Stanford University Launches Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program

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Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) launched the inaugural Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program to an audience of over 200 from the Stanford and local Ukrainian-American community on Oct. 3, 2017. The opening event featured the visiting practitioners - Olexandr Starodubtsev, Oleksandra Matviichuk, Dmytro Romanovych - who were joined by CDDRL’s Visiting Scholar Sviatoslav Vakarchuk in conversation with former ambassador to Russia and Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Michael McFaul.


The Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program provides a unique opportunity to three mid-career professionals from Ukraine to study at Stanford University for the 2017-18 academic year. Sponsored by the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), Tomas Fiala, Sviatoslav Vakarchuk and Astem.Foundation, the Program combines coursework, mentorship, and community engagement to support capacity-building and leadership development for emerging leaders who want to make substantial contributions to Ukraine’s political development. The end goal is for each of the practitioners to return to Ukraine with an implementable project that will support democratic development and institution-building in the country.

In his opening remarks, Francis Fukuyama, the Mosbacher Director of CDDRL, discussed the importance of the program for Ukraine’s continuing struggle for democratic values. In particular he emphasized the need to train individuals to support sustainable reforms. “I do not think that a democratic revolution in a place like Ukraine will exist without cultivating a whole generation of reformers who want a different society,” he stated.

Jaroslawa Johnson, President and CEO of WNISEF explained the importance of the work the Fund has done in the region since the fall of the Soviet Union and independence of Ukraine, and why this program is a logical extension of WNISEF’s work. Johnson emphasized the importance of leadership development and investing in a new generation of leaders in Ukraine and Moldova. She continued to underscore how critical education is to Ukraine’s development, and that she hopes these three emerging leaders will use Stanford resources to support their work, return to Ukraine and contribute to the country’s future.

The Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program received 340 applications in its pilot year, making the selection process highly competitive. Starodubtsev, Matviichuk, and Romanovych were selected for their contributions to Ukraine’s political development, their leadership potential and strong project proposals. They will take coursework, consult with academic mentors and build relationships across campus to test and refine their projects over the course of the academic year.

Starodubtsev is the founder of the electronic public procurement system, ProZorro, which many consider to be the most successful Ukrainian reform since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. During his time at Stanford, he plans to focus on expanding the ProZorro model for global use, and improving his own human resource management skills to advance public administration within the Ukrainian government.

Matviichuk is a human rights defender who created the civil initiative Euromaidan SOS, which responded to calls for help from victims on Maidan. She has continued to work on human rights issues since the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine. Her goal for this year is to harness the remaining energy from the Revolution of Dignity to create a network of volunteers who will work to create sustainable reforms and institutions.

Romanovych, who works at the Reform Delivery Office, discussed his own role in delivering economic reforms since the 2014 revolution. In his role he has been responsible for deregulation reform and improving the business climate in Ukraine, resulting in the abolition of hundreds of Soviet regulations. His goal is to create a roadmap for future reforms, based on the success he has already had.

Vakarchuk summarized the challenges they face, emphasizing Ukraine’s need for a strong state and rule of law to create sustainable democracy and institutions. If Ukraine is able to make progress in these areas and make them work for everyone, the country will see serious improvement in its political development.

Despite focusing on three different areas of reform, the four panelists voiced common goals for Ukraine, the most urgent of which is improving trust in political institutions. Romanovych noted the active mobilization within Ukrainian society, but that there is still a need for strong political will and organization to put this energy into effective reforms. Matviichuk continued by warning against complacency and political apathy. Around the world there has been a strong trend of democratic backsliding. Ukraine is no exception, and cannot ignore these issues in the hope that they will disappear.

Some members of the audience expressed frustration with the current political situation in Ukraine in their questions to the panelists. But despite this pessimism, the young leaders voiced their hope and optimism. When asked about the issue of corruption - one that often seems hopeless - Starodubtsev pointed to his previous successes. Before the implementation of ProZorro, the public procurement system had been symbolic of the corruption that plagued Ukraine. But with Starodubtsev’s unique and innovative idea, he and his team were completely able to rebuild the existing infrastructure, resulting in a transparent system.

For Starodubtsev, this is the attitude that reformers need to take towards all positive political change in Ukraine: “we are the ones that can do reforms, we can deliver results, and we can change the political culture through our work.”

The gravity of their roles in the future of Ukraine’s democracy was clear. As McFaul put it, “Ukraine may be the frontline state in the battle for worldwide democracy. If you fail, other democrats will face more difficulties. Remember with incredible opportunity comes incredible responsibility.”

Vakarchuk was more optimistic, not only about Ukraine’s future, but the program’s impact; “I’m convinced that these people - along with those from future cohorts of this program - will become the ones who will build a Ukraine all of us will be proud of,” he said.

With this introduction to the Stanford community Starodubtsev, Matviichuk and Romanovych have been met with high expectations in regards to their future impact on Ukraine. But this is a challenge they are all prepared, and eager, to meet.

An edited version of this piece originally appeared on the  Atlantic Council's UkraineAlert blog.  It was republished by the  KyivPost