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Unbreakable Defenses: Lessons from Ukraine on Building Business Resilience During Wartime

Crisis & Resilience

I. Introduction

Amidst the backdrop of war, the resurgence of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Ukraine stands as a testament to its indomitable spirit and promise. Despite enduring profound socio-economic disruptions due to the conflict, including a staggering $150 billion loss to its GDP, a heartening narrative unfolds. Recent data from the National Bank of Ukraine reveals a surge in FDI by 629 USD Million in the second quarter of 2023 — a beacon of investor confidence shining through the war's gloom. Such a turnaround, especially following the bleak prognosis of UNCTAD's World Investment Report in 2022, underscores the resilience and latent potential of Ukraine's business environment.

This economic revitalization, while promising, brings to the fore a pressing concern: the undeniable importance of resilience, crisis, and emergency preparedness for businesses operating within these borders. While the current scenario paints a picture of opportunities in sectors like IT, e-commerce, renewable energy, agriculture, and infrastructure, it's imperative to understand that navigating the intricacies of war necessitates robust strategies of resilience and readiness. In essence, in a landscape marked by dichotomies — challenges and opportunities, downturns and recoveries — preparedness isn't just a strategic advantage; it's a lifeline.

Our exploration is thus anchored in this very theme. Delving deep into the role of business resilience and crisis readiness in the wartime milieu of Ukraine, this article seeks to provide businesses with insights and pragmatic strategies. Through detailed case studies, we highlight the significance of fortifying resilience in volatile contexts, rendering this a crucial read for businesses already operating in Ukraine or those on the cusp of making that decision.


II. The Impact of War on Businesses: Statistics and Facts

The Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Agriculture of Ukraine forecasted a staggering loss in 2022, with the GDP decreasing by a third, totaling around $150 billion. This hit was evident across sectors, especially in areas such as agriculture and trade.

A significant challenge was the escalated workforce migration. The Ukrainian State Statistics Service showcased a 25% uptick in 2022, amounting to 3.5 million individuals, primarily moving to EU nations like Poland and Germany. Consequently, labor force participation rates saw a decline from 62% in 2021 to 55% in 2022. Military recruitment also surged, as noted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, with a 50% increase in 2022. This translated to half a million new recruits, bolstered by an additional 300,000 volunteers. As a result, defense spending doubled from 5% of the GDP in 2021 to 10% in 2022. The Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce reported a concerning 40% rise in business closures in 2022, equating to nearly 200,000 companies. Disruptions in supply chains, heightened operational costs, and other challenges were primary drivers for this uptick.

Adding a silver lining to these challenges, recent data from the National Bank of Ukraine spotlighted a surge in FDI by 629 USD Million in Q2 2023, signaling burgeoning investor confidence amidst the adversities of war.

These figures, both grim and promising, underscore the imperative for resilience and effective preparedness in the face of daunting economic challenges.


III. Strategies to Improve Business Resilience

Business resilience, emphasizing rapid adaptation and ensuring uninterrupted operations, is paramount, especially in tumultuous environments like post-conflict Ukraine. Coupled with crisis readiness—which encompasses risk assessment, scenario planning, and effective communication—resilience becomes an integral marker of a company's ability to weather adversity and actively participate in the nation's reconstruction.

Against the backdrop of war and the consequential challenges presented by the Ukrainian situation, building resilience isn't just about weathering the storm but being adaptable and prepared for continuous change. Here are key strategies that businesses should focus on:

  1. Developing a Robust and Flexible Business Model: An agile business model can pivot according to changing circumstances. Businesses should explore diversification, whether in terms of products, services or markets to manage risks and seize opportunities.
  2. Investing in Technology and Infrastructure: As demonstrated by the major players in logistics and postal services, Nova Poshta and Ukrposhta, utilizing digital technologies can help maintain operations even during wartime. Upgrades in infrastructure can provide for continuity in operations and service delivery despite external disruptions.
  3. Enhancing Supply Chain Resilience: With supply chains severely disrupted by war, companies must build stronger, more resilient supply chains. Diversifying suppliers, holding safety stock, and investing in supply chain visibility tools are some of the measures companies can take.
  4. Building Strong Relationships with Local Communities and Stakeholders: Building trust and relationships with local communities can greatly contribute to business resilience. Companies like DTEK have shown how engaging in social responsibility initiatives can be a source of strength.
  5. Importance of Insurance and Risk Management: With heightened risks during war, comprehensive risk management and suitable insurance coverage can play a crucial role in mitigating financial losses.
  6. Developing a Culture of Resilience: A resilient culture is one that embraces learning, collaboration, diversity, and empowerment. It fosters trust, accountability, and innovation among employees and stakeholders, enabling organizations to anticipate and respond to change, as well as recover and grow from disruptions.
  7. Leveraging Data and Analytics for Decision Making: Data and analytics can help organizations gain insights into their risks, opportunities, and performance. They can enhance transparency, communication, and stakeholder engagement, thereby helping organizations make informed and timely decisions, as well as monitor and measure the outcomes of their actions.

IV. Strategies for Crisis Management

Effective crisis management is more than mere incident management or crisis communication it necessitates robust leadership, a culture of resilience, teamwork, and a holistic approach spanning the entire crisis lifecycle. Crucial to crisis management are four dimensions: readiness, response, recovery, and resilience.

