Following the announcement of an upcoming business forum on the "Rapid Recovery of Ukraine", Chronicle.lu had the opportunity to speak with Evgenia Paliy, CEO and co-founder of Ukraine-Luxembourg Business Club asbl (ULBC), to learn more about the goals of this event.
This business forum, organised by the ULBC and its partners, will take place at Neumünster Abbey in Luxembourg-Grund on Tuesday 31 January 2023, from 09:00 to 17:30. It will be followed by a charity gala dinner at the Cercle Cité in Luxembourg-Ville.
ULBC's biggest event
As Evgenia explained to Chronicle.lu, the Luxembourg-Ukraine Business Forum on the topic of "Rapid Recovery of Ukraine" is the ULBC's "biggest ever initiative". Since its creation in 2017, ULBC has been "building up [its] presence and become a tool for increased connection between the Ukrainian and Luxembourg business communities". Evgenia added that ULBC organises both formal and informal events, "creating a business platform for sharing knowledge and experience", as well as business networking.
Since the war started in Ukraine on 24 February 2022, ULBC has changed its focus, turning its attention to charity events to support refugees in Luxembourg, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups in Ukraine. The organisation has been working to find employment for Ukrainian refugees in Luxembourg, with the support of the local business community. As the war continued, ULBC went on to organise events aimed at helping "Luxembourg businesses to understand opportunities for partnerships with Ukraine's companies and help them during wartime", added Evgenia.
ULBC also considered ways of being able to "contribute to the overall process of reconstruction" in Ukraine. "We realised that Luxembourg has some special characteristics that seemed relevant," explained Evgenia. "First, if an investor wants to participate in the reconstruction and recovery of Ukraine, they will often do so through a fund, most likely a Luxembourg fund. Second, Ukraine's recovery will require leading involvement of the public sector and international financial institutions and development banks to make it feasible for investors to enter, both in terms of rebuilding basic infrastructure, and supporting the reform process that Ukraine has committed to as part of EU accession - and many of those institutions [and] leading foreign investors are headquartered in Luxembourg."
"It is important to have as wide an investor base as possible, and to try to find ways to make investing in Ukraine safe for as many types of investors as possible," continued Evgenia. "We think that Luxembourg is an ideal place to do this, because of the local expertise in structuring innovative products, and the presence of the European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund". She added that Luxembourg has been "a very strong supporter of Ukraine from a policy perspective", as well as one of the most pro-EU countries within the European Union (EU). "And so we thought that Ukrainian ministers and political and business leaders would be welcomed here by the government and Luxembourg's business community". Indeed, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel is the patron of the event, which also receives support from the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce.
When asked about the timing of this event, with the end of the war possibly still a long way off, Evgenia stated: "I would say that we are certainly not too early, and in some sense maybe already late". She recalled how eastern Ukraine "suffered terrible damage in the first months of the war", all of which "requires reconstruction, and in some cases new construction", adding that the repair of damaged civilian infrastructure "cannot be left until the war ends". Evgenia also noted the pressure on western Ukraine which is "absorbing millions of people from other parts of Ukraine that are occupied or closer to the fighting", and thus requires support.
Opportunity for investors
However, Evgenia acknowledged that "only the bravest private investors will go into Ukraine before the conflict is resolved, or at least before some parts of the country have become safe", which is why the business forum is mainly targeting "post-war investment, or investment in some parts of the country if they are safe before other parts". Whilst it is not certain when this will be the case, Evgenia believed Ukraine could offer investors "an opportunity to be a part of an incredible transformation and modernisation that has not been seen in generations." She added that "every investor considers the investment climate - the safety and the rule of law in the country of investment. Ukraine needs to guarantee the changes and reforms, safe investment market in the legal perspective and to discuss this we do not need to wait the Victory Day." She recognised that stakeholders will not "get on the same page" overnight; similarly, it will take time for Ukraine to implement such reforms. On the latter, she noted: "It is really essential that post-war Ukraine is a huge success story, economically and socially. We are at a moment in history when it matters to show that the European or Western economic and social model really works, and that this is the path to prosperity and stability. Ukraine's economic future is strategic for this and will have global consequences."
In terms of whether this business forum would lead to other such events in future, Evgenia noted: "We don't think that this event is going provide all the solutions. The forum is expected to identify a lot of opportunities, and identify a lot of problems, and create momentum to work on those things. We definitely expect that there will be further events, building on the connections that will be created in Luxembourg. Indeed, we want key stakeholders to commit to ongoing work, and to reconvene later this year after the summer."
Elaborating on support for this event, Evgenia noted that the event partners (including ArcelorMittal, the European Investment Bank and Clearstream) have been contributed in various ways: by financing the event, providing support-in-kind and/or proactively identifying speakers and guests. "Our headline sponsors are really fantastic. They are sponsoring because they really believe in the initiative and see the logic of the goal and the problem, so they think creatively about how to help and who to involve, and of course they are providing the financial support that is needed to host the event," she said.
For Luxembourg companies which are more interested in supporting Ukraine through humanitarian aid, the mayors of various Ukrainian cities will be present at the business forum to present projects in need of direct support.
The charity gala dinner, which will complement and conclude the business forum, will raise funds for the Olena Zelenska Foundation, which, according to Evgenia, "works to restore the human capital of Ukraine by focussing on education, healthcare and humanitarian needs during and after the war." The fundraising goal is to reach €100,000. The ULBC CEO elaborated: "Whereas the conference is about the future, the gala is about helping now." She added that the event is performance-based and features renowned artists from Luxembourg and Ukraine, including a vocalist of the National Opera of Ukraine who is now a refugee in the Grand Duchy. The charity dinner is also an opportunity for attendees to "network with corporates management, representatives of the government and media, sponsors and partners."
Evgenia concluded, on behalf of ULBC: "We think this will be a wonderful opportunity for the Luxembourg business community to display its ongoing solidarity with Ukraine as it enters the second year of its war of resistance, and to show that fears of war fatigue in Europe are not only unfounded, but that belief in Ukraine is stronger than ever."
Further details (including free registration) about the upcoming Luxembourg-Ukraine Business Forum are available via Eventbrite. Tickets for the charity gala dinner cost €500 (€350 for ULBC members); payment should be made to the ULBC bank account IBAN LU95 0019 5155 2875 5000.