Anna Krys – From Dogpatch Labs to Diversity and Inclusion champion to Ukrainian refugee to entrepreneur in Dublin

Anna Krys is an alumnus of Dogpatch Labs. She decided to leave her position there to return to her native Ukraine to develop Diversity and Inclusion based programmes. Anna began to get involved in CFC Big Ideas to promote her award winning work. Incredibly, after the war broke out she still managed to continue her work with the organisation. She arranged a wildly successful online event, while  in her headphones she could hear sirens going off near the homes of her fellow speakers and event attendees in Ukraine, as the bombs were coming down. Anna runs a very successful nail bar in George’s Arcade in Dublin City, where she and her fellow Ukrainian nationals get to meet, work and feel optimistic about the future. This is her amazing story  

  1. Can you tell us more about your background and your experience at Dogpatch Labs?
Anna and the team at Dogpatch Labs

I was blessed to be a part of the special projects team led by my dear friend Liz McCarthy. Our team delivered Diversity in Tech Week 2019 aimed at bringing more diversity into the tech field. This initiative was selected for the ‘Diversity & Inclusion Award’ by Google for startups. And that’s where my passion for D&I took its roots.

 

 While living in Dublin from 2015 to 2019, I also worked on community development projects in Killorglin and was included in the “Top 30 under 30” list by “The Sunday Business Post”. I also volunteered with the Alternatives to Violence Project, doing education work in an Irish prison. 

Dogpatch Labs is a startup hub; by providing a platform for entrepreneurship and innovation, its mission is to accelerate the development of Ireland’s startup ecosystem. But for me, Dogpatch Labs is a big family of innovators. And when I came back to Dublin because of the war in my country, the doors were open for me as well as the hearts of my ex-colleagues.

2.              Why did you decide to go back to Ukraine after this?

 I returned to Ukraine just after the elections in 2019, when Volodymyr Zelenskyy became president. I thought how great it is that we finally have a young leader of the nation. And I was not mistaken. For the first time in the history of Ukraine, the government was open to new ideas and progress. Also, after four years in Ireland, I was homesick for family and loved ones.

I remember arriving back to Ukraine with all my suitcases. It was a moment when I realised how inaccessible Ukraine was for people in wheelchairs, people with suitcases, parents with strollers, etc.

 So I came up with an idea to create an interactive map that would not only mark accessible and inclusive infrastructure but also consolidate society so that all people could engage with the map; and I brought this idea to the Hackathon, organised by the EU-funded project Eastern Partnership Civil Society Facility, along with participants from the six Eastern partner countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

There was a three-stage process, including a hackathon in Kyiv and Tbilisi, Georgia, followed by a grant application to the European Union. Our project won 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐄𝐔 𝐃𝐢𝐠𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐂𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐥 𝐒𝐨𝐜𝐢𝐞𝐭𝐲 𝐀𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝 and received funding from the EU to develop Provodnik, an interactive map for people with mobility limitations. 

Provodnik is a crowd-sourced platform to help people with disabilities find the safest and easiest routes around the cities of Ukraine using crowd-sourced data. The map enables users to upload their photos and comments about locations with low accessibility for moderators onto the app in order to inform others, develop accessibility in the locations and add them to the map. In 2021, it was also scaled in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, Provodnik is a little redundant at the moment, given the current situation, but I am very interested in scaling this project to other European countries.

3.              How did you get involved with CFC Big Ideas? What impact did you have there? 

When I came back to Ukraine in 2019, the initial plan was that I would spend 2-3 months just enjoying life and would not take on new projects. But something went wrong, and a few weeks later, I not only created Provodnik, but also joined a well-known consultancy in Ukraine, CFC Big Ideas, which is 20 years on the market. I realised there are significant issues with D&I in my home country. These include: lagging infrastructure, no corporate policies, no Diversity & Inclusion professionals, and no understanding of the benefits that the concept can bring to a company & society.

So we decided to bring together internationally recognised professionals who will share their best knowledge about inclusion with the worldwide audience and started the Global Inclusion Online Forum. Our initiative has grown from a one-time online event organised amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, to the annual forum. 

