War and creative industries: CASES platform on the Ukrainian information front
In a series of interviews, we portray our Culture of Solidarity Fund grantees. The grantee featured here successfully applied to round 6: Culture of Solidarity Ukraine edition.
Russian aggression affected the majority of creative businesses in Ukraine. Despite losing workers, customers, and revenue, they contribute to the struggle by drawing the world’s attention to the war and helping Ukrainians. One such company is CASES. Supported by the European Cultural Foundation’s Culture of Solidarity fund, it provides free access to online courses for those needing psychological relief and creative skills to start a new career in such a difficult time.
CASES is a Ukrainian platform combining EdTech and a social network for creative industries. Users can post vacancies, offer services, and learn about the newest projects, market research, and up-to-date events from the creative and technical worlds. The educational part of CASES is Creative Practice consisting of courses, lectures, conferences, and master classes in various fields, among which graphic, web, and UX / UI design are prominent.
CASES considers itself an ecosystem combining educational and career services and a specialized social network. The goal is to give as many people as possible a chance for realization, guiding them from zero field knowledge to supply and career development. More than 1,400 creative organizations have registered on the platform, including big Ukrainian startups such as Grammarly, MacPaw, Readdle, etc. At the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, the total number of CASES users was 18,500. Now it has grown to 85,000.
We have interviewed Anatoliy Popel, CEO of CASES, about the team’s values, motivation, and initiative results.
What prompted CASES open free access to its courses?
After February 24, we were all frustrated and no one could think of anything but war. We had a crisis of self-identification because work for the creative industries seems optional when explosions are outside the window and such a degree of uncertainty is in the future.
But on February 27, we held a joint session to decide whether we were ready to do something else for our community besides remaining anxious. It was not the right time for many services on the platform, such as vacancies, publication of materials and events. However, our educational and career part might have been helpful. So we agreed to make our courses free of charge. It could relieve our students of anxiety for a while, help them be distracted, stop reading news constantly and acquire new skills.
We thought our courses weren’t relevant in these circumstances and up to a thousand people would enrol them according to optimistic forecasts. But the number of applicants was more significant than we imagined.
How many people have signed up since the beginning of the full-scale war? What feedback did you receive from the students?
In March, we had 20,000 registered students and now 65,000. This delta is the number of users who needed our support. People wrote to us from the occupation, bomb shelters, Kherson, and Kharkiv under the missile attack. They said courses helped them psychologically to go through this time. It means we were with them in such difficult moments. Probably, that’s because our classes are so organized: it’s not just a video but interactivity. People downloaded homework and got feedback from our support team and reviewers, so it worked like a sedative. Moreover, many lost their jobs and needed to master the skills to make money tomorrow.
What is the situation in the creative economy of Ukraine now?
We conducted our research and determined that half of the companies operating in the creative industries suffered significantly. Most had reductions in either staff or salaries, and there were undoubtedly reductions in revenue: 8 out of 10 companies did not have foreign customers systematically. They could get them situationally, but for the most part, the market was focused on serving customers from Ukraine.
If we look for some of the few positive effects on our industry, these are conditions in which there is no alternative but to move into the international job market and work with foreign projects. Unfortunately, not all companies will survive during and after the war. Not physically, but as businesses. However, those who survive will start working outside. They will begin to assimilate and integrate naturally.
How do you think it is possible to establish cooperation between Ukrainian and European creative industries?
Make an effort to learn English. And we still need to continue learning about entrepreneurship and how to build business relationships. Therefore, we plan to launch two courses that can improve the situation in the future. The first is an English language course for the creative industries. We have to ensure that people are not afraid to speak English and enter the international market. The second is a freelance course. It is about how to realize yourself as a freelancer, starting with registration and ending with how to gather a quality portfolio that will correctly show your skills. We will also teach students how to sell services wisely.
In the industry, it is necessary to support each other, to form networking inside and outside. Learn to work together. Authorize pieces of projects to those who aren’t lucky enough to have an order now. Meet representatives of Western and European teams. We must be prepared that building relationships and establishing contacts will not happen in a day. It is a gradual process.
Have you become a part of the information front? How do you position yourself on it?
The Creative Practice was launched not during the war but three years ago. But even when most companies in this field were Russian-speaking, our principal position was to make the platform Ukrainian-speaking.
We were against the market, against the flow. But we felt this was the right thing to do because by creating content in Ukrainian, we had the opportunity to form a Ukrainian professional dictionary. When we create our products, we explain the composition not only in the paintings of Western artists. We show it in Shevchenko’s painting “Kateryna” and other masterpieces of Ukrainian art.
Since the beginning of the full-scale war, we have been publishing galleries about Ukrainian artists on our social media to show how many of them are great and interesting. We have Narbut, Roitburd, Primachenko. We have many artists, and we need to know them. We need to associate them with Ukraine.
How do you function in these conditions as a business?
To sum up the past period, we managed to save most of the team. From May, new people even started to appear on the team. What is incredibly excellent for us – we have recruited six reviewers for our courses from graduates of the Creative Practice. That is, we already have at least six cases of employment. March, April, and May existed due to two components. The first is to support our users who have donated to us during this time so that we can pay servers, taxes, and fees to those people who work in these extreme conditions.
We launched a free subscription in June. That means people can continue to study for free if they cannot pay, but we will be grateful for supporting our development. We were lucky to receive 400 subscriptions in half a month. The second component is grant support from institutions such as the European Cultural Foundation. We are very grateful for it because it is not only material. Grants have another part besides financial aid. It is a small psychological confirmation that you are doing what you need to do.