Katerina Bieloruska is Parimatch Technology‘s Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the Parimatch Foundation. She shines light on the company’s social responsibility efforts and calls for greater industry collaboration to overcome adversity.
We appreciate you taking the time to speak with SBC Leaders Magazine. Let’s start by discussing your background – it started as a journalist.
That’s right. Journalism was my major for five years. But I have never worked as a reporter! Journalism was something I found interesting and romantic, so I chose to study it. I also enjoyed writing in school. As I learned more about journalism, I realized that it wasn’t the right career for me.
Being a Ukrainian journalist can be difficult. Most articles that you create are ordered by others. It wasn’t something I liked. It can be a tedious and lengthy process to work with good news outlets. That is when I realized it was not for me. However, my education taught me a lot about communication and it is something I use a lot in the current job.
Although journalism was not the profession I desired, I was fortunate enough to be able to work in the family business so I set out on a new adventure.
Parimatch Tech has had you as a co-founder and project manager. You also held the position of Head of Corporate Development. Which were the most challenging moments in your career?
You may have looked at my resume and wondered “how bizarre?” Each position was different and she worked in all parts of the company!
You’re right. Parimatch is my family’s business. When I started the company, it gave me the freedom to choose any position I desired. However, I was skeptical that this would be a good idea. In a junior position, I was an Account Manager. My job involved working in different countries and collecting data to create analysis reports.
I was then promoted to a different position within the company. This was particularly interesting as the company was going though a lot of change. The first couple of years I worked for the company felt like we lived in an era of continuous transformation, growth and change. It was crucial that I worked in various areas of the company. This was my family’s business, not an employee.
When I look back at my challenges, it is clear that we should start from the time the company was founded. Parimatch was founded in Ukraine in 1994. We were an established betting firm with significant retail presence at the time. One problem, however was the ban in Ukraine on betting.
The company had been operating in other countries, mainly the CIS, at the time. However, Ukraine, a large market, was still a problem when the ban was imposed.
The next challenge when I first joined was to transform the company into an exclusively online retailer. It was something very few other companies did at that time so it was difficult. We transformed our online business into a technology-based company in recent years.
Our company is not positioned as a casino company, but rather as a technology company. This is an enormous transformation. There were just a few IT professionals when I first started in this business. Parimatch Tech now has nine R&D centers around the globe, where more than 1000 IT professionals cover all aspects of Parimatch’s infrastructure and development.
Despite many challenges, I believe that the key to our success has been that we created something innovative and new. Parimatch started as a startup when I joined it. Now, we are a major player in the global gambling market that is driven by technology and industry knowledge.
How has your work in multiple divisions of the business shaped you as a leader?
My leadership style is based on the following three pillars. Most of my knowledge about the industry and Parimatch, in particular, comes from working in different positions. I don’t have any formal education. I admit that I didn’t know much about the industry before joining this company. All of this was learned on the job.
I learned a lot about management, as well as about building relationships. I continue to grow, learn and adapt to the company. It is especially evident when faced with difficult situations, such as the start of war in Ukraine. We faced many problems, but we also had some opportunities to do things that were not possible before. This also provides a wealth of knowledge. I believe it’s important to take what you learn in every situation that comes up during your career.
Self-confidence is another pillar. This industry isn’t always easy, especially for women in technology and gambling. The number of women in this industry has increased over the past few years. It’s easier to make progress and there is more female representation. There are still times that you question your place in the meeting room if you’re not one of many women. You must remember that your position in the meeting is earned, that you are knowledgeable about what you’re discussing, and that you have the right to address that topic. To succeed in business, you must have confidence in your abilities. This is crucial. This is essential if the representation of women in the gambling and technology industries will continue to be unchanged. This is something that leaders must understand and advocate for.
You are, among other things the chairwoman of Parimatch Foundation. What are the Foundation’s main aims, for those who don’t already know?
According to me, the Foundation’s history can be broken down into two distinct parts: before and after the war.
The Foundation’s main purpose was to create a bright future for children. Sport was an effective tool in that endeavor. We wanted children to learn leadership skills, teamwork and communication through the sport programme that we organized.
Children with disabilities are welcome to join our activities. Although the Foundation is primarily based in Ukraine, we also have programs in Cyprus. We found in both countries that the infrastructure was not sufficient to allow children with disabilities to participate in sports activities. Our goal was to create inclusive sessions for all children by training coaches. Sport has been proven to be very beneficial for mental and physical health. Being part of a team gives children the feeling of belonging.