  1. Readiness: Developing crisis preparedness capabilities, such as risk assessment, scenario planning, crisis governance, communication, and training, are crucial to anticipate potential crises and mitigate their impacts.
  2. Response: When a crisis hits, the immediate actions involve deploying experienced professionals, making tough decisions, inspiring confidence, and guiding the team through the crisis.
  3. Recovery: This phase involves assessing the effectiveness of response and recovery efforts, and laying out long-term recovery strategies such as claims management, compliance, and managing stakeholder relations.
  4. Resilience: Learning from the crisis is key to strengthening the business' ability to withstand future disruptions. It's about continual learning and adaptation.

We can understand these strategies in action through the case studies below:

  • Nova Poshta, a leading express delivery company, showcased readiness and response by leveraging its digital capabilities like online tracking, mobile app, and chatbot to provide timely and accurate information. It diversified its delivery modes using drones, bicycles, and electric vehicles to overcome war-induced roadblocks, while also supporting employees and communities with humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and psychological counseling.
  • Ukrposhta, the national postal operator, demonstrated readiness by adapting its business model to include e-commerce, banking, insurance, and pensions. It invested in technology and infrastructure, such as automated sorting machines, GPS trackers, and solar panels. It showed resilience by collaborating with international partners to secure funding and expertise.
  • DTEK, the largest private energy company in Ukraine, enhanced its energy security and resilience by diversifying its energy sources, reducing its dependence on Russian coal and gas. It increased its renewable energy production and implemented energy efficiency measures. Recovery was evident in its social responsibility initiatives, supporting veterans, refugees, and children.
  • PrivatBank demonstrated readiness by implementing a robust cybersecurity system using blockchain technology and biometric identification. Response was manifested in increased digital services like online banking, mobile app, and QR codes. It supported its employees and communities by providing financial aid, medical assistance, and education, displaying recovery strategies.
  • ATB Market ensured product availability and quality by leveraging its local sourcing, logistics, and distribution network. It invested in technology and innovation, such as self-checkout machines, smart shelves, and loyalty programs, showing readiness. The chain also engaged in social responsibility initiatives, supporting farmers, veterans, and children, a recovery strategy.
  • Ukrainian Railways, managed to adapt its business model and strategy to include freight transportation, logistics, engineering, and tourism. It invested in technology and infrastructure, such as modern trains, electric locomotives, and digital platforms, demonstrating readiness. Collaboration with international partners like the European Union and the World Bank to secure funding and expertise exhibited resilience.

In general terms, these companies focused on digital transformation, diversification, investment in technology, local community engagement, and collaboration with international partners. Their approaches are tailored to their specific contexts, underscoring the importance of context-specific strategies for resilience and crisis management. Implementing such strategies allows businesses not only to survive but also to thrive amid crises, thereby contributing to Ukraine's recovery and enhancing their resilience and readiness for future disruptions.


V. Opportunities and Challenges for Businesses in Post-War Ukraine

Ukraine's current business environment is a blend of challenges and prospects. While the war-induced volatility poses risks, it also reveals opportunities in sectors like IT, e-commerce, renewable energy, agriculture, and infrastructure. These sectors promise growth, are accessible, and serve a robust domestic and international demand.

Yet, there are hurdles: security concerns, political shifts, legal ambiguities, corruption, damaged infrastructure, supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and currency devaluation threaten operational efficiency and profitability. There's also the danger of lasting reputational harm.

To counteract these challenges and foster rebuilding, the Ukrainian government has introduced several incentives. These encompass tax relief, subsidies, grants, loans, and public-private partnership opportunities. Notably, businesses aiding reconstruction can avail benefits such as a decade-long corporate income tax waiver, value-added tax exemptions for specific goods/services, and reduced employee social security contributions. There's also backing for infrastructure, innovation, energy, and agricultural projects.

Promotion of public-private collaborations offers entities legal safeguards, dispute resolution provisions, and regulatory perks. Trade with the EU has been enhanced by adopting regulations that waive several tariffs, thereby invigorating economic activity.

The Ukrainian government's collaboration with the OECD via the Ukraine Country Programme further manifests its commitment. Comprising 31 policy assessments and capacity-building initiatives, and involving Ukraine in 24 OECD committees, this initiative aims to refine Ukraine's business climate, governance, and competitiveness.

These combined efforts underline Ukraine's dedication to nurturing a conducive environment for businesses keen on participating in the nation's reconstruction.


VI. Conclusion

In the backdrop of Ukraine's wartime and post-war scenarios, businesses face both challenges and significant opportunities. This discourse underscores the paramount importance of business resilience and crisis readiness. It's not just about weathering the storm, but thriving amidst disruptions and rebuilding efforts.

The case studies highlighted exemplify diverse strategies for enhancing business resilience: from adopting flexible business models and advancing technology infrastructure, to strengthening supply chain resilience and fostering robust stakeholder relationships.

Delving into resilience can seem daunting, but tools such as Deloitte's crisis management maturity model guide businesses. This framework assesses capabilities and identifies enhancement areas, spanning attributes like governance, culture, and processes. For businesses starting this journey, crisis simulations stand out as practical tools. They replicate crisis scenarios, helping businesses pinpoint vulnerabilities and refine strategies.

As Ukraine steps into its post-war phase, resilience, crisis readiness, and strategic adaptability become cornerstones. Embracing these principles positions businesses not only to survive but to actively contribute to Ukraine's recovery and future prosperity.


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