Change Is Never Simple Or Linear — You Need To Tap Into Networks And Ecosystems
I still remember the excitement I felt seeing Kyiv, Ukraine for the first time in 2002. I had been living in Eastern Europe for five years by that time and had the privilege of witnessing first-hand how formerly communist countries moved boldly into a new future of peace and prosperity. Still, Kyiv was different somehow, bigger, more raw and bursting with potential.
An often repeated quip at the time was, “Ukraine is like Poland in 1993… and always will be.” Unlike the Visegrad countries of Poland, Czech, Slovakia and Hungary, Ukraine had been an actual Soviet Republic and the degree of institutional and societal rot created greater challenges. Kyiv in 2002 was, in many ways, a cynical place.
Today, no one can deny that a paradigm shift has occurred. No longer seen as a corrupt backwater, Ukraine has inspired the world with its ingenuity, humanity and courage. Its president, Volodomyr Zelensky, is an international hero. Yet the transformation, while still incomplete, didn’t come easily and it has important lessons that we can learn from.
A Material Desire
In the early 2000s, Ukraine felt like a place in limbo. Ravaged by the 1998 ruble crisis and often considered to be a sub-market of Russia, most multinational companies were running their Ukrainian operations from Moscow. The highly publicized murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000 just added to the feeling that the country was stuck in a hopeless limbo.
When I first arrived, there was a palpable sense of political apathy. Many Ukrainians traveled to Europe and, with its neighbor Poland ascending to the EU, were more than aware that they were being left behind. Still, it didn’t seem like anything could be done about the corrupt powers that ruled the country, so why worry about things that didn’t concern you?
That began to change in 2004, when a relatively boring technocratic reformer named Viktor Yushchenko, who was credited with taming hyperinflation as a central banker and helping to improve the economy as Prime Minister, emerged as the opposition candidate for President. Powerful interests opposed his reforms. He was poisoned, leaving his face disfigured. Many expected his candidacy to end…