How These Twin Sisters Help Women Get an Education by Selling Journal Notebooks
Sisters Victoria and Ashley VanBuskirk have worked these past two years on developing an organization to help young women access higher education in Kosovo. After studying abroad in Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo, during the Summer of 2013, Ashley met a young woman who inspired the start of the organization.
As a social enterprise, Flora Stationery sells journal notebooks to fund scholarships for young women in Kosovo. You might have read the Forbes piece about Ashley, Victoria, and their team. In this post, we’re having the two sisters interview each other and talk about their beginning, aspirations and how starting Flora changed them.
Ashley: What made you want to get involved with Flora? Did you think I was crazy?
Victoria: I remember when you told me about Ema last Summer and you shared her struggle to get an education. At first, I just thought Ema was another sad story, but after you came home and shared more about Ema, I realized that no one was doing anything to help Ema and all of the young women like her. I didn’t think you were crazy- I believe we were both given her story to share – and that’s exactly what we have done.
Ashley: What do you believe your personal impact is through working on Flora?
Victoria: I love sharing stories that make a difference. I truly believe Ema’s story, and now our story of Flora, has the power to make a difference. I am so excited that through Flora we have been able to raise awareness on the issue of access to higher education in Eastern Europe. What do I believe is my personal impact? I love that you and I have both been able to combine our strengths to use the different skills we have to create a product and a mission that we truly believe in. To be personally involved in creating our brand and product, and sharing our story, has been such a great experience for me.
Ashley: How has our relationship changed since working on Flora?
Victoria: I think we communicate on an entirely different level. We are learning out of necessity due to the long distance communication, to communicate much more effectively with each other in a way that is cognizant and respectful of both of our skills. It took a bit of work, but I think that you and I both have a good understanding of each other’s roles within the organization and because of that, we can communicate and work well together.
Ashley: What is one thing most people don’t realize about Flora?
Victoria: Coming up with the name Flora was a very frustrating process – the amount of times I have Googled “gardening terms” or “flower names” is embarrassingly way too high. On a more serious note, our faith has taken a major role in building the organization. We both wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t feel as if it was what we were meant to do
Ashley: How would you describe my personality?
Victoria: You are great at focusing on a goal that you believe in and accomplishing it. You focused on getting Ema and girls like her support to attend college, and you’re doing it now. In your relationships, work and faith you always give 110%, which I have a lot of respect for, and honestly a hard time keeping up with at times! This is so sappy, but I am definitely thankful for having you in my life. You have taught me a lot and challenged me in ways that I’m sure you’ve never realized. Now, a question for you: since starting Flora, what has been the biggest surprise been?
Ashley: The complexity of running an organization was definitely a surprise. Flora is a simple concept; we sell journals to support scholarships. Sounds easy, right? Well, not entirely. Everything from finding a manufacturer, to creating packaging and figuring out all of the financial information can get pretty complicated. This doesn’t even take into account all of the outreach and let alone selling and shipping the product. This doesn’t sound as simple any more, does it? Not to mention we also need to figure out who we are going to support and all of those details?! It gets complicated pretty quickly! In saying that, I’ve strangely enjoyed all of the complexities and details it has taken to get Flora up and running. I wouldn’t trade any of it.
Victoria: What are you most excited about for the future of Flora?
Ashley: I am so excited about our impact. We are not just funding scholarships, we are supporting the future of these women. Our hope is that they will become the future leaders of their country because of the opportunity of an education, which Flora provided. How exciting is it that we can invest in women, who would otherwise not have this opportunity, who all have the potential to become powerful figures within their country and even the world.
Victoria: What would you do differently if we were starting all over again?
Ashley: I would take my time, developing a vision for what the brand should be, and taking attention to detail to ensure the vision is carried out. But then again, if a company is complacent and not changing and evolving to be a better version of itself, there will be no growth. So, in the same way, if we started off with a better plan, we would and should continue to grow and mold into an even better organization.
Victoria: What is the worst idea we have had so far? The best?
Ashley: The worst was to call the organization Libertas (li-ber-ta-s). I loved the meaning behind the name, it means the Greek goddess of liberty. So incredible, but the moment someone above the age of 25 pronounced it lie-beer-tay-z, we decided to dump it.
The best was to feature watercolor designs by young women in the area of our impact. This was truly a divine intervention. I had been brainstorming design ideas with you, we were going back and forth, and I was so frustrated because I wanted it to be an amazing product, but all of our designs were pretty terrible. Then one night, I was trying to sleep but was tossing and turning instead. Trying to think of a design, I suddenly thought of asking Kosovar art students to submit designs. I instantly texted Victoria the idea and the rest is history.
*Original post appears on author’s blog, and you can find it here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MARIJA GAVRILOV
Born and grew up in Serbia, but in the last three years spent the majority time in the U.S. As the U.S. State Dep’t UGRAD Program alumna, I studied sociology, Arab studies and social research methods at American University in D.C. in 2012/2013.
My engagement with entrepreneurship and tech began two years ago, when I attended Entrepreneurship Program at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as one of 10 selected young people from the Balkans. Ever since, I’ve been in love with the drive, intelligence and creativity of people I meet in this field, all over the world.
This year, I administered the same program at Dartmouth for six talented entrepreneurs from Kosovo. I currently work with Startit, most relevant IT blog (www.startit.rs) and movement towards stronger IT eco-system in Serbia. As a regular author, I mostly write about mobile, cloud, machine learning and IT education.
On the side, I lead Braver – bilingual blog (www.braver.in.rs) about entrepreneurship. Even though I spend majority of my time writing, I’m looking for ways out of this role and into sales and business development.