In the city of St. Michael at the Ukrainian-Croatian Business Forum

International relations and entrepreneurship have been my passion since an early age as. I have always been interested in a series of questions and tried to find the answers. Who are we and why do we do what we do? How does the world around me work? Why do states behave the way they do? How can I contribute to the betterment of my country and the people around me with my abilities and knowledge? I was interested in what negotiations, diplomacy, and business look like from the inside, beyond the material and what is written in a series of books and textbooks. I did not expect in the slightest that at the end of last year, I would be given a special opportunity to be part of a process, a historical event and that I would be able to contribute with my efforts.

The adventure begun on December 7, 2021. After thorough airport controls, Zoran Rajn, director of the International Crowdfunding Center (ICFC) and I, a young trainee, discussed expectations and plans, conducted the last examinations of our papers and documents and thought about potential approaches and possibilities. Our Center successfully operates in foreign markets and has developed plans to expand its business to Ukraine. Going with the Croatian economic delegation to Kyiv was an exceptional opportunity for us to establish contacts and relations with Ukrainian partners and to present the opportunities that crowdfunding provides for the Ukrainian economy.

The International Crowdfunding Center (ICFC) is a global leader in the field of crowdfunding with more than ten years of experience, especially regarding the issue of legal regulation of crowdfunding, connecting crowdfunding with government and financial institutions, inclusion of crowdfunding in the education system, etc. We have advised more than a hundred organizations from the business, civil, public and academic sectors in the preparation and implementation of their crowdfunding campaigns and mentored more than 10 thousand participants with the crowdfunding education that has been rated with the highest ratings. We are the founders of the first Croatian crowdfunding platform, and during this year we will present the international crowdfunding and crowdinvesting platform Bona Fides Invest.

We are the initiators of the educational project Crowdfunding in schools for high school and student students, which is under the auspices of the Ministry of Science and Education and other institutions at the state and local levels. We are the authors of the first Croatian lifelong learning program on crowdfunding, which is verified by ASOO and mZO. We participate in the University of Cambridge’s annual surveys on crowdfunding and fintech in Central and South Eastern Europe. We are the winners of the Award of the Faculty of Law in Zagreb for the development of the first legal interpretation of crowdfunding in Croatia and the Quality Certificate for crowdfunding by a consortium of organizations gathered around the EU project CrowdStream. CrowdStream is a project, where the lead partner is the Agency for European Integration and Economic Development, founded by the Austrian Ministry of Finance.

Croatia and Ukraine have ushered into a new phase of bilateral relations. Croatian-Ukrainian trade increased by 25% in 2020 and currently is located at 100 million euros. Also, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of overnight stays of Ukrainian tourists has increased significantly compared to previous years. These favourable trends continue as new data suggest that the first seven months saw a 5.2% increase in exchanges. Encouraged by such numbers and the prospect of deeper cooperation, the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Croatian Chamber of Economy, in cooperation with the Ukrainian Government, the Chamber of Commerce of Ukraine and the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia in Ukraine, organized an economic forum aimed at interconnecting Ukrainian and Croatian companies.

Before the trip, we had already received data and information about the Ukrainian companies involved and interested parties. This gave us the opportunity to get in touch with them even before the trip and to arrange the first B2B meetings. We have focused our attention on the Ukrainian business, civil, public, financial and academic sectors with the aim of establishing cooperation on developing their crowdfunding campaigns, conducting crowdfunding trainings and workshops, and creating innovative public policies and programs for financing projects through crowdfunding. We put great emphasis on educational institutions since crowdfunding is still not adequately represented in them.

When we landed, we were welcomed by fog and rain. During the drive to the hotel, the city of Kyiv left a striking impression on us with its size and vibrancy. The city is five times larger than Zagreb, and about 3 million inhabitants are daily circulating in it. The ride from one end of the city to the other takes over an hour and a half, whereby it is possible to see a number of infrastructure projects that imply the growth and development of the Ukrainian economy.

