by James P. Moore, Jr.
The world will long remember the consequences of one man’s gross miscalculation and unparalleled blunder in ordering the invasion of a neighboring sovereign country. Not only did Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war impact Ukraine, but the world and his people were thrown into unconscionable turmoil.
By contrast, an untested leader emerged who came out of the entertainment industry to become Ukraine’s no-nonsense president. He came to office on a platform of transparency and fighting corruption. He provided a sense of rational direction and sanity. Not only has he been forging with his generals a highly effective military defense of Ukraine with formidable Western support and the resilience of the Ukrainian people, but he has also been anticipating what a postwar recovery for the country might look like. While no one can predict how the war will end, the Kremlin will not be able to declare victory and subjugate 44 million people across a land almost the size of Texas. It will not be able to supplant what the International Monetary Fund rated before the invasion as one of the 50 largest economies in the world.
But in the same way that the defense of Ukraine has been led by a government bolstered through global, public alliances, concrete recovery will only come with a collaboration of business, government, and society. It won’t be easy, but it is doable. The private sector must step forward, be vocal, and show in an era of corporate social responsibility that it stands behind Ukraine for altruistic and profitable purposes. The industry will be wary without peace in place, but it needs to make a start.
While some efforts have been made, far more must be done to launch what will be expensive, all-encompassing, and complex. But the world has had experience in recovery. The Marshall Plan is always raised as an exemplary model of reconstruction. A stark contrast, however, is the approach taken more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which billions of dollars were misspent.
And now, rather than later, a vision for Ukraine’s future must be laid out with two objectives. First is anticipating the cost, the players, and the efforts involved, which, according to the Kyiv School of Economics, is estimated at $750 billion, depending on future destruction. The second is to send a clear message to Russia and the rest of the world that future economic opportunities will come and the Ukraine people will prevail.
To this end, the following steps will need to be executed:
An assessment of past recoveries, particularly from the past two decades, must be taken to avoid missteps. The much-heralded Marshall Plan after World War II was one thing. The wasted billions in the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan were quite another.
A complete listing of potential public and private sources of financial support needs to be targeted. Recently, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager at $10 trillion, spoke about the future to discuss the startup of a reconstruction fund to create the kind of incentives that will allow foreign businesses to invest. That is a start.
While foreign businesses are understandably reluctant to commit to significant investments while the war continues, they can demonstrate their support and interest in the future of doing business in Ukraine, showing solidarity and providing a clarion call of their early commitment.
Ukraine’s most attractive economic feature long before the Russian invasion occurred is its propensity to use technology and innovation to chart its economic future. Zelensky, bunkered down in Kyiv, presented to tech conferences across Europe in a 3D hologram about Ukraine’s commitment to producing a “digital lend-lease” program to develop new technologies in return for financial and technological support. He indicated his country’s willingness to find ways to secure an economy more attuned to the opportunities of free-market principles.
Any reconstruction of Ukraine must address the country’s humanitarian needs, particularly regarding education. According to Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, 900 schools have been damaged and 150 completely destroyed. Yet the future of Ukraine will be set on the country’s ability to educate the next generation of leaders from grade school to university.
From the ashes of an unprovoked war now comes the chance to make history in bringing business, government, and society together to forge a promising future collaboratively for a country and a people worthy of attention and investment.