. 2

NEWSLETTER 03 /November 2017/

Rural Network Groups by FREE 3-2

“I know that I have achieved something when I feel that the support is really making a difference for women and I sees how they grow and prosper” Anna Karin Svavarsdottir from Iceland says.

It was a real challenge for both network leaders to get women to “talk” and share their stories. Women in Croatia have established 3 groups. One group, led by Chilean living in Croatia, is gathering together foreign women living in rural areas of the country. Another group got extra financial support from Zagorje region county for networking and education activities. In the near future women from Zagorje and Petrinja are going to have a joint networking meeting to share experiences, get to know each other and, possibly, to do business together. Networks Leaders: “Women in Groups Are Now Able to Share Their Challenges and Success” We were curious to know what network leaders have experienced by leading their groups. Network leaders were asked to answer several questions: what did you learn from being a network leader; what is your greatest achievement in this role; what would you suggest to future network leaders? Here is a summary of their insights. “The key thing for me was the importance of using a range of media to promote the walks from e-mail, Linkedin and Facebook.

Overall the most effective method was picking up the phone and this made all the difference.” – Tracy Duggan, a network leader in UK, identifies what she has learned through the project. Jill Turner (UK) in addition to such practical skills, says that she has improved her ability to be humble and listen, her creativity, and leadership skills which also includes interpersonal skills, communication skills and emotional resilience. Leaders in Bulgaria have learnt that it is very important to be patient and to talk to women sensitively and involve them step by step, do not push and wait until women are able to open up by themselves and share their stories and ideas. Irma Žilinskaitė (LT) notes that she has learnt that she cannot just learn from other entrepreneurs, and she must also use her knowledge and experience to encourage and support other women. All women agree that they have achieved some important things in their network leaders career already. Anna Karin Svavarsdottir from Iceland says that she knows that she has achieved something when she feels that the support is really making a difference for women and she sees how they grow and prosper. Some leaders identified their biggest achievement as the picture of other women being able to share their challenges and success in an informal yet supportive environment.

Lithuanian groups met for a joint meeting to get to know each other


NEWSLETTER 03 /November 2017/

Rural Network Groups by FREE 3-3

Network leaders all together at leaders’ trainings in UK. Susan Cabezas (HR) says that being a network leader gave her the will and courage to get out of her isolated life style and start meeting other women around her village. More tangible achievements are also identified by women: they say that they created Facebook profiles for network groups, thus improved their social media marketing skills. Jill Turner even created a personalized branding for her group. The answers we received to the question “What would you suggest to future network leaders” allowed us to conclude five tips for network leaders: 1. Be patient – during the first two sessions women need some time before being able to relax and speak openly about their existing businesses or business ideas; 2. Listen, Listen, Listen – make sure you speak less than your group members. Listen to them carefully; 3. KISS – keep it short and simple – start with

shorter sessions and urge your group members to meet more often. After the third session you can expect that your meeting will last quite a lot longer than you have anticipated; 4. Do not be too self-critical – whatever you do, you will never be able to please everybody all of the time; 5. Just because there isn’t a hundred women waiting in line to join a network doesn't mean it's not worth it. Supporting one or two women and their small businesses in rural areas is also making a huge difference in our local communities. We, the project implementation team, are very glad to have a devoted network of women who had the courage to take part in such an experiment and took all the responsibilities that come with it. “I still keep bumping into women into women who say: “I really wish I had got to the walks”” – UK network leader Jill Turner says, and this is the best way to explain the results achieved.


NEWSLETTER 03 /November 2017/

Enterprise CirclesTM: Transfer from Face to Face to Virtual As part of the FREE project, Enterprise Circles™ are adapted from successful use with other groups such as the long term unemployed and young people wanting to start up in business, to suit the needs of rural women in business. An exciting development of this methodology originally devised by the UK partner Inova in 2001, is transferring FREE’s Enterprise Circles™ online, to test out whether the same benefits of group support and motivation occur when the group meets virtually. The innovative blended learning methodology of Virtual Enterprise Circles™ for rural women in business teaches women in small groups in each partner country, led by trained facilitators. The first pilot of Circles has just finished in all countries. Partners are now summarising insights on the pilot, will define results and compare virtual meetings with face to face. Here are some primary insights on Enterprise Circles™ within the frame of the FREE project. The Icelandic partners have noticed that the maximum time for virtual meetings is 3 hours. In meetings they have discussed challenges and tasks that women are facing in their business and assisted them to put those tasks into smart goals and make an action plan. Women in the mentoring circle are actively assisting each other in finding solutions to their challenges, sharing knowledge and encouraging each other. The main challenge for the trainers is to keep all participants active and committed and involve them all in the conversation. However, some members found the online circles difficult to attend due to issues with technology and internet connection in rural areas. The UK team is very pleased with the feedback they have gotten from their members. As a result of the circles members have made concrete plans to improve their businesses, including finding new working spaces, hiring staff, and focusing on different areas of development. Members plan to keep in contact after the circles end to continue supporting and motivating each other. Croatian partners found out that Virtual Circles is a great method for connecting women in rural areas to learn together and share experiences about business accomplishments and struggles. Participants are happy to be able to join Circles from their home, but they are still missing face to face communication. Therefore,

