Lovisa visits Ukraine to teach small business skills

Confederation College campus manager Don Lovisa is back home from a five-week mission to the Ukraine to forward business education in that economically struggling country.
The college has had an office in the Ukraine for three years, operating in a partnership between the Canadian and Ukrainian governments called Small Business and Economic Development in Ivano-Frankivsk.
English, economic development, and an advisory and training program at taught at the Ukrainian campus, the latter of which Lovisa taught for three weeks in November.
“We provide training to small business owners, with the intent to teach them how to operate in a Western business style,” he explained.
Since their independence from the Soviet Union in 1992, the Ukraine has gone to a market economy. But Lovisa said the country’s economic problems have resulted not from a lack of business knowledge but the lack of the right skills.
“The importance of the economic training is to enable them to compete in a global market–to develop an economic base and know how to operate in a market economy,” he stressed.
“Their exports are minimal,” Lovisa continued. “For them to gain an economic base, they have to learn how to do business. They can’t survive how it is.”
The harsh reality facing the country was evident to Lovisa immediately upon his arrival in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk on Nov. 6.
“It was really a culture shock . . . it’s like turning the clock back to 50 years ago in Canada,” he remarked.
During his first week there, before he began teaching, Lovisa took an orientation course to learn the ins and outs of not only Ukrainian customs but also the basic facts of living in Ivano-Frankivsk.
“It amazing the things we take for granted like heat, light, and water,” he noted.
“The first apartment I was put in was filthy and had rats–I didn’t stay there long,” he recalled, adding the apartment he ended up in still had no working elevators, and no light or heat in the corridors.
But heat wasn’t a problem inside the apartment, which was located close to a central heating plant that provided heat for the entire neighbourhood.
When it was under the Soviet Union, the city of 300,000 people was a site for military manufacturing. A large factory there that used to employ 20,000 now employs about 300.
Although the unemployment rate may be 60 percent, the one thing that keeps people busy is the “black market” and the barter-trade system, which is a job in itself.
“It’s estimated that 55 percent of the economy is done through barter so a lot of what you see people buying or selling was actually bartered,” said Lovisa.
“The hurvna [Ukraine’s currency] isn’t worth anything,” he continued. “A pensioner receives about 40 hurvna a month, which is worth about $13 U.S., which is not much money to live on.”
He also said homes are being lived in by more than one family, there’s a lack of motor vehicles on the streets, and a large number of unfinished buildings standing.
But the human side of the country kept Lovisa thinking positively.
“I was invited into a lot of people’s homes . . . and learned about their culture,” he enthused. “For example, what they eat is not like Canadian-Ukrainian food.”
After teaching for three weeks, Lovisa got a chance to visit the village of Zhokiv, where his grandmother, Meliena Puszynski, lived before she emigrated to Canada in 1913.
“I actually ran into a lady who was a distant cousin of hers,” he remarked.
He spent his last few days visiting Lviv, one of the country’s largest cities, and got check out some of the grand sculpture and architecture there, most of which Lovisa described as “awesome.”
After getting to see a country still struggling to operate in a market economy, Lovisa was glad to see he could make an impact on those who attended his business course.
“Before we left, we attended a mini-seminar, where we saw the management of a grocery store tell the business owners in attendance how to run a business in this new economy,” he said.
“They were saying exactly what was being taught in the program.”
In July, Confederation College will hand over the operation of the Small Business and Economic Development for Ivano-Frankivsk to the city so it can continue to train small business owners in a Western style.
Confederation College has similar operations in Poland, Cuba, the Caribbean, and Ireland. In fact, Paul Noonan of Fort Frances was in Cuba late last year.