Oh, The Places You’ll Go


I’ve been waiting for a chance to discuss a government employee who has inspired me and has done incredible things with her career. When I meet people I can always find something interesting and unique, either in their professional or non-work life. This extraordinary person is an example to all of you out there that the path you are on as a government employee can someday vault you into something unexpected and noteworthy. And there’s a very good chance it’ll scare you right out of your pants. Today, Natalie Jaresko is Ukraine’s Minister of Finance and along her path she stopped at DePaul University, Harvard, U.S. State Department, and her own private equity firm.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Natalie went to school with me at DePaul University back in the 20th Century. She graduated and went on to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. After graduating with a master’s degree in public policy she went on to work with the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. She worked in a number of positions related to economics, coordinating with various Departments and Trade representatives. All of these activities centered on assisting the development of economic relationships with former Soviet Union countries. This work led her to interact with various global banking entities and by the early 1990’s she was working in the US Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine. The same country her parents left when they were very young.

“And when you’re alone there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Her path, like yours, is directed by desires and passions that don’t always reveal themselves, but upon reflecting on what you’ve done you may always be able to identify why you picked which fork in the road. In Natalie’s case she always wanted to return to her parent’s birthplace. When we were in school she couldn’t visit because the repressive Soviet policies made it very difficult for even the children of exiles to return. Yet her desire to assist Ukraine when they freed themselves from Russian autocracy led her to positions in the State Department that filled the need. As a child her family had been very active in the Chicago area Ukrainian community, giving her the awareness of not only being American, but what it means to be Ukrainian.

After being in Kiev for several years she had the opportunity to open her own business in Ukraine and left government service. She raised funds for a private equity corporation that would invest in creating a modern Ukraine. Her company became so successful that she was often cited as one of the leading business women in Eastern Europe. Natalie’s success has often been attributed to the honesty and integrity she brought to a country that still struggles with post-soviet corruption. Then everything changed.

The young people of Ukraine, tired of the old school corruption, and looking at the successes of Poland and Western Europe stood up and fought back. They peacefully resisted and overturned the government, electing new leaders who would vault them into a new age. In forming the new government the president and prime minister called on Ms. Jaresko to serve the country she had lived in for over 20 years and take the position of Finance Minister.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Natalie didn’t know as a young child, a college student, U.S. Government employee or business woman what the fates had in store. Today, she is in the daunting position of changing the breadbasket of Europe, working alongside remarkable Ukrainian people who are changing the world for the better. So prepare yourselves my friends, the paths you’ve paved, the people you’ve met, the things you’ve learned could become the diamonds on the soles of your shoes.

Michael Hannigan is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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