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UCA Internationalization by improving dialogue with EU during the war

Project report


The project on improving communications with clusters and other EU structures has been completed. This report provides key information on implementation of the project’s objectives, key achievements, lessons learned and next steps in development of the already launched initiatives.

About the project

The project on the topic of UCA clusters’ internationalization is supported by the EaP Civil Society Facility, grant by which was won by Oleksandr Yurchak, the current UCA head, as a public activist. The EaP Civil Society Facility program aims to support initiatives that strengthen capacity of civic associations. Negotiations about the project details lasted throughout March and April, and the actual start was set for May 16. The project was supposed to last until August 30, but due to postponement of a number of events to September, it ends on September 30. The project financed the following activities:

  • Improving UCA clusters’ visibility in the international arena and involving EU professionals in dialogue with UCA participants.
  • Support of events from UCA clusters’ direct dialogue with European partners.
  • Creation and popularization of successful cooperation stories.
  • Support and development of the Industry4Ukraine platform ambassadors network.

The amount of financial support for these activities was € 8.5 thousand.

Progress and main results

The project was the first to be provided to UCA by donor organizations since the war start, and the second in provision of EU aid (after assistance of the ECA with organization of aid window at the ECCP), and therefore deserves special attention and recognition.

In spring 2022, when UCA had just been created, cluster activists and management especially needed external support – because other contributions from business, which itself was in a crisis state, practically stopped.

At the same time, the project took place in rather difficult conditions. The three main factors influencing the implementation progress were:

  • External uncertainty: there was no medium-term action plan at that time at UCA (it appeared only in August), there was no communication strategy – so it was impossible to determine exactly what and how we are promoting, and this is a key condition in planning. In addition, restrictions were imposed on a number of events, such as difficulties of foreign business trips for men, limited or absent funding for the events themselves, etc.
  • Insufficient understanding of one’s own capabilities: UCA unites 37 clusters, but even today we do not have accurate and detailed information about the state of international relations and successes or problems of each individual cluster. The spring, it was all the more unclear, and it was assumed that through events and promotion, we would quickly achieve these successes, and success stories would emerge from there.
  • Insufficient funding for project management: in fact, the originally proposed grant amount was halved by the donor, and project management functions were completely eliminated from there. Thus, most aspects of management of UCA various communication activities, their coordination in the project team had to be undertaken on a volunteer basis. Part of the costs were covered by the entire team of APPAU, which has been and continues to be in charge of all UCA communication since foundation of the Alliance. That is, in essence, APPAU became the 2nd main investor in this project.

The project team included the main staff from APPAU (web designer, SMM manager, copywriter-translator, email and content manager), as well as a number of involved communicators and managers from UCA clusters – successful stories were provided by UAMC (Ukrainian Automotive And Mobility Cluster), UAFM (Ukrainian Association of Furniture Makers), ISCA (Innovative Space Clusters Association), APPAU (Association of Industrial Automation Enterprises of Ukraine), U-Food, PFC (Podillia Fashion Cluster), DIH KPI – only 7 members or partners of UCA.

The main results of the project according to the financing directions of the EaP Civil Society Facility fund:

1. Improving visibility of UCA clusters in the international arena and involving EU professionals in dialogue with UCA participants:

  • Website: growth in the number of visitors increased from 54 in May to 2,600 in September (900 of them are from abroad). In total, UCA website, which was also supported by this project, has more than 100 publications, of which more than 30 are in English. High-quality and diverse content is one of the key methods of promoting the site as UCA’s main communication channel and digital hub.
  • Social networks. Audience coverage in 3 months was: Facebook – 156,000 visitors, Linkedin – 22,000, Twitter – 46,000.
  • The base of mailing lists for the foreign audience grew from 54 people to 700+.

2. Support of events from direct dialogue of UCA clusters with European partners:

The project supported in terms of communications more than 30 different UCA events – from small webinars-meetings with European partners to international forums, such as the forum in Istanbul, where UCA was a co-organizer.

Here we achieved the greatest success – in total, during the project period, 12 agreements and memoranda of UCA with various eurostructures were signed. Results of their implementation are 5 large international cooperation projects that were launched within the framework of UCA (see below).

Offline meeting in Istanbul is the major event of the reporting period, and which was widely communicated by the project team

3. Creation and popularization of successful cooperation stories.

With a plan of 20, we created 10 success stories. The main limitations were: a) lack of stories themselves, b) difficulty of attracting communicators from UCA clusters.

4. Support and development of the Industry4Ukraine platform ambassadors network.

In this area, there was a variety of activities for formation and communication support of our ambassadors activists-Ukrainians abroad, as well as foreign colleagues who sought to support us with their own initiatives. With a plan of 50 people, we involved 44 in active cooperation. The main obstacles here were the difficulties of managing very different formats of cooperation in different fields and directions of action. The most effective actions of the ambassadors were within the framework of the same 5 projects – areas of further development (see below).

