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Illustration created with the colors of Ukrainian flag of a door opening with a light shining through it representing opportunity.

Illustration by iStock; Security Management

Resilience Management: How to Turn a Threat into an Opportunity

Few would disagree that Ukraine and the Ukrainian community impressed even sophisticated observers in 2022. But when confronted with the challenges of modern war in Europe, the armed forces, communities, and local businesses demonstrated surprisingly high levels of resilience.

What helped them successfully navigate these stormy waters and exploit the opportunities the moment presented? The latter becomes even more interesting considering that the crime rate declined in Ukraine during 2022. It might be because people decided it was even more unethical to steal during wartime. To dig into this phenomenon deeper, the authors investigated two case studies.

Musafir operates a small chain of restaurants in Kyiv, serving traditional Crimean Tatar dishes. It managed to maintain continuity of operations—even when the Russian military began targeting Ukrainian energy plants with missiles, disrupting electric service to Kyiv.

Shortly after this shift, Musafir deployed small gas generators to its restaurants. Despite the noise from the generator, the restaurants continued to attract Kyiv visitors—including expats working for humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—to an almost forgotten quality dining experience.

Another example is the International Organization for Migration (IOM) mission to Ukraine. Despite the variety of logistical challenges it faced in the first days of the unprovoked attack on Ukraine and large-scale invasion, IMO began distributing potable water at the central railway station in Kyiv. At the same time, it coordinated relocating staff from dangerous areas to safety.

Were these successes attributed mostly to luck? That’s unlikely.

Were these successes attributed mostly to luck? That’s unlikely. Instead, both cases are successful examples of the security principle of business continuity management (BCM).

It is not a secret that organizations of all sizes and types are susceptible to events that can disrupt operations—floods, tornados, terrorist attacks, public health emergencies, or war. To cope with such crises, organizations need a BCM program so they can recover—or at list resume—their core operations as quickly as possible.

Ideally, the organization’s management must in advance identify risks and create policies to address disruptive incidents that can threaten an organization’s ability to recover and survive. This is not always possible, such as in the case of sudden military conflict. The process begins with a risk assessment and business impact analysis, keeping in mind the objectives of the organization. The BCM plan should consider impacts on people, facilities, legal obligations, finances, reputation, the community, and the environment. It should determine the maximum allowable time to recover from an incident and provide avenues of communication to employees, stakeholders, and the media. Once a plan is in place, management should monitor its many facets, reviewing and testing it regularly to make improvements as needed.  

By 2022, Musafir was already acquainted with BCM principles. In 2014, it was forced to relocate its well-established restaurants out of Bakhchysarai city, the ancient capital of Crimea’s indigenous people, after Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine. And two weeks after a complete lockdown in March 2020, Musafir started a delivery service to allow it to continue to operate under COVID-19 pandemic challenges. Learning how to adapt under these conditions enabled the company to operate and thrive under other sources of adversity.

Since its re-opening, Musafir consciously invested time and money in training its core staff, resource management, goal setting, and quality control. Therefore, when opportunity knocked, the chain was capable of spotting it and was ready to act while competitors struggled to adjust their business processes to the new realities of pandemic lockdowns, curfews, and electricity shortages.

The same applies to the IOM, which has more than 170 missions worldwide. It continued humanitarian interventions despite having personnel trapped at home during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021 and scattered across Europe at the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. While there is still a room for improvement, IOM’s goals were clearly identified, the staff was constantly trained, and procedures and necessary resources were dedicated to the job to address foreseen and unpredictable events.

One would argue that it is an unequal comparison of a global entity like IOM with small businesses from Ukraine. Nevertheless, what they have in common is a strategic approach and dedication to business continuity. That enables them to see a crisis from a different perspective and spot opportunities where others only see problems.

These two examples show that an organization’s resilience serves as a bridge between a threat and an opportunity. By being economically active during the lockdown, Musafir not only managed to save itself and retain its staff, but it also gained higher positions in local ratings, i.e., TripAdvisor, to continue to attract customers. Meanwhile, the IOM gained the trust of donors, which enables it to continue channelling millions of dollars to help those in need.

To sum up the above-described experience of two organizations in Ukraine, conscious and constant resilience management is a necessary precondition for sustainable development of all organizations—not just their survival.

This ability to create something new or imaginative—to take an opportunity—builds on BCM.

We provided two examples of BCM application based on war conditions where we refer to crisis as an unstable condition involving an impending abrupt or significant change that requires urgent attention and action. But an opportunity has the same features without the negative connotation: it is also an unstable condition. An opportunity allows change, and it requires immediate attention and action. Yes, it requires creativity to seize the opportunity. But this ability to create something new or imaginative—to take an opportunity—builds on BCM.

For example, it was IOM security professionals who confirmed to the program staff that there were significant number of refugees arriving, constantly, at the central railway station in Kyiv at the end of February 2022. While IOM security specialists were checking railway options for relocation from the city for remaining staff, they kept in mind the overall goal of the organization: to provide assistance to migrants in need. So, when they saw a crowd of tired and scared people fleeing from war, the room for possible IOM intervention became obvious. It was only a question of professionalism and creativity of how to arrange immediate distribution of potable water to people.

When it comes to the owners of Musafir restaurant, they also converted a threat into an opportunity. Because operations of restaurants in Kyiv were constantly interrupted by the alerts of air attacks, and people would interrupt lunch or dinner to immediately proceed to the nearest shelter, Musafir converted its restaurants’ basements to allow shelter in place. Later, the operators realized that food could still be served in their shelters and people would continue to enjoy the food and the party—in safety.  

Thus, another war breaking out in Europe just 77 years after World War II proves the value of the BCM concept for all security practitioners. It is undoubtedly prized to invest in business continuity and resilience practice before disaster strikes because, as Benjamin Franklin says, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

For more resources on improving resilience and BCM in your organization, review the ASIS International Business Continuity Management Guideline here.

Artem Teslenko is the security assistant at International Organization for Migration, Mission to Ukraine, and a member of the ASIS Ukraine Chapter. Connect with him at [email protected] on LinkedIn. Mykola Mikheiev, CPP, PCI, PSP, is the ASIS Ukraine chapter chair and an investigator. Connect with him at [email protected] on LinkedIn.