Brand Ukraine

UKRAINE IMAGE WOES: Why business leaders need to be unofficial ambassadors

Ukraine loses out because of lingering negative perceptions and it is up to businesses to provide an international image boost

UKRAINE IMAGE WOES: Why business leaders need to be unofficial ambassadors
Ukrainians see themselves as Europeans but not everyone in the EU has received the memo
Olga Solovei
Monday, 16 November 2015 22:53

The most famous rule in real estate is the primacy of ‘location, location, location’. How does this apply to Ukraine’s relationship with the rest of Europe? In purely geographical terms, there is no debate – Ukraine is located in the heartlands of Europe. It borders four EU member states and shares common historical ties with most of the nations east of Berlin. Geography is not the only factor of importance for the European business community, and it is crucial for Ukrainians to understand outside perceptions of the country.

My personal experience at a recent real estate investment forum in Warsaw offered a window into business community perceptions of Ukraine. The event focused largely on real estate markets in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and the states of the former Yugoslavia. Despite this close proximity, there was no mention of Ukraine or presentations about the country. Some Ukrainian companies and international companies with offices in Ukraine attended the event, but Ukraine was most definitely not on the agenda. There was no escaping the fact that for these real estate professionals, Ukraine was beyond their range of interest, despite a focus on Central and Eastern Europe. It left me with the impression that Ukraine continues to occupy an undefined grey zone somewhere between Europe and Russia.

 

Negative associations: conflict and corruption

It may be hard for Ukrainians to believe, but I actually met numerous executives who still think Russian soldiers are roaming the streets of Kyiv while war rages across the entire country. These exaggerated perceptions of the localized east Ukraine conflict are the result of sensationalist media coverage and casual audience interest. Others had a more accurate impression of the continuing problems Ukraine faces with endemic corruption. War and corruption are the key themes damaging Ukraine’s international image, and it is not enough for Ukrainian leaders to discuss these issues with their fellow politicians. Instead, Ukrainian real estate community leaders should take it for granted that it is their responsibility to build bridges with European investors and financial institutions. They should see themselves as business ambassadors and make it their business to present potential partners with information about Ukraine’s many real estate success stories. 

Our efforts to persuade partners to attend November’s EEA REAL ESTATE FORUM event in Kyiv provided further evidence of the need to counter Ukraine’s negative image blues. Our key partner only agreed to attend the forum after first attending a business event in Kyiv attended by over 100 major entrepreneurs and developers. This experience convinced me more than ever that it is important for Ukrainians to reach out and actively promote the country. We all need to visit forums, attend conferences and get as involved as possible in the wider real estate community. Few would dispute this, but not everyone is prepared to do so themselves.

 

Ukrainians must become informal ambassadors

Ukraine’s natural position is at the centre of Europe, both geographically and economically. However, to break out of the unnatural isolation that has dogged the development of the country for centuries, we must all be prepared to struggle at every level to convince business community representatives throughout Europe that Ukraine is a fellow European land of great potential.

We should be wary of presenting Ukraine primarily as an agricultural land capable of ‘feeding the world’. The ‘breadbasket’ brand is a positive one, but Ukraine can offer so much more. It can become a major regional player in such key areas as logistics and transit, retail, service provision, tourism, manufacturing, IT and real estate. The biggest country in Europe cannot limit itself to an agricultural image alone. Ukraine boasts an ancient European history and has five cities of over one million people, not to mention the country’s excellent human capital. In theory, Ukraine has it all – including the famed ‘location, location, location’. However, it is up to Ukrainians themselves to spread the word and inform the outside world about the country’s investor appeal.

 

About the author: Olga Solovei is CEO and Co-founder of UREClub, a business community group uniting over 100 real estate professionals

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