The best ambassador of the Industry4Ukraine program, Luigi de Bernandini (Italy) promotes APPAU at the CSIA conference in Denver, USA

The effect of the project is 5 UCA major initiatives

The topic of connection between the activities carried out, the results obtained, their direct effect (outcomes) and influences on further development is the main one in European donor projects, and it also applies to this project.

We separately provide detailed information on 5 major UCA initiatives, which are to one degree or another related to EaP Civil Society Facility project activities:

1. UСA’s obtaining leading positions among business associations of Ukraine, and promotion at the international level.

We are extremely indebted to the current strong position and ratings of the International Trade Council (ITC), which for the second time after Istanbul is promoting UCA as one of the co-organizers of the international forum in Tallinn. For us, this is a great honor, but also responsibility. Fixing this rapid ascent to leaders of business communities, and exclusively in communication aspects, let us point out the work of the project team in communication support, as well as in follow-up activities. Separately, we should thank Olha Trofymova, our export-internationalization director, her contact with ITC began in May precisely within the framework of our first online activities on the internationalization of UCA.

Olha Trofymofa, UCA export-internationalization programs director, holds speech at the European Cluster Conference 2022

2. Creation of a consortium of 11 participants as part of project application preparation for the EIC call “Support of Ukrainian startups”.

For a month and a half – from the middle of July to the beginning of May, intensive work on preparation of the of the consortium project application continued. From the UCA side, it was led by APPAU, which was joined by 4 more Ukrainian partners. On the part of the European partners, those ambassadors and participants with whom UCA (APPAU) already had previous contacts were involved. These are the European Clusters Alliance, the Czech CzechInno agency, the Polish state agency Industry 4.0 FPPP, the French cluster CIMES, the Finnish competence center DIMECC and the pan-European platform F6S.

Participation in the project showed the ability of Ukrainian structures and clusters to move confidently in such large-scale Horizon Europe projects, it united Ukrainian participants and significantly strengthened trust and ties with European ones. It is important that individual provisions of the project become the property of the UCA community and, regardless of the competition results, are already moving along their course in parallel.

3. Business mission in Brno.

One of the direct effects of cooperation with Czech clusters is the organization of a delegation from 6 UCA clusters to the international exhibition in Brno, Czech Republic in early October. This is not an ordinary trade mission limited to concluding agreements between commercial structures. The tasks of the delegation concern a number of intercluster agreements and cooperation projects. For this purpose, UCA is preparing top 10 initiatives, around which the work of several clusters (APPAU and EAM) is currently buzzing. In fact, this mission is the first to change the format of UCA work – from simple facilitation of B2B meetings, we are moving to large-scale projects of intercluster cooperation. It is also worth noting here the serious preparation of the Czech side – 3 deputy ministers, several associations and clusters, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry will take part in the event on October 6. These events take place as part of the preparation and implementation of the long-term development plan with the Czech Republic, which we have been preparing since June. This mini-project is supported by GIZ.

4. UCA cluster delegation at the EU cluster conference on September 26-27.

A delegation of 6 UCA clusters also attends the pan-European conference in Prague. This is the first organized visit of UCA clusters delegation to an international event of this level, and it is very positive that UCA will be represented at such a level. This mini-project is also supported by GIZ.

The first feedback we are getting these days when this report comes out is very positive. The European Commission’s decision to hold a special conference for UCA in Slovakia in February 2023 should be noted as a significant victory.

Special session of DG Grow and UCA delegation, September 26, Prague

5. Start of regular communications with the French CIMES

Cooperation with this cluster unfolds according to the Czech scenario. Here, the 1st public webinar on presentation of APPAU and other UCA clusters in the field of Industry 4.0 is planned for September 30. The authorities of the French Rhône-Alpes region, where the CIMES cluster is located, as well as the two consulates – of France in Ukraine and of Ukraine in France – are involved in the exchanges. It is expected that the consequences of these exchanges will be the organization of a trade mission to France in early 2023.

All the indicated project initiatives are supported and communicated by the EaP Civil Society Facility project team.

Other effects and aftereffects

Other main effects (outcomes) of the project refer to the following:

1) The project and other UCA activities allowed to jointly form a scenario and road map of bi- and multilateral intercluster cooperation in the UCA. It is recorded in UCA-CzechInno pilot project on Ukrainian-Czech relations in development of Industry 4.0. We would not have this scenario without a series of meetings with Czech colleagues and, in general, development targets set in the project. A similar agenda is recorded in the unification of innovative space clusters, although in this case the project simply recorded this history. Both examples set the bar and benchmarks for all UCA clusters on how to move forward in development in their segments and industries.

2) A very important effect of the project is the above mentioned 5 mini-projects initiated in the UCA.

3) As already mentioned, the project became the 2nd manifestation of solidarity and assistance to Ukrainian clusters in the crisis situation of spring 2022. Since July, UCA began to receive other projects (in particular GIZ), but the help given in spring was very important for UCA management stability and support of our communication activities.