Representatives of the world’s most prominent organisations, like Amazon Web Services, Deliveroo, Mastercard, Microsoft, Moody’s, Mozilla, SAP, Special Olympics International, UN Globe, Walmart and many more, were the speakers and workshop providers over the past three years.

 All in all, the Global Inclusion Forum’s mission was,  and continues to be, to unite people passionate about diversity & inclusion and to prove that DEI are tools for businesses and societies’ development and catalysts for growth.

4.              Can you tell me about your circumstances when the Russian invasion of Ukraine happened?

My partner and I flew to New York on February 20th for his bar exam and our planned vacation in the US. We were in Albany when the Russian invasion started. We woke up at 3AM because of a gut feeling that something terrible was happening. I saw a lot of messages from my friends all around the Globe saying, “we are with you, everything will be fine”, etc. And then I saw the news and was shocked. The airports were closed immediately, so there was no way to get home.

Odessa. My mother awakened my 14-years old nephew with the words: “Wake up, our port and city are under attack; the war has started.”

Kharkiv. Our best friend organised his family: wife, kids, parents, and grandparents in just one hour. They left the city, and after that a massive attack started. He is now serving as a head of a military platoon.

Kyiv. Our friends went to the bomb shelters and car parks.

Anna’s mother Tatiana, grand-mother Galina. Odessa, 2021

 Our lives have been changed forever. We think about our friends and families every second, scroll through the news, and read what’s going on. The hardest part is going to sleep. We wake up almost every hour to check the information and messengers. In the first few weeks we couldn’t eat. They say God blessed us because we were not there when everything happened. But you know, we packed our bags only for two weeks. We want to go back home, hug our friends and parents, get back to our daily routine, take yoga classes in our favourite studio, and know our country is safe. Being here and not fighting physically against the invader, we decided to fight in the media field. And I think this helps us to cope with hardships. Also, our friends and colleagues in the US and Ireland are very supportive and do their best to support us. Many thanks to my dearest family in Miami and all my friends in Ireland, especially from Killorglin and Dublin.

But you know, we packed our bags only for two weeks. We want to go back home, hug our friends and parents, get back to our daily routine, take yoga classes in our favourite studio, and know our country is safe. Being here and not fighting physically against the invader, we decided to fight in the media field. And I think this helps us to cope with hardships. Also, our friends and colleagues in the US and Ireland are very supportive and do their best to support us. Many thanks to my dearest family in Miami and all my friends in Ireland, especially from Killorglin and Dublin.

 The Ukrainian people stay strong and united with the Ukrainian armed forces and government no matter what. We stand for our homes, families, and future generations.

5.              How did you continue your work with CFC Big Ideas during this time? What are some of the highlights from this time? 

CFC Big Ideas uses global best practices in its inner processes, so even before the war started, we had an opportunity to work from any single country in the world. It’s all about results, not about keeping ourselves in the office. 

The hardest part was getting myself together. It’s so surprising, but my colleagues from Ukraine who were under rocket attacks were less stressed than those of us who were abroad and saw everything on the news and video. I never cease to be amazed at how the human brain works.

War didn’t stop our preparation for the third annual GIOF 2022 that happened in May. We streamed it from Kyiv (and attendees heard the sirens a few times)  while I hosted one of the stages from Dogpatch Labs studio. It’s a Ukrainian project; most of our team comes from Ukraine, and since the start of the full-scale invasion, our team members have had to relocate to safer locations. We faced unexpected work challenges but continued our mission of sharing diversity, equity, and inclusion practices with the global audience.

On top of all the event challenges, we had to consider all the risks: sirens, potential rocket attacks, curfew, going home safely from the studio in Kyiv and bringing the team who are still in Ukraine from different regions to the capital.

Even when I heard the sirens in headphones, my co-host Dmytro Chernohod in Kyiv, continued to smile, and when I asked if it was safe there, he answered, “Anna, I don’t care about my safety. All I care about now is our forum and attendees”. I will never forget how we organised a global event during the war.

GIOF 2022 in numbers:

6.              Since you’ve arrived in Ireland, what has been your experience so far?

The Irish are absolutely amazing people with big, kind hearts. I feel support every single day from my friends and even from people I see for the first time in my life. Ireland organised the best conditions for Ukrainians fleeing the war. We get all the necessary documents upon arrival; for example, Ukrainians must wait about a month in Spain and Italy. 

