‘She’s Next is not just about Visa, we are trying to make societal change’ 

Emerging Europe speaks with Vira Platonova, Visa senior vice president and regional director for 17 countries, about the  She’s Next Empowered by Visa initiative, and its key role in keeping Ukrainian businesses ticking over. 

Emerging Europe’s Female Business Leader of the Year in 2021, Vira Platonova oversees all of digital payment giant Visa’s operations across 17 Central and Eastern European, Caucasian and Central Asian markets, and all from the company’s regional headquarters in Kyiv. The location, says Platonova, has not changed, despite Russia’s war, nor has Visa’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurs. 

Indeed, the invasion has spurred more innovation, she says, and has sped up the adoption of digital services. 

“Since the very first days of the war, we have been in constant touch with the government, the central bank and the retail banks, doing all we can to ensure that merchants and banks can provide smooth and seamless services to people because access to cash is very limited. People need to pay with cards,” says Platonova, who says Visa is doing all it can to make that possible. 

She points to Kherson, liberated from Russian occupation in November, where right at the beginning of the occupation point of sale (POS) terminals were reportedly removed by the Russians.  

“So, the only way that people could pay small businesses, for simple items such as food, was by using P2P payments (transfers from card to card). Another one, especially useful for entrepreneurs – is transactions with the phone acting as a POS terminal, where only the app (for the entrepreneur) and mobile internet connection are needed (Visa Tap to Phone technology). All of these technologies existed: but we never thought they would be used like this and could help people to survive.” 

Ukraine’s process of digitalisation, which began several years before the full-scale invasion of February 24, 2022, has been a key feature of the country’s resilience. “I cannot imagine what would have happened if we were not ready,” says Platonova. “Overall, the Ukrainian financial system – including Visa – has worked amazingly.” 

Visa invests in people 

A Ukrainian herself, Platonova was Visa’s first local appointment to oversee such a big cluster, something she considers a huge plus in terms of what it says about the company’s culture. 

“People trust people, they don’t always trust brands. So, when people see me leading the company in this market: a local, a woman, a successful woman, it’s important,” she says. “Visa invests in people, in human resources, in leadership. It’s important for people to see this.” 

One of Visa’s largest current investments in people is its ambitious She’s Next programme, a global initiative aimed at advancing women in their efforts to fund, run and grow their businesses, sharing best practices across countries and regions. Since March 2020, She’s Next has awarded more than 1.25 million euros in grants and coaching scholarships to women entrepreneurs across the globe. 

But the initiative is more than just about funding, says Platonova. “Our primary goal is to educate in each and every market and offer real tools that will help entrepreneurial women make real connections and benefit from the community: we want to be practical as well as theoretical in our approach.” 

And this, of course, often in societies where women’s participation in business has not always been prominent. 

“We are trying to lead here,” says Platonova, “especially in the markets where we don’t see a lot of progress. If we drive this change from the financial sector, then we can bring about results.” 

Again it comes back to education: many women in Platonova’s region lack financial education, so change must start here.  

“They know what they can do, what kind of business they want to develop – they are entrepreneurs, after all, these women. But they don’t know how. Our aim is to help them to answer their questions.” 

Bringing everyone on board 

Platonova says that working for a company that operates in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide is at once an advantage and a challenge. 

“What works in Ukraine does not always work in Serbia, or Uzbekistan,” she says, adding that it is important to look for what commonalities do exist, and that these are often in IT and innovation. 

She points to mobile payments: whatever the country people want the convenience of being able to pay with their phones. “So you start there, making sure that these women running their small business can accept payments with just a mobile device. That they can see immediately the income in their account at the bank. It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly complicated, this needs to connect each and every merchant with this network of networks, as we call ourselves at Visa.” 

“It’s all about user experience, the easier and more seamless something is, the faster it is adopted.” 

While some countries in Platonova’s region are among the leaders in mobile payments – Georgia is second in the world – others lag. “We still have some way to go in Central Asia, but what we are doing now is bringing infrastructural innovation to these countries. Accepting cards requires digital infrastructure.” 

Once in place, that infrastructure can then be used not just to boost female participation in the business world, but to change attitudes. 

Just one example of the tools that the She’s Next programme offers comes from Kazakhstan, where the country’s largest bank, Halyk, has begun issuing special She’s Next Empowered by Visa cards for women entrepreneurs – participants of the programme. 

“The banks see women coming in to open business accounts, becoming entrepreneurs, ready to invest. This initiative is about bringing on board the whole financial community,” adds Platonova, who suggests that the next step will be to bring in other partners, such as large retailers.  

“It’s not just about Visa, we are trying to make societal change.” 

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *