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Natalie Jaresko: Ongoing war not an excuse for slowing reform

Natalie Jaresko at the opening of the Aspen Institute Kyiv. 27 May 2016. Photo: Aspen Institute
Natalie Jaresko: Ongoing war not an excuse for slowing reform

On 27 May 2016, the Aspen Institute in Kyiv announced the public launch of its operations. It is planned that the Kyiv branch of this international organization dedicated to fostering value-based leadership and dialogue will follow the model of the Aspen Institute in USA and the global Aspen network. Euromaidan Press talked to Natalie Jaresko, former Ukrainian Minister of Finance, and now chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Aspen Kyiv, to find out more about the Institue’s goals.

EP: What is the most important goal standing before Aspen Institute Kyiv and how will you know whether you are achieving it?

N. Jaresko: The goal of Aspen Institute Kyiv is to become a valuable and respected platform for open dialogue to address regional challenges and to provide a nonpartisan forum for reaching solutions on vital issues. In the short run, it is difficult to measure the immediate impact of having such an institution. However, long-term implications will be significant as we broaden the ranks of leadership in the country and region, and the dialogue on key issues.

EP: How do you expect that Aspen Institute Kyiv will change Ukrainian society, what values do you want to promote?

N. Jaresko: The Aspen Institute Kyiv seeks to build a platform to provide an opportunity for leaders from industry, economic and political sectors, civil society, and the cultural world to work on critical current challenges facing society and businesses. Aspen brings together people with different outlooks in search for common ground and good governance, in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance.

At the opening of Aspen Kyiv. Photo: Aspen Institue
At the opening of Aspen Kyiv. Photo: Aspen Institue

EP: Why does Ukraine experience a shortage of values-based leadership, now and in previous historical periods?

N. Jaresko: I would not say Ukraine has a shortage of values-based leadership.  I think we have centuries of such leaders to look to, and in our current situation, we see such leadership in everything from civil society to government, from technology to military service.

Every leader has a set of values that he shares. The problem starts when you meet people with different values, outlooks and ideologies.

At a certain point, you need a special place to come together and wrestle in a civilized manner with different ideas and values that you probably do not share. Aspen Institute is exactly the place for this kind of conversations – dialogues that combine rational deliberations and persuasions with an eye to the common good.  It is important for all voices to be heard, but for the perspectives to be shared in an open and respectful manner.

EP: What is the role of the Kyiv branch of Aspen Institute within the rest of this global organization? How does having a branch in Ukraine advance Aspen Institute’s global strategy? What new does it bring?

N. Jaresko: Each Institute conducts independently developed and supported programs, conferences, and seminars on region-specific issues, global challenges, and leadership development. On the other hand, Aspen Institute Kyiv will be working closely with the Aspen Institute to develop unique programming but also to stay true to a mission of values-based leadership and enlightened dialogue.

EP: Does Ukraine lack a tradition of parliamentarism? If so, how does this influence Ukrainian society and how can this tradition be developed?

The ongoing war is not an excuse for slowing reform, but instead, an important incentive to move more rapidly to achieve success.
N. Jaresko: Ukraine has 25 years of its own new independent parliamentary experience.  With each day, we gain important experience in this process and make corrections to improve it.  For example, the new legislation on political party financing will help to ensure transparency and responsiveness to civil society.  The parliamentary reform introduced recently by Rada Chairman Andriy Parubiy is an element of addressing improvements that can be made to the protocol, rules and procedures.  This is a learning process and the most important element is to keep learning lessons and applying improvements.

EP: How are the objectives of your organization affected by the fact that Ukraine is a country who is trying to reform itself while at the same defending itself from a Russian invasion? Are you planning to involve Ukraine’s military leadership in your work?

N. Jaresko: Aspen Institute Kyiv is more important than ever as our country works to overcome the legacy of communism, incomplete reforms, and the illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Donbas.  We have challenges to resolve in areas as diverse as education, economy, military, justice and health.  The challenges are great, and Aspen Institute Kyiv can be an important part of the search for solutions at this critical time. The ongoing war is not an excuse for slowing reform, but instead, an important incentive to move more rapidly to achieve success.

EP: Will you be focusing on a specific direction of reform? Can we expect to see special attention paid to economic reform?

N. Jaresko: Aspen Institute Kyiv will continue to expand its leadership programs and begin policy programs in the areas of Justice and Education as a first step.

At the opening of Aspen Kyiv. Photo: Aspen Institute

EP: What geopolitical challenges you think are unique to Ukraine and how can Aspen Institute Kyiv help in solving them? 

N. Jaresko: Ukraine is challenged first and foremost by the illegal annexation of Crimea and the occupation of Donbas.  However, Ukraine shares additional multiple geopolitical challenges with the world.  Everything from the effect of populist politics, to an aging population and its effects on healthcare and budgets, to the fourth industrial revolution — technology, and more.  Aspen Institute Kyiv, with its global Aspen network, will be able to open the doors for Ukraine and Ukrainians to different perspectives and views of those geopolitical challenges.  Aspen Institute Kyiv serves as a platform for exchange of ideas and development of solutions.

EP: There is a significant level of skepticism in Ukraine about Aspen Institute Kyiv becoming a truly productive and effective organization. Many view it as a cushy and prestigious place to retire to for high-level government officials and politicians. What will you do in the first six months of your work to disprove that belief?

N. Jaresko: Aspen Institute Kyiv is a platform for dialogue, not a place for anyone to retire.  We will continue to expand our leadership programs and will begin to develop new programs, as noted, in the areas of Justice and Education as a start.

The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1950 as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies. The organization is dedicated to “fostering enlightened leadership, the appreciation of timeless ideas and values, and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues.” The Kyiv branch’s objectives are to “promotes dialogue and understanding between Ukrainian leaders on key issues and that can contribute substantively to promotion of value-based leadership, establishment of dialogue culture and formulation of public policies.”

The institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C., USA, and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado (its original home) and near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay at the Wye River in Maryland. Apart from Kyiv, Aspen Institutes exist in Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Paris, Lyon, Tokyo,New Delhi, Prague and Bucharest, as well as leadership initiatives in the United States and on the African continent, India, and Central America.

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