facilitators are planning to arrange an extra face-to-face meeting. In Bulgaria the main challenge in implementing the Circles was to make participating women meet and discuss in an online environment. They did not feel confident sharing their stories, issues and experiences online. They preferred the face to face sessions where they could discuss and do the online exercises in an environment which allowed them to interact with each other. In general, the first piloting of the Circles Methodology has received very positive feedback. Lithuanian partners say that even though the women wanted to have more trainings which should be flexible as regards date and time, it was quite difficult to motivate them to join virtual circles. As the first two session were held face to face, the following, virtual, sessions were attended by less participants. Nevertheless, participants met their needs regarding the expectations for Enterprise Circles™. For most of the participants the aspect of gathering together likeminded women was very important.

So far, the evaluation of the circles has been positive apart from some technical difficulties such as bad internet connection. (Virtual Circles session by Iceland) A comprehensive report of pilots will be used to improve the delivery of Virtual Enterprise Circles™. The second pilot which will be implemented until the end of 2017 will summarize all the results and we will have the finetuned Virtual Enterprise Circles™ methodology and online tool for future usage.


NEWSLETTER 03 /November 2017/

For the Inspiration: Success Stories of Female Entrepreneurs As you might have already noticed, every month we are glad to share an inspiring story about a woman entrepreneur from one of our partner countries. Since we already have a collection of interesting articles to read, we would like to encourage you to look at our entrepreneur of the month cases. If you have a dream to turn your lifestyle or hobby into your source of finance, see how Becky Lyne managed to do it in Yorkshire, England. From a young age Becky has been interested in sports and healthy lifestyles. One day she came up with the idea to start helping people to take care of their health. By offering a wide range of activities and educational programs to all ages and abilities, Becky finds her business meaningful and joyful to manage. In the article you can find out how being part of FREE helped her move on to new projects in her business and reach better results:

Becky loves working with children as a part of her business.

Another story is a great inspiration for those who have been dreaming for years to start something of their own but just did not find enough courage to do it yet. Ani Simeonova has been working 20 years in a non-profit organization while all that time she was passionate about organic products, especially cosmetics. Visiting one trade show for organic products had encouraged her in the way that she could finally start following her dream. Two years after she owns a very successful organic e-shop where she sells various products to clients from all over Bulgaria. Read more details about this success story:

One of Ani Simeonova’s Bio Cosmetic shops.

Business ideas do not always have to be extremely innovative or new to the market. Since we cannot live without food, agricultural activities will always be in demand. After losing a job Snježana Ljubić did not think about giving up. As it turned out she started working on a strawberry farm where she caught the idea of starting to grow her own strawberry plantation. Find out how she turned her idea into a profitable business:

Snježana Ljubić: “After the harvest we all get back pain, but the smell and the taste of strawberries heel everything.”


NEWSLETTER 03 /November 2017/

Meetings & Events The FREE project is now testing the Online Rural Women’s Academy ( All women living in rural areas who are in business, or wish to start one, are welcome to join the academy and also to express their insights regarding the learning material. The academy covers the main aspects of business development and is tailored to small business. It gives women a chance to develop business skills without leaving their homes


5th partnership meeting in Kaunas (Lithuania)

7-8 December, 2017

Final conference in Sauðárkrókur (Island) 18 April, 2018

Contact Details:

The fifth project FREE meeting will be held in Kaunas (Lithuania). The host of the meeting will be the Kaunas Science and Technology Park (Lithuania). Kaunas Science and Technology Park is a business incubator for innovative start-ups and SME’s, operating in IT, engineering, social innovation, health technologies, future energy and sustainable chemistry fields. In recent years Kaunas STP had started to put an effort in fostering female entrepreneurship. During the meeting the project consortium will discuss the results of pilot trainings and determine necessary updates. The final event of the FREE project will be organized in Iceland and be hosted by a lead partner The Directorate of Labour (VMST). The directorate provides services for unemployed people in Iceland. It has two projects specifically aimed at women entrepreneurs. Annually the Directorate provides grants to women entrepreneurs with good business ideas and projects. The final conference will outline all project outcomes, feature inspirational speakers and be a good place to meet likeminded people.

Inova Consultancy ltd., UK Phone: +44 (0)114 279 9091 e-mail: web:

The Directorate of Labour, IS Phone: +354 51 558 00 web:

Icelandic Regional Development Institute, IS Phone: +354 455 5400 e-mail: web:

CESI, CR Phone: +385 1 2422 800 e-mail:, web:

Kaunas STP, LT Phone: +370 37 33 30 36 e-mail: web:

BICC – Sandansk, BG Phone: +359 746 30549 e-mail: web:

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FREE Newsletter nr. 3  

Free - Third newsletter of the Free project

FREE Newsletter nr. 3  

Free - Third newsletter of the Free project