4) The project significantly improved capacity of UCA communication team to perform and scale various types of communication activities. In particular, part of the business processes (Fig. 1) has already been transferred to a regular, systematic basis, the rest is in the process.

5) A separate effect is recorded in the synergy of various projects and activities of UCA. As already mentioned, since August, 2 GIZ-supported projects have been implemented, but both were based on the foundation (resources and processes) that had already been created within the EaP Civil Society Facility. For example, activities of GIZ projects relied on the website and processes that were created by the previous project; in turn, the internationalization project partially used the matchmaking platform (fundraising of I4MS programs), which was supported by GIZ. Synergies are also achieved in event PR and overall awareness metrics.

6) Creation and development of the ambassadors network turned out to be the most difficult task of the project, but nevertheless we have developed relations and high activity of 39 ambassadors. All of them are highly involved in the support of UCA and some of them are the main contributors to the achievement of the 5 above-mentioned projects.

Ivan Kulchytskyi, one of the main ambassadors of Ukrainian Industry 4.0, at signing of the Memorandum on cooperation with the Polish FPPP agency on September 23 in Rzeszów.

7) Indirectly, the project contributed to establishment of the first contracts of foreign organizations with Ukrainian SMEs, among which we see a number of clusters and associations.

Key lessons learned from the project and next steps

As already noted, the project took place in conditions of uncertainty of internal and external environment. Many of the initial assumptions included in the project plan did not work – for example, spring C2C-B2B online meetings have not yet given all clusters the expected effect. Or, the assumption about increase in the number of large events as UCA grew was incorrect – firstly, the general business activity of Europeans went down in summer; secondly, the factor of foreign travel ban for men still puts pressure on business communities, and this is a significant obstacle to internationalization. We have also reassessed capacity of clusters and individual partners to produce success stories – and even where such exist.

In general, the situation with communication functions in most clusters looks bad and this is definitely an area of growth for the future. On the other hand, this was the advantage of the project – it could rise to a high European level and promote issues of any UCA cluster.

The main lessons of the project are as follows:

1. The initial plan is not a dogma and it is nothing more than just a tool for coordinating project participants. In conditions of uncertainty and turbulence, it is not what it can do – it must change regularly. On the other hand, the situation imposes increased requirements for planning, especially from the point of view of strategic goals. The initial choice and focus of the project on the strategy of internationalization fully justified itself. This strategy continues to be #1 in UСA.

2. For intercluster, international cooperation, the balance of all processes in marketing communications is important, and where the most important is management of relations with key persons from partners (key account management, KAM). It was thanks to regular, systematic meetings and communications with heads of Euro-Atlantic structures that we achieved success in the 5 mentioned projects.

3. All processes require resources and are critical – more than others. De facto, the majority of UCA international relations during the specified period were conducted by only 2 persons (2 KAMs) – Oleksandr Yurchak and Olha Trofymova. And it is already clear that they cannot lead and close a large number of international partners personally – more resources are needed. Each international partner needs attention to development of relations, and when it comes to a separate action plan, it must be carefully prepared and followed up. To a certain extent, we were lucky that the processes of internationalization also had support from other sources. But if we take into account the difficulties with development of the network of ambassadors, then the results of the project are a direct consequence of quickly reaching limitations of the existing KAMs.

4. Strategizing processes are no less important. Thanks to appearance of the Export-Internationalization strategy in June, we can today – and even with insignificant resources – optimize our forces and be effective in specific areas of integration. First of all, we mean the top 10 offers that are currently being prepared for Brno and other events in October.

5. In general, communications, as the main activities of the project, and from the point of view of the obtained effects, were supporting measures and means in UCA strategy of internationalization. At the same time, UCA’s rapid growth and development, gaining reputation and new international partners would not be possible without them. It is clear that these things – a strong KAM and powerful communications – must continue to go together and be integrated in UCA.

it is worth pointing out the following of the important next steps and which are already included in UCA road map for 2022-23:

1) Project experience and best practices in communication functions, and especially combined with other UCA best practices (ASTAR agency, UAFM, other strong clusters) – it is worth bringing to unified communication standards of the Alliance.

2) Rapid Response Centers (RRCs) that aggregate cluster resources by sector should obviously include communication functions in their pool. It is clear from the content of the site that the content component from APPAU predominates there, and there is very little content from “non-high-tech” UCA clusters. The reason is obvious – this content is not provided to UCA communications team.

3) In order for communications to become more strategic, it is obvious that the GR function should be added to them – UCA should also work on this more systematically in the next period of development.

In general, and on behalf of the entire leadership and UCA clusters, I want to thank the EaP Civil Society Facility for help and support provided. This project became an important starting point for increasing international presence of UCA in 2022.

Oleksandr Yurchak,
Fellow of the EaP Civil Society Facility project

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