Forget the stereotypes: Ukraine is a country of digital innovation

For many people, Ukraine is the country of Chernobyl, corruption and war. That’s because their understanding of the country is out of date.

One of the few positive outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the dramatic surge in our adoption of technology. Many people who before the pandemic were unfamiliar with or wary of digital solutions are now reliant on them; their reluctance to adopt them overcome by necessity.

As a consequence, bringing people together across geographies and time zones has never been easier. This not only encourages creativity but also enhances a multitude of viewpoints and diversity.

This diversity has in particular been a boon for innovation, leading to new ways of thinking and creative solutions to problems. Business leaders can and should take advantage of this in order to enhance efficiency.

It seems that never before has our working culture been quite so disrupted. Digital nomads, smart cities, smart buildings, remote and hybrid, agile and lean, building back better, a sustainable and resilient future are just some of the trends and buzzwords to have taken a giant leap over the past two years.

And then there’s Ukraine. A country of Chernobyl, corruption and war. At least that’s what the international headlines say.

Is Russia preparing to invade Ukraine? What does Putin want? These kinds of headlines have been all too common in recent weeks.

But Russia has already invaded Ukraine, in 2014 when Russia entered eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula. If anything else happens now, it will be another stage of that war.

War didn’t stop Israel

Modern Ukraine turned 30 last year. And, let’s be honest, these have not been the easiest three decades. But look at Israel, which will turn 74 in May this year. It’s a country that has been in a constant state of war since its founding. And it’s a country that has seen the birth of over 11,000 start-ups, including 70 unicorns, which have attracted investment of more than 65 billion US dollars — all this within the last 10 years.

Similar developments are now taking place in Ukraine. And just like in Israel, in Ukraine technology-focused businesses are working in close partnership with the government to change the country.

There are around 5,000 IT companies and 290,000 skilled developers in Ukraine. There are five unicorns and five more on their way. According to Deloitte in Ukraine, Ukrainian start-ups attracted 1.68 billion US dollars of investment in the first 11 months of 2021.

And Ukrainian tech companies are learning their lessons.

What they have realised is that no one accepts them with open arms and that people know very little about the country. They have continued to try to think about how they can be of service, and what useful things they can do for your customers and partners.

They know and accept their weaknesses and they keep telling the world that their country is changing. All countries have political and economic issues, and it is normal if they are working hard on fixing them.

They are also able to find and highlight their strengths. One of Ukraine’s strengths is fintech. There are more than 150 fintech companies in the country, half of them founded within the last three years.

Changing the narrative

Having a clear and thoughtful narrative about a country takes time and the combined efforts of different sectors. It could take years to create a recognisable brand for the country, or at least for one of its industries.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence, leading Ukrainian companies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine launched the first-ever promo campaign on the BBC network. It was the first time in history that such a large-scale project was produced about Ukraine.

Working together as a team and uniting to reach higher goals might be a challenge and it needs honest and strong engagement from all parties, but it can be achieved. The first Ukrainian National Pavilion at Web Summit, where Ukrainian businesses, public institutions and activists came together at the world’s largest tech conference was a signal that we are serious and influential players in the tech field.

We realise that being well represented at an event that encompasses the entire tech ecosystem is a big step and a great responsibility for Ukraine. But we hope that this will have a positive effect on improving the image of the country as a favourable location for investors and great new projects.

Imagine what Ukraine could do

Back in September 2019, Ukraine launched a Ministry of Digital Transformation with the goal of transforming the country into one of the world’s most user-friendly places with a growing global reputation for digital innovation. Within two years, every fourth Ukrainian has become a user of the ministry’s Diia application, offering both citizens and businesses access to many digital public services.

There are many companies in the US or Europe already working with suppliers or IT providers in Ukraine. But there remains a question as to whether investors have enough interest in the region to really find out about it. A lot of understanding remains based on stereotypes. A lot of opinions about the country are simply out of date.

The Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged everyone to evaluate their options and to increase their agility, resilience and sustainability. If Ukraine has managed to strengthen its value proposition during such a challenging period, imagine what it could do in less demanding times.

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