From the beginning, the government delegation was busy with an extensive program that included the meeting with the Croatian community in Ukraine, the opening of the Center for Croatian Language and Culture at Kyiv University, the donation of about a hundred Croatian books to enrich the cultural and academic offer of the Center and a number of other activities. The visit of the government delegation continued in Lviv after Kyiv.

In the meantime, we were free until the opening of the Forum the next day, which we used to tour the sights of the city. The tour gave us an insight into the complexity of the Ukrainian position. The country is determined by communist and transitional heritage, squeezed between Russia in the east and the Euro-Atlantic community in the west. It is a land of Orthodox identity, over whose patron of Kyiv, Saint Michael, is watching closely. Despite the tensions with Russia, the hosts greeted us with a calm and warm atmosphere, productive for work and suitable for getting to know each other.

The next day, preparation, information and protocol struck us. In communication and negotiations, we have successfully established cooperation with Ukrainian state structures, educational institutions and companies. I was particularly impressed by the experience that I gained there – I saw the difference between what is taught in books and the real world, in the field. I realized the importance of making preliminary contacts, informing myself, and making good strategic and communicative preparations for clear, simple and concise expressions in negotiations without large speeches or deeper professional concepts.

Our colleagues from the rest of the economic delegation also had a productive day. Contracts were concluded and they will enhance cooperation with the Ukrainian side in agriculture, energy, IT, construction, pharmaceutical industry and tourism. Representatives of Croatian companies also communicated with each other, and cooperation between domestic companies was established.

The negotiations took place in a B2B format, followed by official statements, discussions and presentations by officials and representatives from the Croatian and Ukrainian sides. The Ukrainian side presented us with its comprehensive Make in UA initiative, which is based on economic development through innovation and production. Emphasis is placed on technology parks, agriculture, energy, pharmaceuticals, IT, refurbishment and improvements to existing infrastructure and logistics with the help of private investors and international financial organisations.

Interest in energy (Naftogaz) and LNG terminal on Krk was expressed, along with potential hubs that will go through Central Europe to Ukraine. System Capital Management Corporation, headed by Rinat Akhmetov, the richest Ukrainian and owner of the Shakhtar football club, plans to invest in Banovina in agriculture and poultry farming. Of the domestic companies, Belupo, which is the leader in pharmaceutical exports to Ukraine, stood out, and Croatian pharmaceutical companies account for a total of 30% of Croatian exports to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic stressed that Croatia plans to provide its experience and support to Ukraine in two directions – on the issue of peaceful reintegration of provinces in eastern Ukraine and on the issue of Ukraine’s accession to the EU. Croatia and Ukraine are young countries with a rich historical heritage marked by turbulent events. Croatia in the former monarchy and two Yugoslavias, and Ukraine in the Russian Empire and the USSR. Both have faced war conflicts, and after the transition, they are looking for their place on the international stage. Croatia has successfully positioned itself on the international scene within the EU with the final path towards membership in the eurozone, Schengen and the OECD. Ukraine also expressed its desire towards a European path on which Croatia can significantly help it with its knowledge and experience.

We celebrated our business and diplomatic successes at a gala dinner at the Hyatt Hotel where we had the opportunity to talk with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, his spokesman Marko Milić, the Head of the Prime Minister’s Office Zvonimir Frka-Petešić, Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman and Croatian Ambassador to Ukraine Anica Djamić. We exchanged contacts and presented the work of ICFC, and arranged a meeting in Zagreb where we will discuss the current projects of Cedior and ICFC.

Thus, the two countries opened a new chapter of mutual relations before the 30th anniversary of the recognition of Croatian independence by Ukraine, which was the first member of the United Nations to do so. And we have made new acquaintances and contacts that will eventually allow fruitful cooperation and exchange with the Ukrainian side.

Participating in an economic visit to Ukraine is, for me as a 4th-year international relations and diplomacy student, a valuable professional experience that I will always carry with me. It is through new experiences that we open horizons and build horizons and build ourselves as persons.

Therefore, I would end with these words: Sapere Aude!

Dominik Matković, International Crowdfunding Center (ICFC)

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