While Ashley VanBuskirk was studying abroad in Kosovo during college, she realized how expensive it was for girls and women in Kosovo to go to college. So she decided to do something about it, and Flora Stationery was born.
Question: What is Flora Stationery, and how did it start?
Ashley VanBuskirk: Flora Stationery is a nonprofit organization that sells notebook journals, featuring watercolor designs from a Kosovar artist, to support a scholarship for young women in Eastern Europe.
We officially formed in early August of 2014, but launched a pilot program in late April at my alma-mater, Miami University. During the pilot we sold out in less than 48 hours and [were] able to support a scholarship for 4 years of a college education. After the pilot, we knew it was something people were interested in and decided to continue to pursue it.
The idea of selling products to sustain a scholarship fund developed after I studied abroad in Kosovo during the summer of 2013. [According to Wikipedia, Kosovo is a partially recognized state in Southeastern Europe that declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. While Serbia recognizes the Republic’s governance of the territory, Serbia continues to claim it as its own Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija.] While working as a reporting intern at a local news organization, I met a young woman who was struggling to pay for her education. She was supporting her family of five while still trying to go to school. I first became interested in her story after she told me she hoped to practice law, in order to help women affected by gender disparities. She was an incredibly inspiring young woman and I wanted to help her, but didn’t want her education to rely on how much money I could individually give her. Our goal is to create a sustainable process to support these scholarships while giving other women in Eastern Europe an opportunity for a college education.
Q: Why should girls in more affluent countries such as America and the UK be concerned with the education of girls around the world?
AVB: One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King Jr. which is “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” When we choose to focus just on the world around us, and our own problems, we close the door to an entire community that is bigger than ourselves. Living in the UK or America alone gives us a platform to help other young women access the same great opportunities and resources that we are able to utilize. Just think, by helping these women, we are supporting the future generation of leaders, innovators, and decision makers of the world. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in this?
Q: As a follow-up, why is global education – for boys and girls – important?
AVB: Access to global education is important for a plethora of socioeconomic issues. The United Nations recognizes the benefits of global access to education, when they enacted the Millennium Development Plan. The main goal is to achieve universal education. You can see these statistics and more information here: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/education.shtml. Education opens doors that had been shut to millions of impoverished youth from around the world. A few of the many benefits include: improved health and development, economic status, reduced poverty gaps, and greater involvement in local and federal government. Advocates for education, such as Malala Yousafzai, are excellent examples of how an education can create world changers.
Q: What are 2 things that any girl can do to support and encourage women’s education?
AVB: Awareness is the biggest thing. Follow thought leaders and advocates on Twitter, Facebook, and in the news. Get and stay informed on what is happening and use your voice to make a difference. As a citizen of a free country, you already have such a platform in which to enact change.
The second would be to buy a journal! I know this is a shameless plug, but it’s true, ever 25 journals support a young woman for an entire semester! Each journal is $12, and by simply purchasing a journal, you can have a lasting impact on a young woman who desires to improve her life and the lives of those around her. Flora funds futures, and so can you!
Q: Where do you see Flora Stationery in 5 years, and what is your ultimate goal for the company?
AVB: Expanding to more countries is definitely a future goal. Global education is vital for economic, political, and societal growth and well-being, and is an issue that will not go away in the near future. In 5 years, we would love to be scaling this model of a sustainable scholarship fund in other regions and countries to support young women desiring an education.
This story is close to my heart, as Ashley attended and I currently attend Miami University. Recently, a boutique chain focused on socially conscious products called War Chest Boutique started selling Flora Stationery journals, and you can buy the journals in stores in Wyoming; Rockford, Michigan; and Naperville, Illinois.
Love & Honor