In Ukraine, Harvard Alumni Seek To Professionalize New Government

UPDATED: April 18, 2014, at 12:51 p.m.

The Harvard Club of Ukraine is collaborating with the alumni organizations of other universities from across the U.S. and Europe to fill vacant positions in the interim Ukrainian government with Western-educated professionals.

The effort, which was announced in a joint statement to the Ukrainian Prime Minister and Cabinet that was released at the beginning of March, has gained support from 20 alumni and professional organizations within Ukraine, comprising over 1,500 members in total, according to a website established to allow government officials to solicit applications for vacancies.

According to Vasyl Myroshnychenko, who heads the London School of Economics Alumni Group in Ukraine, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Ministry of Education and Science, and even the Secret Service of Ukraine (SBU), the main government security agency, among others, have already posted openings through the site.

After then-President of Ukraine Viktor F. Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia, a wave of civil unrest originating in Maidan, the central square of Kiev, the nation’s capital, resulted in Yanukovych’s removal from office and the creation of a new government under interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

On the day that Yatsenyuk’s cabinet of ministers was formed, Nataliya Bugayova, a 2012 graduate of the Kennedy School of Government who now serves as  both an advisor and chief of staff to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, contacted the chairman of the Harvard Club of Ukraine proposing the initiative.

“I told him that we need to come out strong and say that we’re ready to help pro-bono or full-time, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “If the government wouldn’t become professionalized now, than the window of opportunity will close and in a couple of years the same problems will remain. Our initiative is a continuation of Maidan, but in a different realm. It is a movement from the streets to the government.”

With widespread corruption and stagnation problems within the Ukrainian government before the revolution, Bugayova said that the progressive voice for social and political reforms was coming from the edges of the public sphere—that Western-educated individuals would more often hold management positions in business, non-governmental work, and the media than in the government.

Nevertheless, that voice was strong in pushing change in a variety of spheres across Ukraine, Bugayova said.

“The fact that we had many people studying in the United States and Europe and then coming back [to the Ukraine] was partly a reason for why Maidan happened,” she said. “There was this middle-class, educated, and Westernized population that wanted the change.”

As of April 7, the “Professional Government” Initiative, as the effort is called, has received 20 position submissions, according to Danyil Pasko, a 2010 graduate of Harvard Business School’s MBA program and chairman of the Harvard Club of Ukraine. About 250 people from the participating alumni organizations have applied for those vacancies.

While the effort, which Pasko said has been widely publicized on national television and print media, has generally been received positively by government leaders, position requests have been submitted at a fairly slow pace. In addition, he said, they have more often than not been for pro-bono advisors rather than for full-time, high-ranking posts.

“We’re not receiving the real positions, such as vice minister or head of department positions,” he said, noting that many of these positions were filled within a few days of the interim government’s creation. “I’m not sure that this is an indication of real interest. I’m not sure that [the advisor positions] are the positions which are game-changers and are positions in which our applicants can really make an impact.”

Nevertheless, say Bugayova, who advocates for one-third of departments within each Ukrainian ministry to be headed by Western-educated professionals, progress is being made.

“I don’t think there have been nearly enough requests, but the bottom line is that there are some new people coming in,” she said. “It all comes down to the critical mass, and whether there are enough people to change the course of action or whether they will just be absorbed or thrown out by the system.”

While Ukraine’s future may be largely unpredictable, given growing social unrest in Eastern parts of the country in addition to forthcoming presidential elections in May, the big picture is that a mobilizing unity has developed within the foundations of Ukrainian society, said Myroshnychenko.

“Every morning, when I go through Maidan, I see people who come from all over Ukraine bringing flowers to pay tribute to those who died,” he said. “But it’s more than that. People understand that they live in a different country. There’s a huge demand for change, and people have learned to organize themselves.”

—Staff writer Alexander H. Patel can be reached at alex.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on twitter @alexhpatel.

Tags