Olexander Tsipko, coordinator of the initiative “Mayors for Economic Growth” in Ukraine together with members of his team - experts Pavel Kasyanov and Natalia Unuchko, told about the implementation of the project in Ukraine for 2 years, the peculiarities of working with local communities, the main achievements of the team and pleasant unexpected surprises during their work.
- What do you think makes your country a special case when it comes to this project? What is special about the project for Ukraine?
Olexander: I would not single out Ukraine among the countries of the Eastern Partnership, but rather group Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, as these countries have association agreements with the EU, while Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan do not have such agreements. According to my observations, this tangibly unites in approaches to local economic development, a certain vector is highlighted due to the integration aspirations of the country, and it determines the policy of local, regional and economic development. The difference of Ukraine from others is its size, distance, number of population, number of communities. Providing support to projects in Ukraine requires more effort, more resources. I would also like to note the high interest of young, dynamic employees of city halls, although there is a lot to work on. And this is a deep and large amount of work, because it is extremely necessary to develop the personnel capacity of local government officials.
Natalya: For the communities of Ukraine, the usefulness of this particular project is in its focus. This is the first project that pays attention to local economic development and teaches the community to think about a short-term period of 2 years. Previously, all communities had planned development strategies for 5-10 years. Now they are learning to pay attention to local resources, the obvious ones that are “underfoot,” to find something that could give a tangible result in a short period.
Pavlo: Another feature of the project in Ukraine is the initiative of the communities. Every month, on average, 2-3 communities join the project consciously, without any administrative pressure or orders. And the second point is that Ukraine has a fairly high level of readiness and perception of the Initiative, apparently because there is a certain motivational basis created by other projects and donor programs.
- What are your main achievements as team of the Mayors for Economic Growth Initiative in Ukraine during this period?
Olexander: First of all, I would like to tell you about the number of signatories, today 127 Ukrainian communities have joined the “Mayors for Economic Growth” Initiative, and on average 2-3 new communities join each month. Together, signatories from Ukraine make up almost half of all Initiative participants. Secondly - we support the high enthusiasm of the communities, we maintain constant contacts with them - this contributes to high activity. Of course, everyone cannot be equally active, but communication with the mayors and their teams is extremely important. Of course, we use all modern communication technologies that allow us to communicate and deepen cooperation and at the same time save resources.
Personal touch is extremely important in establishing contacts with community representatives and developing good working relationships. This is facilitated by regular project trainings - over the past year more than 100 representatives of the mayors' offices have been trained, and trainings are also scheduled for this year. For two years we have become real colleagues. When meeting with communities, we provide custom advice for a particular community. We have discovered a lot of remote and small, but active and motivated communities that have made good local economic development plans.
Pavlo: At the first stage of the Initiative, we actively provided educational services, and the participants established contacts and acquaintances. The main product of this period is the Local Economic Development Plan. Plans received from participants during the first wave of innings have already been evaluated and not only at the level of Ukraine, but also from World Bank experts. Approval of the plan is the key to getting full support and the services from the project.
Olexander: 17 communities were recommended to adjust the plans and present them at this specific time. We have already received updated Plans from them taking into account the comments and together we are preparing them for submission to the World Bank. The plan should be consistent with the structure and methodology that was developed by the “Mayors for Economic Growth” Initiative. Plans should be realistic, biennial, based on economic analysis and explain the sources of funding. Sometimes the plans are initially ambitious, but if there are no resources for this, we suggest communities to start with something smaller. The local government should be responsible for its plans and their implementation to the public, so we recommend publishing the plans and would like the residents of the communities to pay attention to whether the authorities fulfill their plans.
Pavlo: In fact, the first wave of signatories who receive an effective evaluation, have already begun to implement their plans from January 1, 2019. Every six months they will submit an interim report, that is, in the summer we will already have the first success or failure stories from the regions for analysis.
