48 Ukrainians, 14 Days, Nine US Cities

Local officials and civil society representatives from the Global Communities-implemented DOBRE program in Ukraine toured nine cities in the eastern United States in October to learn more about economic development, civic infrastructure, and promoting citizen engagement from their American counterparts.

The 48 participants were from communities newly consolidated under Ukraine’s decentralization reforms that began in 2014. The USAID “Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency,” known as DOBRE, is working to strengthen their capacity to use their new community budgetary and governing responsibilities.

Participants came with a mission to explore new avenues of local economic development and governance and to bring those ideas home. DOBRE Program Officer Mykhailo Kozyriev told a Tennessee Journalist, "We wanted to bring people who actually make decisions, who can actually influence their community and bring back the knowledge that we gave them."

Nashville, Tennessee, was their first stop, where they attended the annual conference of the tour organizer, the International City/County Management Association.

From Nashville, 24 participants traveled to Johnson City and Kingsport TN, Wytheville, Abingdon, Staunton and Rockingham County, VA and the other 24 visited Frankfort, Kentucky and Morgantown, West Virginia before arriving in Washington, D.C.  Along the way, they stopped at businesses like the Wolf Hills Brewery in Abingdon, Virginia, and the Franklin County Farmers Market in Frankfort, Kentucky, to see how local government is promoting and working with entrepreneurs and business owners.
The concept of gathering revenue through property taxes to fund local projects interested one official. Another was impressed by jungle gyms and how public parks are used to build community.

In West Virginia, the Ukrainians met with Morgantown city manager Paul Brake, who later told a local reporter: “Having the opportunity to host the study group was an honor. I have a greater appreciation for our government here in Morgantown. I’m grateful to have been able to help our counterparts across the world.”

In Tennessee, the Johnson City Press, covered the group’s visit.  The paper reported that Diana Cantler, the downtown development director, told them how the flood-prone district was revitalized by a flood mitigation project paid for through a combination of $15 million in public funds and as much as $30 million in private.

The last stop was in Washington, D.C., where they attended meetings with USAID, the State Department and congressional staffers to discuss the accomplishments in local government strengthening achieved through DOBRE. They described for U.S. officials why working at the local level and partnering with communities is so important, and how U.S. foreign assistance is a positive influence on communities like theirs.

Three Ukrainians accompanied DOBRE and Global Communities’ staff to the offices of Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, both from Ohio where there are many Ukrainian Americans. Sen. Portman’s staff member expressed how important it is to talk directly to the beneficiaries to “hear what is really happening in the communities and how our funds are helping.”

These meetings gave participants like Natalia Shaforost, the head of the Department of Energy Management, Municipal Initiatives and Investments in Bashtankska community, the opportunity to express how much the US government's support has meant to her community.

Now the Ukrainian participants have the chance to take what they have learned home.

The tour wrapped up with a structured planning session for the participants to think through what they could bring back to their communities and come up with an action plan. Some ideas included:

  • Having small business experts teach classes at their local libraries about business start-ups
  • Encouraging farmers to create value-added goods
  • Re-conceptualizing how local governments can attract new businesses to their community through grants or tax breaks

As Ukraine works toward cementing improved local governance practices and transparency, the work by the USAID DOBRE team remains vital to empowering and fortifying local communities, leaders, and citizens. This study tour exposed local representatives to practical ideas and solutions to problems face by governments and their citizens.

USAID DOBRE's goal is to strengthen local governance in order to deepen democracy, improve conditions of communities and promote stability across the country. For Ukraine to succeed, it will need strong local leaders that are willing to learn and to work hand in hand with their community members to lift everyone up. Exchanges like this can help show them the way.

Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency (DOBRE) Program is USAID’s five-year program, implemented by Global Communities. The Program is working to support the supply of good local governance and create improved conditions for the development by consolidated communities (CCs), increase citizen engagement in decision-making, and ensure accountability and transparency in public administration. The DOBRE Consortium, led by Global Communities, includes: Ukrainian Crisis Media Center (UCMC), Social Boost, Foundation in Support of Local Democracy (FSLD/FRDL), Malopolska School of Public Administration at the Krakow University of Economics (MSAP/UEK), Poland, National Democratic Institute (NDI). The USAID DOBRE Program is implemented in seven target oblasts: Dnipropetrovska, Ivano-Frankivska, Kharkivska, Khersonska, Kirovohradska, Mykolayivska, and Ternopilska.