Swiss companies provide lifeline to Ukrainian small businesses

Onela Parker, vice président of sales for SAP Switzerland. (credit: courtesy)

Impact Ukraine is an organisation that brings together about 3,000 companies from Switzerland and other countries to support Ukrainian business during the war. The initiative was founded in March by Olena Parker, a Ukrainian citizen from Kharkiv who now lives in Switzerland. She is vice president of sales for SAP in Switzerland.

GS: How did you get the idea to create Impact Ukraine?

Olena Parker: It all started trying to help people we knew who were suddenly forced to flee their homes and seek shelter in Kharkiv and Kyiv metro stations. As the tragic events of the war unfolded, we asked ourselves how we could open a wider pathway to protection, self-sufficiency and ultimately economic recovery of Ukrainian people.

Since we were then handling money from other people, we felt it was right to establish an independent bank account and association to keep full transparency on the operations. With that in mind we set up Impact Ukraine, a Swiss-based, non-for-profit initiative. 

What are the organisation’s main activities? 

We have three main activities. First, microfinance where we support the payroll of existing companies who lost their operations or business. Their staff can receive the Ukrainian minimum wage straight into their own bank account. This activity is funded by donations from private and corporate donors. They will help these companies get back to work much faster once the war is over. In many cases, the employees choose to stay in the war zone and continue to work keeping the economy running and delivering immense value to their country. 

Next, [what we call] “Source Ukraine”. Here, we are helping Ukrainian companies find new business. It also works the other way around where we are contacting European companies and inviting them to consider how they could do more business with Ukraine. We are also working with the government in Kyiv and with some of the major tech companies to get better visibility for all Ukrainian companies. 

Finally “Recruit Ukraine”. In this element we are helping Ukrainians who are still in the country but also anyone who escaped to find work. This is important not just for the salary that it will bring but also to integrate Ukrainians into European companies and organisations so they have a much deeper understanding of how European business models work. Again, we work in both directions, helping individual Ukrainians find jobs but on a bigger scale talking to European companies to see if they can set up entire operations in or around Ukraine. 

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(Credit: Courtesy)

What are some of the outcomes you’ve seen so far?

The results are quite startling, we had a good initial flow of funds that has been entirely distributed to the payrolls of Ukrainian companies. On the company side, every single Swiss company we have contacted either already has major initiatives in place to help Ukraine or is willing to take up discussions. We have some significant humanitarian aid coming from the connections we initiated and a very exciting cooperation project for farming and agriculture.

To help ensure essential supplies reach Ukraine, SAP is continuing to provide open access to its business network tool SAP Ariba Discovery and has reconfigured the tool to help meet this urgent need effectively and efficiently. Now, with a simple click on the newly implemented “Support Ukraine“ toggle button, suppliers can update their profiles on SAP Business Network to declare their readiness to provide humanitarian aid. In the first 15 hours after it went live, 301 businesses offered help via the platform. To date, this number has increased to more than 2,700.

How did you achieve all this?

We found that companies are very willing to help but maybe need just the first connections and ideas to get moving. I am connected at an executive level to most of the major companies in Switzerland and we are not afraid to just pick up the phone. The Impact Ukraine volunteer workforce has made great political, business and funding connections.

On the Ukrainian side, we met with business leaders, politicians, ambassadors and government ministers to implement these initiatives. We are also working with the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a couple of banks and trade associations.

Switzerland is an important diplomatic hub so we have capitalised on being able to meet some of these people in person as they come for meetings and that will hopefully continue with the Lugano conference this week.

How can people or companies in Switzerland get involved?

As an individual or as a company, there are two major ways you can support our initiative.

You can make an immediate impact by donating via our website  These donations will immediately and directly microfinance the payrolls of Ukrainian individuals from SMEs who urgently need help. 

Organisation who would like to explore opportunities to source goods and services from Ukraine – or hire Ukrainian talent – can contact us directly to express their interest. Our platform will soon be up and running.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Kharkiv, but later moved to Germany, so I have seen and experienced both sides. As president Zelensky said, Europe is not just a geographic place, it is also a mindset.

My own studies have included an executive global MBA from INSEAD which is a fantastic grounding in business but also in the macro-economic levers that are essential for any country to achieve sustainable development.