Blinded by headlines from Ukraine about fighting there and the resulting humanitarian crisis, we lose sight of our vision for Ukraine’s future. A new and better era is possible in Ukraine, and we should work with Ukraine immediately to shape it.
The United States months ago pledged $50 million to help Ukraine achieve reforms and stability. Economic reform is critical, as is reduced reliance on imported Russian natural gas. To use U.S. aid funds effectively toward these objectives, we might look to the Marshall Plan, which led to outstanding economic healing in Europe after World War II.
An important portion of the Marshall Plan, and an approach that would perform well today in Ukraine, involved bringing European businesspeople on study tours to the United States to see firsthand how a thriving economy operates. Their task was to observe American management and technology, picking up breakthrough ideas to implement at home. The goal: to get European industry and its workforce humming. European industry went from shambles to strength.
Not only does Ukraine need to revive after its current crisis, but it also is still navigating the transition from communism to free enterprise and democracy. Corruption cripples entrepreneurs. A Marshall Plan-style study tour approach could tackle all three problems.
In fact, there already has been success in Ukraine with such educational programs, modeled after the study tours of the Marshall Plan. These programs have substantially improved the businesses of Ukrainians fortunate enough to take part. By visiting American businesses and meeting American businesspeople, Ukrainians absorb valuable ideas that build their companies and thus the national economy. They learn free-enterprise business principles, practices and ethics, enabling them to compete long term with each other and with the rest of the world. They extricate themselves from the corruption of their business environment, which drags down the average Ukrainian businessperson and makes Ukraine an unattractive place for American firms to operate.
Many American enterprises have welcomed these study tours generously and cheerfully, eager to play a role in helping Ukrainians modernize their businesses and to foster free enterprise and economic health in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s situation cries for more of these programs, especially in areas that will help the country grow stronger and take care of itself. For example, Ukraine sits on incredibly rich soil and needs to modernize its agricultural practices to make farming more productive. With higher productivity, Ukraine can better feed its own population and increase exports. Ukraine’s factories and apartment buildings waste tremendous amounts of energy, which can be avoided with implementation of energy-saving construction and renovation techniques. This would reduce reliance on foreign energy sources as well as help the environment.
Marshall Plan-style study tours can foster economic reforms and stabilization sustainably and in a nonpartisan way that works for everybody in Ukraine, east and west, regardless of language and ethnic heritage.
Most Ukrainians simply want to live comfortably, in peace, and to take pride in their work. Study tours modeled after those proven to yield results during the Marshall Plan era are a constructive, cost-effective way to help Ukraine’s citizens build that life for themselves.
Jan Sherbin is a trustee of the Cincinnati-based nonprofit Center for Economic Initiatives, founded with guidance from James Silberman, originator of the Marshall Plan’s post-World War II Study Tour Program. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.