How did Vox Ukraine turn from a blog of several enthusiasts into an analytical center that impacts millions of Ukrainians? Here we describe the main milestones of the path that started in 2014 and proceeds into the future.
How Ukrainian top economists came together and organized an "intellectual party"
Spring 2014. The Revolution of Dignity just won. The desire for rapid changes was in the air. You probably remember the feeling at the time that you need to do something.
Thus, four Ukrainian economists founded VoxUkraine, a plain blog on the free service Blogspot. They started to write on what they know best — on Ukraine’s economy and the development of reforms.
The economists were Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Tymofiy Mylovanov, Oleksandr Talavera and Volodymyr Bilotkach.
Later, the president of the Kyiv School of Economics, Tymofiy Mylovanov, recalled: “In 2014, world-class economists wanted to help Ukraine. However, it quickly became clear that no one needed the expertise of even the Nobel laureates: neither the Cabinet of Ministers nor the Verkhovna Rada. Then we decided to go a much longer but more fundamental way: to raise the level of education and economic debate in Ukraine.”
The texts started to attract attention, the team began to grow. Economists from the private sector and think tanks joined the initial group of four. Olena Bilan, Veronika Movchan, Nataliia Shapoval and others formed the Editorial Board.
The common goal of VoxUkraine economists was clear — to raise the level of economic discussion in Ukraine.
What was the Ukrainian economic debate until 2014? “Strong managers” were talking about “productive emissions”. Politicians were proclaiming slogans about lowering tariffs and raising pensions. Neither the first nor the second ones had any idea of what modern economics is. Looking for solutions based on modern economic research was out of question. The spirit of the Soviet political economy prevailed. Ukrainian and world economists spoke different languages.
From March to October 2014, Vox published 114 posts. In fact, it was no longer a blog but a journal. Thus VoxUkraine moved to its own web-site.
For a long time the web-site hosting was paid for by one of the founders. In general, during the first two years the organization existed mainly for the contributions of its members and their friends.
At the end of 2014, VoxUkraine developed the Reform Index, a tool that measures the progress of reforms in Ukraine. Literally: if the changes are positive, the sector gains a few. If changes are negative, points are deducted. This is VoxUkraine in action: the discussion of reforms is no longer based on emotions and manipulations. You see what is really happening with reforms in public administration, public finance, monetary system, business climate, and energy independence. You read the comments of experts. And can draw your own independent conclusion.
Since then, almost 70 people have been experts of the Index. Some of them later joined the government (having lost the right to evaluate reforms for a long time), for example, Pavlo Kukhta, Taras Kachka, Yuriy Dzhygyr.
VoxUkraine emerged from the desire of several economists to do something useful for Ukraine. From the “intellectual party”, as the founders themselves say. This party went on as new people were joining it. Finally, there was the time to institutionalize it.
How VoxUkraine has grown and became an institution
In the fall of 2015, VoxUkraine was a community uniting readers and like-minded people. But organizationally it was still a group of volunteers. Therefore, on November 11, 2015, the civil society organization was registered. This was the first milestone.
It was necessary to build an organizational structure. In addition to the Editorial Board, VoxUkraine’s Supervisory Board, an International Academic Board, and a general meeting — the highest governing body of the organization — were formed. The internal policies and procedures were formalized and the relevant manual was approved. Since 2016, Vox has been publishing annual reports, including financial ones. Since 2017 Vox has been undergoing external audits.
All this is needed to work independently, transparently and, most importantly, to make quality analytical products.
At the same time, the number of projects was growing.
In late 2015, when watching the parliamentary debates, Mykola Myagkyi, an expert of the Reform Index, noticed something that many viewers have felt: parliamentarians were asking the head of the National Bank, Valeria Hontareva, not very appropriate questions. Many of them contradicted the data, did not correspond to the facts, some simply did not make sense. That’s how a prototype of a fact-checking article appeared on the VoxUkraine website.
Fact-checking is when experts check if politicians are using the correct facts and the right context. If politicians manipulate and lie, society should know about it.
The first full-fledged fact-checking article was a review of the economic discussion on the show “Shuster.Live” in February 2016. It made a lot of ado. The then editor-in-chief of VoxUkraine, Borys Davydenko, explained the fact-checking method to the people involved (those whose statements were fact-checked).
This was the start of the most publicly known VoxUkraine project — VoxCheck.
At that time, Olena Shkarpova joined VoxUkraine. She was the leader of VoxCheck for three and a half years and organized a powerful team of fact-checkers. Today, for more than a year, the project has been led by Maksym Skubenko who is telling politicians that they are lying live on the Suspilne TV.
In 2017, VoxCheck launched the internship program which now has over 200 graduates. In 2018, the project team published the first rating of manipulators and liars, and in 2019 it launched the “Anthology of Lies” — a database of fact checks using which anyone can easily check a politician (they are not very original in their manipulations).
Local media readers do not always have access to quality data and analytics. So in 2017, Kyrylo Yesin launched the VoxConnector, a project for delivery of analytics to hundreds of newsrooms across Ukraine.
Within a year, the new project leader Yulia Mincheva founded the Editors’ Club. It brought together journalists who wanted to tell their readers about important changes in the country, thus raising the share of responsible voters.
