Bohdan Hawrylyshyn: Ukraine should not miss its second chance to become a technological hub
Bohdan Hawrylyshyn, born in the small Ukrainian village of Koropets 89 years ago, has come a long way. After his family moved to Canada during World War II, Hawrylyshyn went from working as a lumberjack, and then a waiter, to becoming one of the world’s top economists.
From 1960, Hawrylyshyn taught economics-related subjects at the International Institute for Management Development in Geneva, Switzerland until becoming its director in 1968. Over his career he has produced hundreds of scientific papers on management, managerial education, economics and politics.
But he always had Ukraine in his heart. “It’s not just a territory,” Hawrylyshyn said in an interview with the Kyiv Post on Jan. 27. “Whatever I did, I did as a Ukrainian, not only as Hawrylyshyn.”
Bohdan Hawrylyshyn speaks to Ukraine Digital News and The Kyiv Post at his office in Kyiv on Jan. 27. (Photo credit: The Kyiv Post)
He returned to his motherland in 1988 and helped start the International Management Institute, the first business school in Ukraine. The next year, 1989, Hawrylyshyn initiated the establishment of the Vidrodzhennya international charity organization, which was financed by another famous philanthropist and U.S. billionaire, George Soros.
Hawrylyshyn says he has faith in technology, the young generation and transformation without revolution. He thinks the tech industry could play a key role in Ukraine’s future regeneration.
“IT is a relatively new sector,” Hawrylyshyn told the Kyiv Post. “It continues to develop very quickly, and it can play a crucial role in the country’s transformation in the future – hopefully not too long from now.”
The potential here was always fantastic, he said. “The state of Ukraine is terrible, but the potential is great!”
Apple offer declined
According to him, local scientists, researchers, and engineers “missed some chances” to turn the country into a technological hub about 13 years ago, when there were “concrete proposals from (U.S. multinational tech company) Apple Inc.”
“They (Apple) said, look, you have a lot of good mathematicians in the country,” Hawrylyshyn said.
Apple said that if they could supply modern technology and organize a study program for mathematicians, programmers and computer engineers, “Ukraine within three years will be exporting $5 billion worth of programming a year,” Hawrylyshyn said.
“(But) the idea that of creating something that could be a good business” cold not be grasped by the Ukrainian government, he said. “They just said no, no, not interested.”
The reason, Hawrylyshyn explains, is that the people were “so used to working on what the government told them to work on.”
So instead of Ukraine becoming a tech hub, it was India, which now exports about $20 billion worth of tech services a year, Hawrylyshyn said.
This means that Ukraine, with its $2.4 billion earned on outsourcing in 2014, according to IT factbook “The Rise of a Tech Nation,” is now nearly 10 times behind India.
“A transformation of Ukraine is necessary,” Hawrylyshyn goes on.
IT people better leaders?
According to Hawrylyshyn, the recipe for transformation that won’t cause further revolutions is simple – the people in government should be patriotic, competent, and honest. “If we had people in the three branches of government with these three characteristics, we would be a flourishing country,” he said.
“Those from IT have better chances (to be Ukraine’s leaders) than those that are working in other fields,” he said. “Because they’re really up to date, very often they have international experience, and they’re also inclined to keep learning.”
However, Hawrylyshyn places emphasis not only on the IT industry. He said Ukraine is “big enough, to actually have a broad range of economic activities,” especially after the changes in the government.
“(Former Ukrainian President Viktor) Yanukovych and his wonderful colleagues sucked the blood from businesses and enterprises, torn their skin, their profitability,” Hawrylyshyn said. “Now there’s talk in the government that there should be attention to business, and startups in particular.”
This interview was prepared in association with Kyiv Post reporter Denys Krasnikov.