It was a real privilege to visit Poland and meet with many of the NGOs and business leaders working to support Ukraine and its neighbours.
I travelled to Jasionka near the border with Ukraine, to learn about the Polish experience with the refugee crisis and to better understand how business leaders can help. I was joined by my dear friend, Shannon Sedgwick Davis, an advisor to The Elders, who has devoted her career to stopping genocide and mass atrocities around the world.
Ukrainian people are sacrificing everything in their fight for sovereignty, freedom, and democracy. The Polish people’s support for Ukraine has been unwavering, and they really deserve all our gratitude for that. When I asked Polish business leaders what people can do to support Polish business in this difficult time, their response was: “Support Ukrainian business leaders.” It’s reflective of the selfless attitude I encountered everywhere in my interactions.
Although they are involved in the perfect storm - war on the border, the refugee crisis and inflation – the Polish people I met are staying hopeful and continuing to think about how they can prepare for winter ahead.
Business leaders have a voice, which we should all use. The Polish business leaders and entrepreneurs I met shared what they have been working on, what they are most concerned about, and what can be done to improve conditions. It’s a plan that Poland’s government should read and adopt as much as possible – for the people of Ukraine (and their own people in Poland too).
Some of the areas we discussed included creating opportunities for Ukrainian refugees so they can rebuild their lives; investing in Ukraine’s recovery (this includes continuing to do business with Ukraine wherever possible), and investing in clean energy transition to wean Europe off fossil fuels. Plus, of course, ongoing humanitarian support to alleviate the immediate suffering of Ukrainians everywhere.
The leaders also shared an idea for a summit in October to support Ukraine - the World for Ukraine Summit initiative. The Summit will take place at the G2A Arena in Rzeszów-Jasionka on October 17-19, 2022. The goal is to create a platform for the exchange of ideas between NGOs, businesses, academic and political leaders – all to help support Ukraine. Ukraine is open for business, and we all need to do our part to keep the country running and help people return to their communities, when the situation allows it.
The NGO leaders I met highlighted some of the enormous challenges Poland is facing. More than four million Ukrainians have crossed the Polish border since the Russian invasion began, with around 20,000 people still arriving daily. They all need to learn English so there is a common language. The children need schooling, adults need work, and the elderly need support.
NGO leaders also discussed the psychological impact of the war, especially on children. While everyone around the world is horrified by the war, and by the attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty, many Poles are fearful about the threat to their own country.
One of the issues raised was urging the Polish government to accept money from the EU to help ease the refugee crisis. Business and civil society need to come together and build a plan – especially before winter.
Many are doing their best to keep Ukrainian businesses running, which is critical. But more needs to be done. Countries all over the world should be investing in and sourcing from Ukraine and Poland where possible.
I thanked the leaders for all they are doing to help the people of Ukraine. Their efforts are an example to humanity of how we need to welcome and support people who have lost everything. The world has incredible respect for them.