13 July 2024

Resilience in Education and Business during Wartime

“Every day, people wake up with new fears: they are afraid to look out the window or read the news. Ukrainians are a brave nation. Already now we can see how the fear of ordinary people is transformed into strength and prompts them to act.” — this quote by Yulia Stefanyuk, the head of the World Central Kitchen program in Ukraine, very well describes the depth of Ukrainian resilience.

At UCU, we are dedicated to documenting and sharing the diverse experiences of organizations and institutions in Ukraine with the academic community. A notable example is the journey of the UCU Business School community, which has been chronicled and published by Yarka Boychuk and Sophia Opatska, lecturers at the Center for Leadership, through the International Institute for Ethics and Contemporary Issues. The period from February to September 2022 tested us as an institution, presenting challenges and facilitating transformations that impacted all stakeholders: faculty, staff, students, partners, and alumni. This collective experience offers valuable lessons, guiding us as an organization towards mastering stability, risk management, and resilience in both business and education.

The methodology of resilience consists of four elements (Posey, B. Organization resilience):

  • Foresight (anticipate problems)
  • Insight (interpret the situation and respond accordingly)
  • Oversight (assess the action that has been taken)
  • Hindsight (learn from the experience)

According to interview responses, every second company in Ukraine had contingency plans in place before the full-scale invasion of February 2022. At the same time, everyone reported during their interviews in the summer of 2022 that, no matter how good your contingency plan is, it is mentally impossible to truly get prepared for such a thing as war. Some top managers even look back at their way of thinking in February 2022 as naive and not in line with reality.

Did we have a plan?

The team continued to deliver planned educational programs and started to offer some additional (mostly pro bono) services that were of use to our clients. Overall, the UCU Business School reflected the mood that existed in the business community at that time.

In 2022, during the war, I decided to enroll in the MA in HR and Organization Development master’s program at the UCU Business School. All my ‘is it the right time?’ doubts have dispelled after the UCU Business School webinar series at the start of the war: ‘Reality Without Illusion.’ The webinar on ‘Crisis Leadership and Resilience’ with Andrii Rozhdestvenskyi was especially memorable. Then, I realized that we currently need strong leaders who know how to learn in any conditions and companies, cities, and Ukraine will depend on them in future too.

Alina Markina, Senior People Partner in Intellias

Regardless of whether businesses and education had prepared for war or not, everyone had to confront it directly. The way this crisis was interpreted and responded to determined everything at that time. At least 75% of interviewed business owners prioritized the well-being of their staff and their families in February 2022.

💬 “We made plans for one day”.

What was happening at the university during this period?

The first task was to take care of students – who were at the campus attending modules, but their families were all over Ukraine.

Around 60 volunteering initiatives appeared in the community of UCU Business School alumni, so the team organized information flow to share about those initiatives so that people could easily reach out for help to each other.

We also received support from international partners: during first 6 months of war 14 professors and experts from the USA, Canada, and Europe volunteered to teach and participate in educational events to support our community of UCU Business school.

In the summer of 2022, many companies began to reassess their strategies and evaluate their relevance to the current business environment. The invasion dramatically altered the context.

Gradually we started to go back to certain longer-term thinking and envisioning. Now we are completely back to our strategic plan.

Business owner from Lviv region reports
Business crisis management in wartime: Insights from Ukraine Sophia Opatska, Winni Johansen, Adam Gordon

The recovery and post-war transformation of Ukraine will be a complex and lasting process. It will depend on our ability to retain, engage, and shape human capital.

○ Any sustainable social, political, and economic development of a nation depends on a skilled and well-educated workforce.

○ Any modernization and advancement of a society depends on its ability to train professionals in its higher education institutions.

Key slogan of UCU: the “University that Serves” became of even more vital importance.

We always said that we would like our students to not only become better professionals, but to grow as people who live in the community, who respect human dignity, and who believe in our country. This slogan right now has a greater meaning in Ukraine as every Ukrainian is serving.

The focus of attention of UCU and UCU Business School in February-September 2022:

  • educational process – involvement of all students and faculty s, provision of offline and online learning
  • humanitarian aid – over fist 7 months 4.4 million dollars were collected by UCU for humanitarian aid.
  • work on rethinking the future of Ukraine to grow it into a modern state with human beings in the centre.

We’re trying to become more flexible and consider opportunities you would ignore in the past. We just really have to expand our mind.

The UCU Business School, after the first 10 months working in wartime, made their own following conclusions:

💬 Making a decision, even if it is not perfect, is more important than not making it.

💬 Our decisions, actions, and outcomes depend more than ever before on the context of each day, including sirens, energy disruptions, shellings, etc.

💬 It’s not enough that our institution is resilient and flexible–we also have to communicate that to our students, clients, and other stakeholders.

💬 The main mood that we have to transfer to our students and clients is not that we are perfect in everything, but that we want them to become better along with us in these hard times for our country.

💬 We must be personal and flexible in all our practices, also using the global opportunities that appear now either for our students or faculty.

💬 We must encourage research in different aspects of business, management, and entrepreneurship in Ukraine, following it with the results and conclusions being presented on international knowledge platforms.

💬 Trend watching and proactive thinking are two habits which companies would like to become better developed among their employees.

We also analyzed what had been adopted/developed within the organizations before the war that helped them to survive and overcome the most critical crisis challenges:

◀︎ Building trust and keeping constant contact with your customers under normal conditions allows you to maintain relationships even in wartime.

◀︎ Active participation in business communities in peacetime provided businesses with quick connection and support, both in rescuing employees and their families from war zones and the evacuation of warehouses or equipment to safer areas.

◀︎ Personal leadership and a well-coordinated team, where trust reigns, is the key to efficiency in wartime, when the speed of decision-making and action saves lives.

We put more trust in people. And in a company, this is the kind of trust that’s built on specific cases, on some understanding of mutual interaction, and not on internal documents or on some formalized structures or prescribed procedures.