To help Ireland integrate temporarily displaced Ukrainians into Irish society, my partner and I created the NGO “United for Changes”. We produced short onboarding and awareness videos for Ukrainians about life in Ireland and organised weekly webinars to dive deep into each topic. We are grateful for the support of the webinar provided by: DLA Piper Ireland, Dogpatch Labs,  the Irish Refugee Council, EU, and GDSI Limited. Special thanks to Liz McCarthy for her encouragement.

7.              You recently opened your own nail bar in Dublin, how did this come about?

After spending some time in Miami with my family, we ended up back in Ireland in March. Morally tormented but not broken. Bringing myself mentally to my senses, I saw a post on Twitter that George’s Street Arcade in Dublin is ready to support Ukrainians and provide a unit free rent to start their own business. I immediately decided to take this opportunity and sent an email with the proposal. There were many more people like me, but our idea, in the end, received support – the Ukrainian nail bar to enable Ukrainian beauty professionals to work, as well as to promote Ukrainian culture. In Ukraine, the beauty industry is booming, and because of the war, many professionals have come to Ireland. Many thanks to Gwen Layden and the George’s Street Arcade family for having us. Gwen and her father Joe are fantastic people. The Layden Family Group won much praise when it didn’t take rent from their 42 traders during the lockdown.Under the tweet, I saw a comment from Aoife Rhattigan, co-founder and talented designer from the Restless.Design company that she would be happy to support the Ukrainian business, and she did it – created for us the best design ever! Round of applause to Pride Craft Retail Interiors, who donated us the shop-fit. Aoife and Pride Craft delivered together a lot of beautiful projects. And we still can’t believe we are one of them.

And, of course, the team was created – Olga, Tatyana and Natalia are our eyebrows & nails therapists from Kyiv and Kharkiv, and Katya – the SMM manager, is still based in Kryvyi Rih (central Ukraine).

This is how the first Ukrainian beauty space in Ireland was created, a safe place where each girl and woman can feel welcome and beautiful. I am from Ukraine with love and with great support from the wonderful Irish community.

So proud that our beauty space is accessible for people with mobility limitations. D&I is with me in every project.

For more information & to book an appointment – https://choko.link/ubeautyspace 

(-10% discount for readers of focusondiversity.ie)

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/ubeauty.space/

8.              What are some of your biggest learnings since you opened?

Synergy is now more important than ever on different levels:

a.              Ukrainians are finally united as a nation. Our fighters are fighting for our independence, but each of us has our front. In these dark times, business/jobs are an opportunity for Ukrainian women to support their families and to contribute to victory. And, most importantly, not to be victims but to take the situation under control again.

b.              Team – when you have the same goals, same challenges and same values, when you know that you are remarkable, you can work with a smile while achieving outstanding results.

Dublin 2022

c.              Many thanks to my partner for all our teamwork.

Always remember that our life is a miracle, and many fantastic people are around us. We just have to be ready to open our hearts to them. And one day, we will be in a position to support other people. This is a never-ending story of how kindness can grow.

Communication and sincerity is the key. I enjoy talking to my U-Beauty ladies and growing this wonderful Irish-Ukrainian community 🙂

9.              What do you hope to achieve by this time next year?

I hope this war will stop by that time and we will have a huge celebration. Thanks to the work of our NGO, “United for Changes”, I hope we will help thousands of Ukrainians and will be strong on the informational front. I also want to build a network of U-beauty spaces in Ireland and Europe using a franchising model to enable Ukrainian beauticians to work and make thousands of clients happy. And, of course, I hope our Provodnik project will finally be back to build our new, beautiful, inclusive Ukraine.

10. Are there any other businesses in Diversity and Inclusion in Ireland that you are a big fan of?

Stephen Cluskey from CEO Mobility Mojo, Gearóid Kearney from myAccessHub, Adam Harris from AsIAm and Sandra Healy from inclusio. I’m so proud that I’m not the only a fan, but also had an opportunity to work with each of them while organising events in Ireland and Ukraine: