An American Perspective of Ukrainian Grassroots Civil Society 

This week I was able to take part in the  Civil Society Capacity Development Forum, organized by Isar Ednannia. An extravagant event which brought together hopeful Ukrainians at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium. My small contribution to this larger than life event was sitting on a panel during the first breakout session. The panel attracted about 50-100 people and was on the subject of “An American perception of Working with CSOs in Ukraine.”

I was humbled when I received a request from our main office to sit on this panel along with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, because I would be sitting next to PCVs with nearly 100 years of experience between them. However, I figured that I should take a stab at it and see if my contribution would be worthy. 

Photo by Henry Shymonovych

I was hyped even before the panel began. I saw many people at the event which I already knew. This was evidence that my networking skills are paying dividends. Each way I looked there was a friend or a colleague. Even now I do not believe this is my job. There are not many better feeling than being amongst interesting people and feeling a sense of belonging.

Photo by Henry Shymonovych

Before the panel began a fellow PCV informed that I would be the last to speak. I joked with him that I will just say I agree and we can move onto questions from the audience. But, it turns out my position on the lineup was the perfect set up for the story I wanted to tell.

One by one my colleagues spoke on topics such as sustainability, monitoring and evaluation, strategic planning, and project management. Probably the most interesting of the presentations came directly before mine, and was delivered by David Camacho. David spoke in part about project management. He told a story about how his NGO celebrated birthdays. In specific, a story about how they celebrated his birthday in Odessa. He detailed their flawless execution and made the point that it was a simple example of project management. We are all capable of it and do it each day. We must only apply it to our work life. This flowed right into the story I wanted to tell. A simple example which spoke volumes.

When was asked to speak on the panel I thought of a story between two real estate developer which could get my point across. The names of the main characters were Alex And Sergey. One day these men where approached by two separate investors. The investors told them that if they built a house, they would be paid 5,000 dollars each month for the life of the project and could take home half of the profit. 

Sergey and Alex accepted the jobs and began working on the homes. Alex started by planning and Sergey went right into the work. Three months go by and they are both approached by another investor. This investor says that he will give them the same deal to build his house, but will offer 10,000 dollars a month. Alex didn’t take the deal. But, Sergey jumped at the opportunity to make more money. He finished his current project very quick and did not take a profit.

3 more months go by and Alex began to lay the foundation of the house. Meanwhile Sergey is sped through his project like a NASCAR race. Again, Sergey is offered to build different home, but this time for 15,000 dollars a month. And again, he did not produce a quality product and did not taking a profit on his last job.

Finally after 6 months, Alex began to build the structure of his home. Over three months he took his time putting in the proper plumbing and electrical outlets which mads the home functional. Meanwhile, Sergey is asked for a 4th time to take a job. This time he is offered 20,000 dollars and 50 percent profits if he builds a home at the investors site in 3 months. Sergey rushed through his last job and did not create a quality project leading to no profits at the time of sale. 

After one year Alex built 1 home and Sergey built 4. Alex made 60,000 dollars and Sergey has made 150,000 dollars. However, Sergey was not able to sell any of the 4 homes for profit. And, Alex sold his product for 1,000,000 dollars profit. Which means in the end he also took home 500,000 dollars of the profits.

Not only did Alex end up with more money, but his products had a quality brand name. Everyone in the market was aware that they must go to Alex if they wanted something done right. He had built a brand of excellence. I concluded by saying that many CSOs in Ukraine have a “Sergey” mentally. Successful CSOs are consistent. They take the time to do the job right and understand the value of a quality brand. 

After the panel was over one of the panelist congratulated me and showed me the sheet of paper they had to use to follow my story. We had a laugh, but in all honesty, I am glad it challenged people. I hope it challenged to adopt the “Alex” state of mind. 

*These are the thoughts of Richard J. Roman and are not those of the Peace Corps or it’s affiliates. 

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