Impressions: Being Schooled in Ukraine

March 30
by Lore Wainwright
Without even knowing it, I was back in school.
Here I was thinking that I was the one brought in as “the expert”.  And in the end it was MY brain that became full of facts I’d forgotten or chose to misplace.  An awakening and curiosity inside of me in wonder of what else I don’t fully appreciate or understand.
Typical beautiful architecture.On my recent visit to Ukraine, thanks to a wonderful connection from a friend and former colleague, I was given the opportunity to share my knowledge on the topics of Social Innovation and Social Enterprise.  I first met Kadie Ward, as a fellow instructor at GoodLife fitness.  I always sensed an air of goodness and a bright mind and found the years apart from Kadie and her adventures have become a stage for global impact in economic development, gender equality and social impact.  Inside Kadie, alive and well, I found elements of the feisty cycling instructor motivating others to reach their potential and encouraging others to know that anything is possible.  Kadie now  operates Building Strong Cities, as International Economic Development and Place Branding Strategist and is a Director of PLEDGG – Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance.
The mission is called Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance (PLEDGG), a project initiated by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). FCM has been the national voice of municipal government since 1901. Members include Canada's largest cities (like London), small urban and rural communities, and 20 provincial and territorial municipal associations. Michelle Baldwin, Executive Director of Pillar Nonprofit Network and I were invited to a two-day forum to share our knowledge and experience growing the social innovation sector.  What we discovered is that the Ukrainian Social Enterprise scene is well on its way of taking off.  Where we thought there were only a few dabbling in the field, we were “schooled” to the fact that there are an estimated 700 Social Enterprises in Ukraine. 
And yet.  And yet, the Social Enterprises we met were in awe of the type of institutional support Canadians – specifically Londoners – have in place.  But the real magic happened when they turned to each other, where the discussions (mostly in Ukrainian) were lively and excited.  The 40 or so delegates, knowingly or not, became a community of practice in a matter of a few hours. 
The conference was held in the city of Lviv.  A medieval town that is wrapped in incredible architecture with  many buildings untouched by war. We were astonished by the beauty and warm welcome of local vendors – Note: prices in Ukraine are ridiculously accessible.  The cost of a multi course delicious meal with wine is in the neighborhood of $20 CDN.  Stunning fashion by designers that could fill your suit case.
Our tour guide in Kyiv and Clark Somerville President FCMRight, back to the conference. Participating in the discussions, with the help of wonderful simultaneous translators became quite animated.  We began to make connections with Social Enterprises across the Atlantic in London with these Ukrainian entrepreneurs thanks to technology.  It was a moment of pride on my part delivering messages of some of our most impactful Social Enterprises like My Sister’s Place Micro Enterprise, YOU Café, Pathways Skills Development, London Training Centre and Old East Village Grocery Store.  What a surprise in finding one of our earliest adapters – Textbooks for Change – at the heart of a Ukrainian study.  Likely one of the highlights was presenting For the Love of Laundry as a case study – Melissa Power’s brainchild, and recalling this one we were instrumental in shaping from conception.
Aside from the formal part of our visit, I was left with an unexpected appreciation for the history of Ukraine and why the struggle is real.  Only 3 years ago, 100 civilians were killed in a protest of mysterious circumstances.  The version of truth skewed depending on who tells the story, but horrific non-the-less.  And occurrences like an imposed famine that killed an estimated 7 – 10 million Ukrainians, during the period of 1932-1933 as a means of control from a corrupt and inflated government left me cold. Is it any wonder that trust is one of the strongest currencies while seeing leadership change 17 times between 1917-1920?  In current times, while Soviet symbolism and architecture appear scattered throughout the capital Kyiv, the opinions still appear wide on an independent Ukraine that still seems riddled with corruption.  That the economy was so intricately woven across a former Soviet Union made up of 15 states including Russia is evident in a hurting economy.  Hence the incredible interest in Social Enterprise.  
Like London was in 2008, Ukraine is facing extreme unemployment, topped with over 3 million IDP’s – Individual Displaced People – due to the war, which finds Ukraine defending land full of resources from the Russians. Gender equality was a topic of discussion, and in largely male dominated, with strong traditional displays of women’s treatment, will be an uphill battle.  Mental health, while brushed in discussion, felt tabooed – rewind in Canada about 5 years ago. 
What I learned or was reminded of:
  • Deeply passionate and courageous people exist globally.
  • Ukraine democracy is complex.
  • The definition of Social Enterprise continues to be wide and largely undefined.
  • A community of practice is a great starting point.
  • Social Enterprise is often accidental.
  • Canada is not without it’s own faults, but we are very very fortunate to live in this country.
Outside the Lviv Art GalleryFinding new friends who are deeply concerned about their country and issues exists everywhere.  This became crystal clear.  Ukraine is beautiful.  A hidden gem in the global scene, and somewhat vacant as a tourist destination, this beautiful, culturally rich country longs to be noticed.  I felt like it was where Iceland was about 10 years ago as a tourist destination.  I can only hope these few words would encourage others to visit. 
As for the Social Enterprise scene, I am confident that Ukraine will be a natural hub for social impact through business practices.  Because those who I met understand the gaps in their own society in a very intimate way – in a way that Canadians may never know.  And when you’ve lived through the fire, your own passion is ignited even more.  Happy to be along for your journey.
Read about Michelle's experience in Ukraine here.