When Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker journeyed to the beleaguered Ukraine this weekend and met with its President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to offer advice and technical assistance to businesses there, it might have struck some as strange.
After all, Ukraine's problems are something President Obama and his administration have been trying to negotiate around for months. Why send the Secretary of Commerce if Secretary of State John Kerry can't patch things up?
Sending Pritzker is a reminder of the powerful role business can have in creating change at home and abroad.
Pritzker acknowledged the heavy price U.S. businesses are paying in Russia and Ukraine with sanctions, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. But it's a two-way street, and businesses there also face systemic challenges.
Pritzker said there was a list of 15 to 20 things Ukraine had asked for from Commerce and U.S. business experts, including assistance on tax policy, the implementation of e-government, and potential changes to the court system. So why us?
In an interview session with Pritzker at the Clinton Global Initiative, which I attended last week, the Commerce Secretary spoke of the exemplary role U.S. business has in the world, particularly because developing countries value our respect for the law, relative transparency, philanthropy, and investment in community, she said.
"Whether it is Lowes working in Mexico with schools to help them, or GE working to create products for mother and infant health care...companies around the world and countries take notice of this, and they say, 'I want this kind of example in my country,'" Pritzker said.
And that's all critical to building a stronger Ukraine now.
"The take-away is this is a country looking to pursue its European democratic opportunity," Pritzker told Bloomberg Businessweek. That's a sentiment any U.S. business can get behind.