May 2nd, 2022

Recently, Athena Alliance hosted a Salon on the Ukraine conflict—examining the past and present roots of the conflict, its impact on international businesses, and what each of us can do to create a positive impact. This Salon was hosted by Andrea Bonime-Blanc, an Athena Coach and category steward for ESGT. Andrea invited special guest Natalie Jaresko, former Ministry of Finance for Ukraine, to share her unique perspective.

Natalie’s parents were refugees from World War II. She grew up with enormous gratitude for life in America, with a deep desire to give back. She studied accounting and political science, eventually attending the Kennedy School of Government Planning, where she studied public policy. She started her career with the US State Department and then moved into social impact investing. She eventually grew her own firm until about 2014, when Russia illegally invaded Crimea. That’s when the banking system started to collapse. Natalie left Ukraine in 2016.

Below, read our key takeaways from the event, including the roots of the Ukraine conflict and how international democracies and governments contributed to the current situation on the ground. We’ll share Natalie’s insights on the impact of the Ukraine conflict on the international business community, and what leaders can do today as individuals to make a positive impact. View the full recording of the Salon here.

Roots of the Ukraine conflict and the role of the international community 

How did we get here, to this time of conflict in Ukraine? Natalie offered her analysis.

“One [reason] is that we bought into a philosophy—that globalization, that trade and sharing markets would democratize. And if we traded enough with Russia, with China, with other autocracies, they would become more like us. They would begin to want to live in our rules-based system,” she explained. But, she said, “that just isn’t true….They’ve used our grid to integrate themselves, to take the benefits of capitalism without the benefits and responsibility of democracy. And partly that is our own fault.”

Natalie points out that our lack of systems, governance, and transparency has all led to a global environment that favored oligarch money. Although we know that much of that money is earned illegally, we (the US and other countries) have also benefited from it. There’s now a haziness as to who is financing what. Couple that with their use of social media and their ability to create dissent throughout our society, and mass interference arises.

“But the second big reason [we are] where we are today is because we didn’t take a stand earlier. Putin announced his intentions over a decade ago at the Munich Security Conference,” Natalie explained. “[Putin] said that the worst thing that had happened in the century was the fall of the Soviet Union. He said he despised the liberal world order that we all enjoy and live in. He said he would bring it down.”

Natalie pointed out several things she believes can make a direct impact on the Ukraine conflict. One is sanctions against oligarchs. This must have some effect on Putin’s decision-making – a “very cost-efficient way to have an effect”, as Natalie explained.

Additionally, we all must consider ESG principles. ESG principles must consider where you’re doing business, considering elements like human rights violations and blatant disregard for governance.

The impact on international businesses

What can businesses do to make a statement, to have an influence? They are not selling weapons; they cannot fight with a gun.

Natalie reflects: “I thought back to the South Africa apartheid divestment effort and how strong that was. As a statement on the part of business and on the part of us as consumers and investors, that we don’t want to be part of something that grotesque, that criminal, apartheid, or in this case, what was about to happen in Ukraine.”

Businesses must think about what it means to remain in Russia; what it means to pay taxes and monies to a government to finance war, the raping of women and children, missiles, bombings. Businesses need to evaluate what they feel is acceptable – what they feel is justifiable.

Natalie pointed out that we cannot feign ignorance: “With social media and with satellite pictures, we know everything immediately. So we don’t have an excuse to say, ‘Let’s see what happens in a couple of months.’”

What can we do as individuals?

  • Write to your congressperson in the White House. Urge them for more military support for Ukraine. “Everything is going to be decided in the next month or two,” Natalie pointed out.
  • Call for more financial support for Ukraine. “The amounts that we’re providing are real but they’re not enough, and you either have to go all the way in right now and hope to win, or you have to just say that we’re going to let the bully win, the terrorists win.”
  • Show compassion for refugees. Donate what you can. 40 million people remain in Ukraine – getting supplies into Ukraine is increasingly difficult.
  • Ask companies to be transparent with their involvement in Russia. Consider a boycott. Natalie said she “just signed a petition to the SEC for rules for publicly listed companies to be established that they, at a bare minimum, are transparent about their exposure to Russia. We as investors, we as stakeholders, as shareholders have a right to know.”
  • Learn about Ukraine. “It’s good to know about this region. It seems like it’s far away, but it’s critically important to so much that we do. There’s a certain gas used in semiconductor chips, and 70% of it is [produced] in one facility in Ukraine. So while we thought we had semiconductor supply chain problems through COVID, it’s just become so much worse.”

Athena members gain access to weekly live and on-demand Salons in which we discuss the latest business trends, lessons, and societal events. Not a member of Athena? Learn more about joining our incredible community of top women leaders.

About the Hosts

Andrea Bonime-Blanc, JD/PhD, is Founder/CEO of GEC Risk Advisory, a strategic governance, risk, ESG, ethics and cyber advisor to business, NGOs, and government. A former senior global executive at Bertelsmann, Verint, and PSEG, she serves on several boards and advisory boards (including Crisp, WireX, the Cyber Future Foundation & NACD New Jersey Chapter), is Independent Ethics Advisor to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the recipient of a NACD Directorship 100 Recognition in 2022, an NACD Governance Leadership Fellow, and holds the NACD Carnegie Mellon Cyber Oversight Certificate. She has authored many articles and several books, most recently Gloom to Boom: How Leaders Transform Risk into Resilience and Value (Routledge 2020) and the annual e-book The ESGT Megatrends Manual 2022-2023 (Diplomatic Courier 2022).

Natalie Jaresko served as Minister of Finance for Ukraine from 2014 to 2016. Currently, she sits on the Puerto Rico Oversight Board. Her career has taken her to the intersection of international service, the public sector, and private industry. She has more than 25 years of management, strategy, negotiation, and public policy experience. She began her career working for the US State Department and later worked at the US Embassy in Ukraine in the early ‘90s. She was there to see the transformation that took place across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and since, she’s worked on a range of exciting initiatives for the US government.



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