Meet Liliia Hrynevych from Ukraine
A firm believer in Nelson Mandela’s motto that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, Liliia Hrynevych used her authority to engage others and managed to transform the old, Soviet style school system in Ukraine into one where all children are encouraged to form and defend their own ideas.
As the first female Minister of Education in the country, Hrynevych initiated a broad and systemic reform which created more open and democratic schools. A former teacher and a school principal, she decided to pursue a career in public policy to fight the corruption she experienced first-hand working in the educational system.
Liliia Hrynevych spent three years in office (2016-2019) as part of the government of Volodymyr Groysman, but it was her long and fruitful path towards this role that enabled her to make such a difference. She laid the foundations for this reform while working as chair of the parliamentary committee on education, adopting legislative initiatives that allowed changes both in the school system and in academic research. Prior to that, she led the creation of independent external testing for university admissions.
A third-generation teacher, Hrynevych enjoyed working with children and believed that the school’s role is to create an environment that nurtures and values each child’s way of achieving success. This came at the heart of the “New Ukrainian School”, a concept which she introduced as a Minister of Education. This concept is based on the idea that school is supposed to teach children how to use their knowledge to solve life’s problems, with emphasis on values, abilities, and soft skills.
“A child should be able to form its own thoughts, to argue those thoughts, and to be able to defend one's position, rather than just comply with the orders coming from the top”, Liliia Hrynevych explains and adds: “And a good teacher should not dictate rules, but rather develop those rules together with the children.”
Being able to implement this change and shift society’s mindset that children need to be taught differently than previous generations was a huge endeavour, but what helped Liliia Hrynevych was the momentum created by the Ukrainian revolution. “The Revolution of Dignity that took place in Ukraine in 2014 changed the value system of very many people”, she says. “It opened up a huge window of opportunity. That's why we were able to start the reform, to adopt the education and reform laws, because it was a voice people could hear. The system that used to suffocate new ideas suddenly collapsed and society now demanded new ideas and had new opportunities”, Hrynevych points out.
Her own pursuit of freedom and her determination to always learn new things have propelled her forward throughout her life. However, as a female leader, Liliia Hrynevych has learned how to balance bearing the responsibility for the consequences of her choices with a respect for other people’s freedom of choice.
Hrynevych believes that in order to succeed as a woman in management, you have to be a professional at a much higher level. But she also believes that women have advantages because they’re more sensitive and have a better sense for the inequalities in life, for whatever is unfair and unjust. This is why, she says, it's up to women to bring up social and humanitarian problems in areas that men would sometimes ignore.
For example, when Liliia Hrynevych entered the Ukrainian parliament, only about 10% of its members were women. She was a co-author of amendments to the election law that introduced quotas for women and today, parliament has about 21% women members.
Liliia Hrynevych’s advice for the next generation of women in leadership is to be the best professionals in whatever they do, to learn to defend their position, and to never, ever give up.