For transforming Ukraine’s education—and not letting a pandemic and a military invasion stall progress
On 24 February 2022, Zoya Lytvyn’s daughter spoke her first word: the Ukrainian word for "explosion." On that day, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Lytvyn’s family woke to the sound of their windows shattering. She and her children fled to Slovakia, leaving behind her husband and parents in Kyiv. "That was my first lesson of war: What you cherish can be taken from you in a moment," Lytvyn says.
The invasion didn’t just cause seismic personal upheaval for Lytvyn. As the Russian military devastated hundreds of schools, the war also represented a sizable setback to her professional mission of reforming Ukraine’s educational system. Yet this changemaker will not be deterred. "Education is the most powerful weapon of every nation," she says.
In 2014, Lytvyn founded the nonprofit Osvitoria to improve education for Ukraine’s 7 million children, particularly those in low-income families. The same year, Osvitoria launched the Novopecherska School, which serves almost 500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The school also serves as an incubation lab: Lytvyn and her team work closely with the Ukrainian government to distribute curricula and teaching methods developed at Novopecherska to secondary schools across the country. Osvitoria has trained more than 22,000 new teachers, and its online course has been required for more than 200,000 teachers.
Lytvyn’s work has gained a global audience—and recognition. Microsoft named Novopecherska one of the world’s most innovative schools. And in 2019, Lytvyn received the WE Empower U.N. SDG Challenge Award, given to social entrepreneurs who advance the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
Lytvyn is not about to allow the pandemic or the war stop her team. During the COVID-related school shutdowns, Osvitoria helped the government launch the All-Ukrainian Online School, the nation’s first virtual platform for distance learning. Almost 400,000 Ukrainian students—whether from inside Ukraine or from more than 120 countries where they are refugees—are now learning through the platform.
During her April TED Talk, Lytvyn remained defiant: "As long as our children keep learning and our teachers keep teaching, even while they are starving in shelters under bombardment, even in refugee camps, we are undefeated."
Q & A: Zoya Lytvyn on sustainability, dreaming big and empathy
What project has most influenced you personally?
Launching my first school. With good education, you can achieve anything. That’s why it’s so important that everyone has equal access to it.
How are young people changing the world of projects now?
First, whatever they do, they aspire to greater sustainability and greater impact. And second, they really dream big!
What’s your project management superpower?
Empathy and the ability to hear other people.
What books are you obsessed with recommending right now?
Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most.