Children from low income families are also supported by us. To create educational programs for children, the Foundation works with PE teachers and schools.
Since the conflict began, however, our thinking has changed. We now know that sports and education are not the only things kids in Ukraine require. We have been working closely with the local authorities and regional military administrations of Ukraine, as well as volunteer groups, to assist families in evacuating and resettling them elsewhere that’s safer.
Our work has been in collaboration with Western Ukraine hubs, which provide temporary shelter to families and children. We have been working with hubs in Western Ukraine to provide temporary shelter for families and children. We have been more concerned with basic needs for children since the start of war.
We realized a few months ago that it was crucial to restart our sporting programmes. There is war. But children need to continue to grow. The people want to return to their normal lives. Ukraine still needs humanitarian assistance.
We have also launched a program to help mental health in addition to our sport initiatives. Working with psychologists and the Israel Trauma Coalition on ways to help children who have suffered trauma from war, we have collaborated with them. Both adults and kids have experienced a tremendous trauma.
Teachers have worked with the specialists to help them understand how to talk about war and begin to unravel what their children have gone through. We wanted specialist assistance because these are difficult subjects to talk about.
We have also been participating in fundraising events to help Ukraine. Many children fled Ukraine to seek asylum in Cyprus. We are working to support these children by giving them the resources they require.
Many of our employees and management are Ukrainian. Our brand was created in Ukraine. My family is from Ukraine. We must stand up and support our country. This has been the core principle behind Parimatch Foundation since its inception and it is even more important today. To address social issues, we are bringing together governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations. We can solve problems through this collaboration. Businesses must support the country and its people now more than ever.
Your aid is what you have put a lot of emphasis. How important is industry collaboration when supporting humanitarian assistance in Ukraine?
Some of our partners deserve my gratitude. We realized that Ukraine needed our help, but we had to make sure that the Foundation was able to pay for the aid it received. Parimatch Tech’s funds are not enough to cover this.
Parimatch Tech is connected to many partners. To explain our situation, we started to call them. Parimatch Tech employees were volunteer workers at that time. Everyone began calling their friends to request any help. Our ambassadors and other providers provided much support, as well as the assistance of football clubs, sporting organisation agencies, and our Ambassadors. Not only did we manage to raise funds, but also some humanitarian aid was sent to Ukraine. We were helped by some of the football clubs that we are affiliated with.
This was a difficult task and required lots of organization. But we managed it. I’m proud that we were able to help Ukraine the way we did. We are trying our best to help, even if it is not easy for us to collect large amounts of humanitarian aid or money. Informational support is crucial now, as we are raising awareness about the problem.
It was important for us to have the Stand for Ukraine LED board displayed at the Chelsea match. These small acts of kindness are what help us to fight information wars and share our stories. All our partners were very kind and helped us. We have been able to communicate with everyone and they all understood our problem.
It is important to also address the reaction of the gambling industry. It was crucial that we as a Ukrainian business stop operations in Russia, Belarus, and other gambling businesses do the same. This has been an enormous support to Ukraine. Many companies have pulled out from the Russian and Belarusian market, including DraftKings (to name just a few), PokerStars (to name a few), and Bet365. That kind of support is appreciated.
What are the future plans for Parimatch Tech & Parimatch Foundation in the next twelve months?
Parimatch Tech is continuing its transformations. We must adapt to the changing environment. The company is undergoing major internal transformations. We were looking for opportunities in Europe, Africa and Asia when we made the decision to leave two markets.
Also, we shifted to B2B. Although we haven’t done this before, we believe we are now able to offer great products to the other market players.
We are not a gambling operator anymore, but we provide technology and marketing solutions for the sector. Our own product has been nominated to the SBC Awards 2022. These are the main changes this year.
Concerning the Parimatch Foundation’s new program with mental health, it was launched and we are now focusing our efforts on that. To continue supporting the Ukrainian children, we need more expertise and must move quickly. Because we know how vital this program is to children’s growth, we will keep our sport programme going.
One thing I want to mention is the fact that our Parimatch Tech global workforce and volunteer team were extremely helpful when war broke out. They organized themselves and were willing to assist in many ways, including providing aid or medication.
Parimatch Foundation has to keep volunteering high. This is Parimatch Tech’s CSR obligation. We are also trying to get our employees involved in social causes. This is the area we’ll be focusing on in the coming months.