Last week, East Office and ten of our companies participated in the ReBuild Ukraine Exhibition & Conference 2023 in Warsaw. Embarking on the monumental task of rebuilding Ukraine, a strong global consensus echoed: Ukraine will be rebuilt better and together. Now, the imperative is to ask ourselves: How do we make this happen?

East Office in Warsaw

The World Bank’s latest projection of a staggering €411 billion required over the next decade vividly illustrates the challenges and opportunities entwined with Ukraine’s reconstruction. In Warsaw, the participation of more than 20 countries and hundreds of companies highlighted the considerable international interest in this massive endeavour. Nordic countries especially emphasized the pivotal role of the private sector, bringing powerful business delegations. Finland made an impressive showing with not one but two national pavilions.

Still, our strategic decision to host a dedicated East Office stand proved pivotal, evolving into a central hub for high-profile networking and confidential discussions finely tuned to our companies’ needs. Kicking off with honour, we opened our stand with a ministerial visit from the Minister of Energy of Ukraine, Herman Halushchenko, and his deputy, Yaroslav Demchenkov. This sparked insightful conversations on the energy landscape and reconstruction needs.

The dialogue continued during the official ministerial meeting between Minister Halushchenko and Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Ville Tavio, where East Office and our companies Fortum, Wärtsilä, and Peikko proudly represented the Finnish business community, earning an official acknowledgement from the Ukrainian government.

Wärtsilä’s impactful participation in a panel discussion as the sole Finnish business representative drew attention, raising awareness of Finnish expertise and prompting loud enthusiasm from Deputy Minister Demchenkov about creating a success story for the participation of Finnish companies in the reconstruction of Ukraine. The success of the exhibition was celebrated at our cocktail event, where we welcomed over 50 attendees from our companies, government, and other stakeholder organizations.

These examples encapsulate the spirit of Warsaw: It wasn’t merely a trade exhibition or business conference, but a decisive step into the heart of discussions about the execution and implementation of Ukraine’s rebuilding agenda—a significant networking and promoting opportunity for all companies interested in participating in the reconstruction.

Support ≠ Funds

However, as the week has now passed, I find myself reflecting on the other side of the story. While the unanimous support for Ukraine is clear, fundamental questions about financing linger, presenting challenges for companies entering the market. Finnish companies would greatly benefit from a robust national funding package coherent with benchmark countries. Denmark is already moving ahead, and Sweden has announced an interesting national package including trade finance tools and investment guarantees.

It is vital to ensure Finland won’t be left behind. Nothing is lost yet, and we still have time to catch up, but this needs to be recognized and expressed out loud. Otherwise, there’s a risk that companies might execute investments from countries offering more favourable packages.

Moreover, careful attention should be paid to what the Americans are doing. Observing their initiatives – how and especially where they invest – can be very revealing. Funding opportunities also exist. DFC was very direct in our discussions about being open to funding any projects in Ukraine that they find interesting; the nationality of the company is not a factor. Exploring collaboration with them could really open avenues for financing opportunities. Our conversations will certainly continue.

Risk Aversion: The Greatest Risk of All

Waiting for the war to end is not an option. Warsaw proved this once and for all. Companies aiming to take part in the reconstruction need to start now. The most effective way is to establish or acquire an operation – a platform- in Ukraine, operate it as is, make ramp-up plans ready and execute them when the time is optimal.  Tickets to market are now very affordable, which may not be the case when things in the front settle down.

For companies not ready to invest today, the next best thing is to start planning immediately to be ready when the time is right. Waiting too long or waiting until everything is perfect is a risk — there will be little to no room for companies that only show interest after everything has already been settled. The Ukrainian market is very much based on contacts, and the contacts made during the war will be remembered and appreciated.

Investments inherently entail risks. Yet, the prospect of being excluded from the largest reconstruction projects in modern European history poses a risk far more substantial.

Take the lead, emphasize private sector participation, seize opportunities, act now to secure your place, plan strategically for the future, and minimize risks to shape the future of Ukraine’s reconstruction. The time is now, and the stakes are high. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

Janne Harjunpää is the CEO of East Office