We are all playing witness to a 21st-century war in Europe—seeing its widespread effects on all aspects of society across the globe.

In his piece paper, “The history of business and war: introduction,” Dr. Erik Lakomma (2017)[1]  describes how there is a significant lack of formal research currently being done on war’s influence and effect on business, specifically entrepreneurship. The following explores war’s relationship to entrepreneurship and proposes a humane approach to both the generation and rehabilitation of the affected economies, focusing on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

The people of Ukraine are no strangers to struggle. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has ushered in an era of frugal innovation, as most habitats have endured three, if not four, national crises in their lifetimes. But today—with nearly two million Ukrainians internally displaced and over two million have already fled the country—it’s time to ask, what happens when people are pushed too far into scarcity? When there are not enough resources to survive, let alone continue conducting business?

Both Russian and Ukrainian entrepreneurs and small businesses feel the steep effects of a wartime economy. While the rest of the world sees rocketing natural gas and dwindling supplies of staples like wheat, the Russian and Ukrainian experiences with both are intensified. As a result, the worth of the Russian Ruble has fallen to a record low against the US Dollar, and corporations around the world have worked tirelessly to relocate business operations and withdraw any assets from Russia. In addition, on March 11th, the United States, along with G7 countries and the European Union, announced the implementation of national economic sanctions with an intended goal of “building on the unprecedented package of economic sanctions and export controls already imposed on Russia.”

With such sanctions, what is demanded and what can be supplied shifts during the war in general. Wartime realities require frugal innovation, locally and globally, and the impediments of conflict can spur industry in new ways. Historically, there is a myriad of examples of this. While the War of 1812 is known for having provided “an impetus to American textile production,” World War II is acknowledged for the growth of the electronic and aircraft industries. Around the globe, we are experiencing new grassroots and viral movements of support in support of Ukraine. People worldwide began booking Airbnb stays in Ukraine without traveling there and purchasing digital downloads from Ukrainian vendors on Etsy and eBay, all to push funds into the country. Companies such as BlaBlaCar have even found more tangible ways to support transporting Ukrainians to safety.

Just as war influences business and entrepreneurship, conversely, entrepreneurship influences war. Known as the military-industrial complex, the phenomenon refers to the influence of companies on the government towards “continued or increased military spending.” Demonstrated most frequently by the United States elected officials who remain dependent on military industries and vote for pro-war policies, the military-industrial complex benefits primarily those in weapons supply and military technology advancement. Today, however, we see information and media companies playing much more prominent roles in the complex by disseminating (mis)information and advertising and modern offensive practices, such as cyberattacks.

These powerful companies can influence the votes of Congress. Unfortunately, the micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are most likely not being represented or heard. These more singular units of economic power are so interwoven into our societal blanket that we often forget to consider their needs. When aiding them during trying times, they significantly lose between individuals and large companies.

Yet these small units communicate to the world: when it is safe, what to buy, and from where. They are local guardians, and until Ukrainian and Russian small business owners can open their doors once again, the imperative must be to protect their importance. War is another “pre-existing condition” [2] to global disease. If this new normal can not be based on any consistent sense of external stability, let’s decide to center it on an approach that is always within reach. In applying energies toward creating human-centered relationships, policies, and structures, there is a fighting chance to equilibrate the balance so that we can live in a place that upholds equity for all.

ICSB’s goal is to help bring perspective and voice to the MSMEs and entrepreneurs across the globe, and now, especially within both Ukraine and Russia. In 2016 when Dr. Ayman El Tarabishy formulated a proposal for a United Nations Day for MSMEs, he intended to see a day in which all countries, stakeholders, and companies of all sizes might celebrate the importance of MSMEs as the core units of modern society. Furthermore, MSMEs Day would act as a platform from which the global community could build ideas, synergies, and initiatives to help MSMEs prosper and grow while swiveling international attention towards these smaller units.

The day itself, June 27th demonstrates the importance of MSMEs as indicators of a peaceful society. Hence, we picked June 27 as MSMEs Day. A constant reminder of the importance of MSMEs.

Our daily choice is empathy over judgment, equity over greed, enablement over denial, and empowerment over restriction. Created from observing how small businesses operate, Humane Entrepreneurship (HumEnt) seeks to uplift humanity through creativity and innovation to develop solutions that benefit everyone. The approach of HumEnt changes our priorities.

In days of war, the future might not seem as if it is being guided towards Humane Entrepreneurship, but take a moment and look around. The world is standing up and fighting to honor humanity. So when companies pivot their creative solutions to aid those suffering in any war, it is the correct way forward.

Last year, I asked you to envision a world built around the most vulnerable[3]. I requested that we center our energies on those who need them the most and then, from that place, work to create informed policies that generate a resilient entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Our world has changed again, so I repeat my request. 

[1] Erik Lakomaa (2017) The history of business and war: introduction, Scandinavian Economic History Review, 65:3, 224-230, DOI: 10.1080/03585522.2017.1397314

[2] and [3] https://icsb.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2020ICSBGlobalMSMEsReport.pdf

Article by:

Dr. Ayman El Tarabishy

President & CEO, ICSB

Deputy Chair, GWSB, Department of Management