IVLP Impact Awards Perspectives: Future Leaders of Ukraine


Oksana Kovalenko is an alumna of the International Visitor Leadership Program and a 2023 recipient of the IVLP Impact Awards for her project The School for Future Leaders. Meridian International Center, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, implements the IVLP Impact Awards Initiative. IVLP Impact Awardees from across the world administer community impact projects that build on their experiences and promote innovative solutions to shared challenges. The IVLP Impact Awards Initiative aims to engage alumni, strengthen global networks, and support lasting community impact.

Collaborating with Like-Minded People

I work as the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and own my clothing brand, 2KOLYORY. During my IVLP trip, I met 22 successful female entrepreneurs from different parts of the world. We were dissimilar, but there was also much in common, especially our entrepreneurial experience and leadership skills. During the trip to the U.S., I was impressed by the ease of entrepreneurial thinking, the absence of fears about starting a business, an established entrepreneurial ecosystem, and strong communities of like-minded individuals.

No matter the nation, entrepreneurs deal with the same issues, demands, and projects. My experience in the program taught me that we should band together to share our experiences, become mentors for aspiring entrepreneurs and support one another.

Youth Capacity Building

The School for Future Leaders’ goal was to enhance soft skills and leadership skills, increase students’ awareness about entrepreneurship, and implement social and charitable initiatives. The program also provided psychological support to the youth in Ukraine. With three years of COVID-19 and almost two years of war in our country, most young people are under constant stress, mental burnout, and depression. Therefore, it was crucial to support them in this challenging time and help them discover and realize their potential. The program attracted 120 students in Kyiv to participate in 10 workshops on topics like leadership psychology, presentation skills and mental health. Alongside these events, mentors worked with participants in mini groups weekly, assisting with homework and developing the idea for the final entrepreneurship project.

The program was joined by Iuna Potomkina, an IVLP Alumni and IVLP Impact Awardee. Together with her colleague Marina Saienko, they conducted a workshop on mediation, persuasion skills, and achieving goals through negotiations. According to the participants’ feedback, it was one of the most exciting events in the program, providing a lot of practical insights and explanations about negotiations. I will definitely invite them to the center again and continue developing our partnership.

I recognize the importance of this leadership program, and my goal is to host it annually. I want to make the program a platform that motivates and establishes cooperation between young people and business representatives.

Not every leader can be an entrepreneur, but every entrepreneur is obliged to be a leader

The last three years have been difficult for Ukrainian youth, especially for students at my university. The stress of war has led to mental burnout and psychological instability. The acquired skills will enable program participants to confidently implement projects, present themselves to investors, sell their ideas, and attract funds. However, the most valuable aspect is the community they gain during the project—here they come together, become partners, work as a team, and solve common tasks.  As an economist, I understand that if we want to quickly revive the economy after the victory, we need to increase the number of small businesses. Today’s youth are our future, and in a few years, they will be rebuilding Ukraine after the war. Therefore, my goal is to develop an entrepreneurial environment, instill leadership qualities in the youth, and build a strong community.

Oksana Kovalenko was a participant on the IVLP Project Women and Entrepreneurship II, organized by the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education. Learn more about her IVLP Impact Award project, The School for Future Leaders on our website.