The Big Meet is an organization that has been offering up the opportunity for Kyiv residents, both local Ukrainians and expatriates from all over the globe, to get together once a month to relax for a few Friday evening hours in a stylish venue. Olga Kearley, the owner of the organization, started The Big Meet as a community social gathering, but it has since grown into an important networking event for the city’s residents and visitors, as well as a supporter of charities and other organizations helping those in need.
Started as a monthly event in 2018, The Big Meet went on hiatus after Russia launched its full-scale invasion. They canceled their planned Feb. 25, 2022, event – one day after the attempt to take Kyiv began. But seeing how people need to get together and see each other in these difficult times, Kearley restarted the gatherings in February 2023. The next event will take place Friday, July 7, at the NĂM Modern Vietnamese Cuisine restaurant with proceeds going to UAnimals.
Kyiv Post met with Kearley to talk about her organization, what it provides the Kyiv international community, and how it is helping to rebuild Ukraine.
What is The Big Meet? Is it a business, a social group, an NGO, a charity?
A bit of all those things. The Big Meet started as a hobby – it was never about making any profit. Its primary purpose is to bring people together, fostering a community that includes both expats and locals.
Of course, with the start of the full-scale invasion it transformed into a powerful networking community that helps charities.
What is your format? How do you choose the location for events?
“Start the weekend in style and join the international business community for after-work drinks. Explore new venues and make valuable connections” – that’s The Big Meet.
You would normally find us in venues in the city center of Kyiv that are popular, trendy, and conveniently located. This could include options like 5-star hotel bars, trendy restaurants, stylish bars, and places that are beloved by locals and visitors alike.
Who attends the Big Meet? How many people? What portion is Ukrainian and what portion expats?
International and local business professionals, diplomats and NGOs, top and mid-level management, entrepreneurs, and the list goes on and on. You never know who you’re going to meet, and that’s the beauty of these events. On average we would have around 70 people and I would say it’s 50/50 Ukrainians and expats.
It’s largely a networking event. How have the connections made by networking at the Big Meet helped Ukraine in general or specific residents of the city?
Our events bring together an incredible mix of passionate individuals, influencers, and professionals from various walks of life, creating a melting pot of ideas and opportunities.
We are always happy to hear that deals have been made, jobs found, partners connected at our events. These “success” stories once again prove that The Big Meet is the #1 networking event in Kyiv for expats and locals.
Though I must admit I never force people to network. If someone needs an introduction, I am happy to help, but my main goal is for people to have fun, meet, explore new venues while we support charities.
Which organizations have you supported? How do you decide who to support?
Since the restart of The Big Meet, at every event we have supported a different organization. To mention a few… We’ve donated to help the rebuilding of the Hostomel lyceum – opposite the hangar, where the Antonov An-225 Mriya plane was destroyed.
We’ve volunteered and donated to an inclusive bakery, Good Bread From Good People. Later we decided to establish a partnership with this bakery. The bakery not only employs 70-plus people with mental disabilities but also bakes more than 1,500 loaves of bread every day for soldiers, refugees, and people in the frontline territories and this is something we want to be part of.
Russia started its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, and you had a Big Meet event scheduled for Feb. 25… Tell me about that event.
It’s so weird to think about it; it seems like it happened to someone else.
At our very last event on Jan. 28, 2022, we were discussing the possibility of the invasion. Not seeing many of our embassy friends at the event was kind of a sign that something was going to happen, but we were staying strong and positive till the very last minute.
And the Feb. 25, 2022 event, I will remember it for the rest of my life.
I still fear actually doing that event now, with the venue where I was planning to do it. Maybe we we’ll have that event when Ukraine wins, it would definitely be a nice victory celebration.
Shift to now. What made you decide it’s time to restart in February this year?
People. Those who stayed, those who came back, and all those “new” people who rallied to support and defend our country.
At the very first event this year people were very emotional. Happy that events are back, happy to see old friends and meet new ones despite the circumstances. Amidst the horrors we have to deal with, these gatherings are a safe haven, where people can turn off reality for a couple of hours.
People need The Big Meet, they need to feel they’re not alone, that they have the whole world’s support.
The next event: When is your next event, where will it be, what organization will you support?
Our next event will take place on Friday, July 7 at NĂM • Modern Vietnamese Cuisine. For this event, we have chosen to support UAnimals, an organization that has been tirelessly dedicated to rescuing animals from combat zones and temporarily-occupied territories.
We firmly believe in the principle that “the protection of the weak is the duty of the strong” and with UAnimals’ unwavering commitment to animal welfare amidst challenging circumstances, we are honored to stand beside them and lend our support.
How can people find more info? Do you have a website? Where can the Big Meet be found on social media?
Our community is incredibly supportive, and the word of mouth plays a significant role in spreading the news about our gatherings. The people who attend our events become our ambassadors, sharing their experiences with others and generating excitement for future events.
What if an organization needs help or a business wants to provide help?
The Big Meet is always on the lookout for remarkable partners to join our upcoming events. We pride ourselves on collaborating with a diverse range of businesses, both big and small, from various industries. In the past, we have worked alongside medical centers, gyms, alcohol partners, and many others.
As for supporting charities, listening to our audience and considering people’s suggestions is an essential part of our approach. We value the input and ideas of our community of where to donate money and strive to incorporate their feedback into our decision-making process.
If an organization or business is interested in joining us in our mission to make a positive impact, we welcome the opportunity to explore potential collaborations.
Co-owner and Event Organizer at The Big Meet, Olga Kearley
Do you have an ongoing connection to follow up on how money you donate gets used by beneficiaries?
Yes, we understand the importance of trust and want to ensure that the funds we contribute have a meaningful impact. We carefully select charities and organizations and make an effort to personally know the teams behind these organizations. After each donation we make, we share a record of the bank transfer confirmations as proof of our contribution.
As an example, during one of our recent events, we purchased a tablet and memory cards for aerial reconnaissance. Weeks later, we received a photo and a heartfelt thank-you message from the individuals who were on the front lines, utilizing the equipment we provided.
Such feedback and updates allow us to see the tangible impact of our contributions and provide reassurance to our guests that their support is making a difference.
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