The Ukrainian parliament is the subject of our special attention. Under the leadership of Tymofiy Mylovanov, Dmytro Ostapchuk (now working for Data Robot UA) visualized real coalitions and oppositions based on the votes of MPs rather than their statements. Later, Oleksandr Nadelnyuk (now working for Liga.net) continued these publications.
Today, the analysis of the parliamentary votes and the update of the rating of reformist MPs is only a small part of the DataVox project. Project analysts have created and are developing an instrument for analysis of the Ukrainian media space using machine learning algorithms.
Besides, there were many influential short-term projects, for example, a political compass, a rating of budget processes or “wishes” of deputies.
We have created online courses in economics, fact-checking and energy economics, we constantly organize trainings, lectures, internship programs. We also co-founded the Center for Journalism at the Kyiv School of Economics.
VoxUkraine has grown rapidly. In six years, a small volunteer project has turned into a powerful organization. VoxUkraine faced its first crisis.
In 2016, we wrote 267 articles that were read by almost 900,000 people and attracted one million hryvnias through crowdfunding. In 2017, the revenues from crowdfunding were lower, but the total coverage increased to 1.7 million people. In 2019, our materials were read by 2.6 million people. In 2020 — by more than 2.8 million.
In 2019 we published 257 articles – essentially one article per working day. This is a high pace given that writing an article (especially the one that involves data collection and analysis) can take several months. All articles undergo a rigorous editorial process. We prioritize quality over quantity of publications.
VoxUkraine has grown rapidly. In six years, a small volunteer project has turned into a powerful organization. Vox faced its first crisis.
How VoxUkraine overcame the identity crisis and transformed
It looked like an identity crisis. On the one hand, everything is fine — projects, publications, we are growing. On the other hand, some people say that Vox is a fact-checking project. Some consider Vox a media. However journalists call us “think tank.”
Each strategic session was started with the question “What is Vox?” Every time we argued. And rather answered the “What are we doing?” question.
- We do our own research. It is original, based on data, and provides a justified answer to controversial questions.
- VoxUkraine is a platform for discussion. To support the quality of discussion our publications are peer reviewed.
- We promote modern economic knowledge: in articles, videos, online courses.
- We check the statements of politicians and expose lies and manipulations.
- We monitor government activities and defend the progress of reforms.
- We develop the community of people who work for the modernization of Ukraine.
What unites all these things? What is VoxUkraine? Finally we have the answer. Vox is a modern think tank that helps modernize Ukraine.
VoxUkraine was founded to address the demand of those Ukrainian citizens who wanted to read high-quality analytics about Ukraine. And this demand is growing.
We work for responsible citizens. We offer a balanced and logical analysis of the main problems of the country. And options for their solution.
Today, Ukraine is in the winning position: it has the opportunity to bypass the “rake”, which has already been stepped on by the developed and emerging market countries, such as Poland or Slovakia. However, the Ukrainian governments are stubbornly repeating not only the mistakes of our western neighbors, but also the mistakes of Ukraine itself.
What is VoxUkraine? Finally we have the answer. Vox is a modern think tank that helps modernize Ukraine.
Our role is to stop the government or the society from making a U-turn and going back to the past, from which we got away with so much pain.
We believe in the freedom of people, community and the economy based on responsibility. We understand our responsibility and impact on the development of the state.
We support critical thinking: we are not afraid to question dogmas, we discuss and reflect in order to be relevant in the changing world.
We respect true expertise, not its imitation, and we work with the best experts in their fields.
We are not afraid to call a spade a spade and understand that the worst thing that can be done today is to underestimate the level of threats to the country. We believe that Ukrainians are capable of building an effective state.
Given the challenges which the country faces, the information chaos, a lot of emotional and unjustified opinions, it is necessary to maintain an appropriate level of discussion to talk about problems, their root causes and solutions.
After all, our standard of living depends on it. The absence of a land market cost us a significant share of GDP, and to each owner of the parcel of land — thousands of dollars of start-up capital. And this is just a small example of state inefficiency.
So, it’s time to become more efficient. For us too.
That’s why we’re updating Vox. We become clearer, more convenient and more focused. Our goal is to help you understand the meaning of the miles of information which you see in the news every day. So that you could make well-justified decisions.
The weakness and inefficiency of the state begins with us. When we do not catch the word of a liar politician. When we are being manipulated. When we vote for an incompetent or corrupt candidate. When we trust unverified information. When we do not want to get to the core and trust a random “expert”.
It’s time to change.
What we are working for
We work every day to build the Ukraine of our dream.
How do we see it?
It is a country that lives in the 21st century and is progressing together with the world.
It is a state where management decisions are based on data and research rather than guesstimated. Where the discussion is based on evidence, not emotions.
Where the state protects the rules and interests of the society, not of specific companies or individuals.
Where politicians do not lie to voters because they respect the citizens. And they also know that people do not vote for liars.
Where government officials and citizens understand that there is no state money — there is only taxpayers’ money.
It is a modernized Ukraine that left its Soviet past behind. A country where people want to live and raise children.
Ukraine that has a future.
Ukraine that we are building. Together with you. For all of us.