Danish expat Karen-Marie Kragelund will be running the Kyiv Lions Club for the coming year following her uncontested election in June 2016 as the organization’s new president. She sat down with Business Ukraine magazine to discuss her twin ambitions of embracing the expanding Kyiv Lions Club membership and bolstering its reputation for Scandinavian-style transparency.
Globally speaking, female Lions Club leaders are still something of a novelty – the international organization only began accepting ladies as members in 1987 and welcomed its first female president in 1999 – but Kragelund is actually the second lady to lead the Kyiv Lions Club. She finds herself following the footsteps of her current second-in-command, Marjon Cals, who was the Kyiv Lions Club’s first female president some years ago.
Kragelund is one of many women who contribute to the work of Kyiv Lions Club. She has been an active member for the past six years, serving previously as club secretary. Kragelund says she was originally motivated to join the Kyiv Lions Club by a desire to give something back and a recognition that she could achieve a lot more by joining forces with other likeminded professionals – many of them members of Kyiv’s expatriate community who she already knew and trusted. “As an individual, I realized the kind of impact I could make was limited. By being part of a larger group, I felt we could make a real difference,” she says.
Kyiv’s world-beating Lions Club
Kragelund now finds herself at the helm of what has long been one of Ukraine’s most successful and credible fundraising organizations. Despite the current economic challenges facing the country, the Kyiv Lions Club managed to raise around USD 300,000 over the past twelve months, with funds going to a range of worthy local causes. This impressive sum is by no means exceptional and reflects a consistent fundraising record that places the Kyiv Lions Club among the top 1% of Lions Clubs globally.
This success is down to the strong reputation for trustworthiness the Kyiv Lions Club has built up since its foundation in 2003. The charity industry in Ukraine continues to suffer from a spirit of skepticism rooted in the plethora of suspicious and phony charities to emerge amid the chaos of the early post-Soviet years. To counter these suspicions, the Kyiv Lions Club has always gone to significant lengths to demonstrate how it disposes of the funds raised at club events. Kragelund sees this reputation as a key asset and wants to borrow from her Danish experience to boost the organization’s credibility further. “Denmark is always ranked among the world’s top three nations in anti-corruption and transparency surveys,” she comments. “I want to be able to demonstrate where every single penny goes. Sponsors and supporters should be certain their money will reach worthy causes.”
She also hopes to build on recent recruitment work and engage as many new Lions as possible in activities designed to support vulnerable local communities. With a growing Kyiv Lions Club membership, there are greater opportunities for personal interaction and the social benefits this can bring. “Being able to donate money is important, but donating time is also crucial,” she reflects. “I would like to go back to basics and get more and more members involved in regular Lions Club activities.”
Kyiv lioness in Odesa
Her election as Kyiv Lions Club president has presented Kragelund with something of a logistical headache – in the weeks between putting forward her candidacy and her election, the Dane took on a new executive role with a Danish engineering company based in Ukraine’s Black Sea port city Odesa. She is unfazed by the challenges this presents, and plans to visit the Ukrainian capital each month while managing the day-to-day affairs of Kyiv Lions Club from a distance.
Such commitment would not be possible without a passionate approach to Ukraine’s future and a belief in her ability to make a meaningful contribution to the country’s development. Kragelund says her love affair with the Soviet world dates back to a fascination sparked by watching the 1980 Moscow Olympics on TV as a child. She later spent time in Russia before arriving in Ukraine ten years ago. The Danish expat now routinely refers to Ukraine as ‘home’ and says she remains inspired by the opportunity to help ‘get the country on its feet.’ “So many groups in today’s Ukraine need support,” she reflects. “We are in a position to help and can achieve a lot with relatively little.”
Kyiv Lions Club