Natalya: The process is very lively and new. Previously, there was no such thing, no one thought that ordinary citizens, business representatives and government officials would really sit down together at the table and plan local economic development and begin overcome barriers between sectors. Prior to this, the main tool in the local government planning system was a classic socio-economic development plan, aimed at obtaining financing in all directions, and not at the development of society.
- Please tell us about the problems and difficulties you faced during the project, and how did you overcome them?
Pavlo: Of course, there are difficulties, first of all - the internal capabilities of our communities in matters especially of economy planning. There are very different communities in terms of preparedness and experience, some are starting to plan from scratch, developing basic documents. There are also different opportunities regarding the team available to work in the project, to establish links between sectors and interact with the business. In medium-sized cities, NGOs often take it upon themselves, but in smaller communities, all work falls on the economy department, which cannot neglect its main functions, so the preparation of plans is slowed down.
Olexander: We see that little by little the communities are beginning to understand the principles, connectedness and sequence of the stages of the project and the goals of planning. The results of economic development are not immediately noticeable, it is quite a long process that can bring results only when the next mayor will be in charge. Sometimes it is difficult to convince of the need for certain actions, but participation in the project is voluntary, so this is done not for elections, but for the development of society. In my opinion, most mayors are enthusiastic in their field, and really care about the public interests.
Pavlo: I have observations that our communities/municipalities need to move away from the concept of “quick fixes” and populism. Those teams will achieve greater effect that offer a strategy of small steps. If this is a community of 300 people, then it does not make sense to build a fashionable restaurant. It makes sense to start with something small, like trading "stalls", start earning and continue to invest in something bigger. Small communities more accurately calibrate their steps, because there are fewer opportunities, but we see that they assemble this “puzzle”. And some municipalities are suffering from “gigantism”, especially if in Soviet times it was an industrial city, and now this potential is lost.
Natalya: The whole complexity of our Plans is in their simplicity, they should be brief, but very informative. Our communities are not yet accustomed to working briefly and clearly, without unnecessary huge documents.
- Did you have any concerns when the project started?
Olexander: There were certain concerns at the beginning. We were worried about how the target audience would generally perceive the idea of the project, whether there would be a positive feedback. But it became obvious that it is interesting and necessary for people. I was a little worried when we just started accepting applications. It was very nice to see the dynamic growth in the number of signatories.
Each stage of the Initiative is exciting in its own way. Some communities have already begun to implement plans. Some are in the process of developing plans.
Pavlo: Of course, there were concerns about the reaction, because each donor sets its own conditions, and some cities are already participating in other initiatives, for example, sustainable energy development, and there also need to have a plan. We had to explain the difference and necessity of the “Mayors for Economic Growth” Initiative. When we conducted the first stage, we were worried about how many communities we would be able to help to prepare a plan and get a positive review.
Natalya: Many questions are removed due to the openness and transparency of communication. Olexander and Pavlo are always in touch, the signatory mayors and their employees responsible for economic development can always call and have a consultation. And this inspires communities, as they are not afraid that they will do everything themselves, that they will not understand something.
- What were your surprises in the process?
Natalya: Pleasant surprises - these were people who we met in all parts of the country. I saw a desire to keep the European vector in the communities, to learn something new, to develop.
Olexander: Personally, I am warmed by the interest of mayors and their teams. They really lead by example in their own communities. For example, the mayor of Zolochev (Lviv region) opened a public reception room right in the tent on the square, as in the old Cossack times, against the developer who violated the master development plan. He spent there 3-4 weeks with the team. While traveling, I was pleasantly impressed by the cooperation with other programs and projects. For example, with Peace Corps volunteers who help local governments. In the town of Sambir, we met a 26-year-old volunteer from the USA, David Miramontes, who in the seven months of his work learned Ukrainian almost fluently, quoted Simonenko, and there are many such examples.
Pavlo: Pleasant surprises are small communities, which, at first glance, did not have super opportunities, but at the output they provided high-quality documents. At the same time, cities that have the ability, experience, grant history, could take the planning process more superficially.