For Tech Leaders, Ukraine Is Personal

Leaders have been through a lot of crises these past few years. For a number of global firms, this week’s shocking events in Ukraine add another to the list. This invasion hits the global tech community particularly hard. Ukraine is a major development hub due to an incredibly talented engineering workforce, estimated to be nearly 200,000 strong. Google, Amazon, Cimpress, Snap, Oracle, IBM, and SAP all have operations there. It’s also a major outsourcing hub so a number of companies rely indirectly on a Ukrainian workforce. Global investors back Ukrainian “unicorn” startups like Grammar.ly, MacPaw and People.ai. 

As a result, many of us in the tech community have tight connections in Ukraine, which is unique relative to other recent conflicts, like Syria or Afghanistan. WeSpire has an engineer whose mother and brother are currently hiding in a basement outside of Kyiv. I’ve messaged all of my Ukrainian LinkedIn connections to tell them we are thinking of them and praying for their safety. Several wrote back immediately, grateful for the support and expressing disbelief that this is really happening. The CEO of SeekingAlpha added a personal note to an article yesterday that summed up what many of us are feeling. “While Seeking Alpha aims to provide the best information about the impact of Russia’s attack on Ukraine for investors, as CEO, I am more concerned about the people involved. Like many other companies, we have software engineers in Ukraine. Many of them are fleeing their homes. Our prayers are with them, and everyone else impacted.”

Tech leaders focus on employees in Ukraine

Some firms activated disaster response plans weeks ago. Wix offered all 1,000 employees the option to go to Turkey. Others moved employees to Western Ukraine, believing they would be safer there. A move that some now worry wasn’t far enough. Firms paid out a month of salaries in advance. Others set up the ability to pay employees in cryptocurrency after the country’s banks experienced cyberattacks. After experiencing total Internet outages in Belarus last year, many firms rebuilt connectivity plans to leverage satellites hoping employees will be able to maintain connections to Intranets, data centers and the outside world. WeSpire is now supporting customers working on disaster relief campaigns to provide humanitarian support and employee assistance funds to aid employees.

Others are preparing that their workforce may now be drafted to fight. The average engineer in the Ukraine is 28 years old and any male between 18-60 is now banned from leaving the country. Many Ukrainian CEOs and employees said they intend to stay put anyway. “At this moment, we’re staying strong, united, and ready to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” said the MacPaw team in an email to TechCrunch.

This conflict isn’t good for anyone

I’m writing this on day two of the invasion and we don’t know what will happen next. What we do know is that this conflict isn’t good for anyone. Certainly not the Ukrainians, but also not the citizens of Russia who will face incredible hardships. Conflict on this scale is bad for business. The economic ramifications will be felt globally as energy prices skyrocket and certain raw materials don’t make it to market (Ukraine supplies 90% of neon for chips and is the “bread basket” for Europe).

Business leaders must push for peace

As business leaders, we should speak out loudly for peace and support humanitarian efforts already underway. Notable CEOs are already weighing in. Tim Cook from Apple said, “We’re doing all we can for our teams there and will be supporting local humanitarian efforts. I am thinking of the people, who are right now in harm’s way and joining all those calling for peace.” Salesforce’s Marc Benioff was even more personal. “Sending thoughts of peace & well being to everyone in the Ukraine.  My great grandfather Issac Benioff came to the United States from Kiev.” 

It’s not clear whether anyone can walk Putin back from this decision, but CEOs with significant Russian operations should certainly try. And not just because this conflict is awful. More broadly, we’ve also already lost precious time due to the pandemic in tackling the climate crisis. We need every superpower working together, immediately, to protect life as we know it. Entering another cold war era, or worse, just ensures that we end up even hotter.

Quote of the Week:  “It’s time for us to turn to each other, not on each other.”

Jesse Jackson

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