KYIV -- I was born into a Ukrainian family and my father always dreamed I would do something good for this country. My first visit to Ukraine was in 1993 when the country still looked extremely Soviet. Now I see a completely different generation here. They are more interested in personal development and integration to the global world.
During the 25 years of independence, Ukraine has been on the crossroads in political and economic development. Through the painful post-Soviet years, we observed one government after another fumble and fail to implement the reforms necessary for significant improvements. Although country leaders quickly learned the language of democratic process and market economy, they did not understand the values that underlie each.
Now, with the war in the East, the country need reforms more than ever, but they can’t be done without support from Europe and the US. Over the time, Ukraine received substantial economic assistance focusing on macro level problems. However, micro economic problems remained unsolved. Aside from financial and military assistance, Ukraine needs more Western-educated youth to lead in implementing vital forms.
The problem in Ukraine is the lack of attention to educational programs, which could benefit the locals. Some of the main initiatives stopped working in the country despite the huge demand for international professionals. This happened to US-funded Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program, which provided young people with scholarships to study business in the US.
Having worked in Ukraine for over 23 years, first as an attorney and more recently as the President of the WNISEF, I became convinced that educating and training the next generation of business and government leaders is a necessary condition for transforming Ukraine’s governments and economy, thereby assuring the continuing independence of the country. As a $150-million regional fund, WNISEF works on supporting local businesses, and investing into talented youth to receive the education, which would benefit their country.
Scholarships for business education in west
Since 2015, Western NIS Enterprise Fund, supported by USAID, has used proceeds from 22 years of investments in Ukraine and Moldova for technical assistance. We launched the SEED GRANT initiative, which is our scholarship program for Ukrainian and Moldovan students to acquire the necessary leadership skills in MBA, MPA and LLM studies. They get to study at the “top 50” universities in the world, on the condition that these students return and work to transform their respective countries.
In 2018, we will have a total of forty students from Ukraine and Moldova, who have received the best business education abroad. Having returned to their home countries, they can join the government sector as well as launch successful business ventures locally. More importantly, they can address the micro economic issues which were ignored all the previous years.
Many people in Ukraine are pessimistic about the country’s future. However, I realize how dramatically Ukraine has changed within the past 23 years. The change might be slow, far slower than Ukrainians would like it to be. But our effort and perseverance should guarantee they are irreversible.
The case of the SEED GRANT Program shows how Western partners can help Ukraine in probably the most sustainable way, which is through education. With young people learning not only business knowledge, but Western values, they can bring those standards home and be the force behind important democratic and economic processes in Ukraine. We may not see the results as quickly as we want, but they will have the lasting effects on the country and the entire region.
Jaroslawa Z. Johnson is President and Chief Executive Officer of Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF) and divides her time between Chicago and Kyiv.