8 years ago almost to the week, I was in Moscow with 7000 other entrepreneurs attending the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. The event was cohosted by Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Moscow City Government.
I was there is my capacity as co-Founder of Start Up Australia, an entrepreneurship organisation that was part of the newly formed StartUp Nations Movement, brought together under the auspices of The Kauffman Foundation.
Being in Moscow for the first time was thrilling and I felt very posh staying at the majestic Metropole Hotel which sits on Red Square. The conference venue was just a short stroll, albeit in freezing temperatures, across the square. Feeling the icy wind numb my face was a welcome respite from the incessant humidity of Singapore, where I live.
The opening day of the Congress had an air of excitement and optimism. The Mayor of Moscow proudly welcomed the world of entrepreneurship to his city with the hope that the event would foster fruitful business ties and friendships.
The delegates certainly took that excitement back to the hotel bar that night as we got to know each other over cocktails in the exquisite marble bar of the Metropole. These conversations ran way into the early hours.
The next morning, feeling a little dusty and armed with our conference tote bags, we headed out as a group to take our walk back across Red Square to the Convention Centre. What we were greeted with alarmed us.
Dozens of young Russian soldiers in black uniforms had cordoned off the whole of Red Square and were erecting a barrier fence around its perimeter. Security scanning stations had been placed at the entrance and we were directed to walk through them, not take any photos and make our way swiftly to the conference centre.
The day was the 18th of March, 2014 and Russia had just annexed Crimea and Sevastapol in the Ukraine.
Over the course of that day as we sat in the protective bubble of the conference centre feeling somewhat uneasy, Putin had seemingly ordered his comrades to Red Square to show their support for Russia’s actions.
By the time the conference day had closed, the Square had become filled with men, women and children waving flags, swaying and singing along nostalgically to video clips of old-school Russian crooners being beamed from enormous screens attached to scaffold towers. Putin also made appearances on screen throughout the rally to keep the crowd motivated as they stood for hours in the bitter cold conditions.
It snowed that day in Moscow.
The rest of the days of the conference passed without incident. The rally staging and barriers came down and the soldiers left. The conference was deemed a great success. But the optimism for Russian entrepreneurship and engagement with the world started to diminish that day. The Moscow of today is not the Moscow of 17th March, 2014.
Today’s attack on Ukraine by Russia threw my mind immediately back to this trip to Moscow. I had such a wonderful week there. I made friendships for life. I have happy memories, and surreal memories from witnessing the rally, and sad memories for what could have been. I feel connected to this conflict because I was there at that pivotal moment in history.
Countries, corporations and startups succeed and fall with leadership. I have always been an optimist and maybe somewhat of an idealist. I don’t believe I am naive. I just fail to understand why people desire power so much and can be so cruel and evil.
I have embraced Web 3 because I am an entrepreneur and a collaborator, and I believe that decentralisation offers a way forward for humans to do better and be better.
I spent this morning buzzing with my fellow Realm Academy cohort members as we graduated from a Metaverse course. I even had an article published in a fantastic publication that I was about to share when the news came through about the attack on Ukraine. It left me deflated.
So many of us are fighting the good fight and trying hard to be kind and compassionate. Throughout these Pandemic years, we have had to dig extra deep to keep that optimistic light burning inside us.
And then the actions of one murderous, evil man who rules by fear, throws the world into disarray. And shows we have learnt nothing from the past.
The way we view power has to change. The way we lead, and the leaders we accept has to change. I’ve had enough of this shit and I’m sure I’m not alone.