Flora Funds Students in Kosovo with Pretty Notebooks

Social Business Spotlight: A Look at Entrepreneurs With Heart

Business: Flora Stationery, @FloraStationery

Who: Ashley and Victoria VanBuskirk, Co-Founders

What: A non-profit that sells notebooks with original artwork from students in Kosovo to support young women going to college in Eastern Europe through scholarships. For every journal sold, 40% of the profit benefits the scholarship fund; and the sale of 25 journals covers one semester of tuition.

When: Summer 2014

Where: Texas and Ohio

How: While interning at a local news outlet in the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, VanBuskirk met a young woman named Ema whose story of struggling to pay for law school really stuck with VanBuskirk. It was from this tale that Flora Stationery blossomed.

While searching for scholarship opportunities for Ema to help soften the financial burden she was bearing, VanBuskirk and her twin sister, Victoria VanBuskirk, came up against a wall: there wasn’t anything out there to help fund young women’s college educations in Eastern Europe.

“Women’s education is a worldwide problem, so the goal is for Flora to become one of the solutions to the lack of access for funding,” VanBuskirk says.

Founded this past summer, Flora Stationery journals feature original watercolor designs from an art student in Kosovo, Besjana Kryeziu, and is produced by Utah-based Denik.

“We have an opportunity for high impact in Kosovo because of the low cost of education,” she explains. “[So] we really want to keep [the journals] affordable and accessible to students.”

The social startup sold out its first batch of notebooks during a two-day pilot program at Miami University in Ohio, of which VanBuskirk is a recent alumna. So far, they say they’ve sold enough journals, which go for $12 apiece, to support nearly 12 women with scholarships covering a semester of college tuition. Flora is currently set up as a non-profit, with total revenue being split 40% for the scholarship fund, 60% coming back into the company. But this model is subject to change, VanBuskirk says, adding that the goal is for Flora to help fund scholarships for women across Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In a country where the unemployment rate for youth ages 15 to 24 is at 60%, covering one semester of college (VanBuskirk says one-year tuition at the University of Prishtina costs $120) directly helps the labor pool’s chances of flourishing.

Best advice: Just because you didn’t go to business school, doesn’t mean you can’t learn it, and do it, says VanBurskirk. She says the biggest lesson she’s learned in launching Flora is that “you can’t really know something, if you don’t do it.”

“I’ve had a lot of great support,” she says. “And if you want to make a change, as cliché as it sounds, you need to just go out and do it.”