We received this video from students studying at Volodymyr-Volynskyi Gymnasium (in northwest Ukraine). These students speak about what Ukraine means to them. Each student speaks in either Ukrainian, Russian, or English to highlight the diversity of Ukraine.
Last month, the president of Bridge to Ukraine, Casey Magee, was featured in the 74th issue of a newsletter written by The U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, a Ukrainian policy think tank in Washington, D.C. The full text is shown below (and can also be found at http://www.usubc.org/site/recent-news/u-s-ukraine-foundation-usuf-newsltter-issue-74-escalating-crisis-more-of-putin-s-troops-entering-ukraine):
NGO DEVELOPMENTS – BRIDGE TO UKRAINE
A letter from Casey Magee, President of Bridge to Ukraine …
Bridge to Ukraine began with a group of Peace Corps Volunteers in a Kyiv apartment in April 2013. We all felt that we had special Ukrainian tools; a unique and comprehensive understanding of Ukrainian civic society, culture, language and a network of friends around the country. To us, it felt like such a waste to bring this set of tools back to America and not be able to utilize them. We decided to form a US-based non-profit organization that would allow us to use our tools to help keep the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community organized in America and allow us to use our Ukrainian tools to keep contributing to the development of Ukraine from America. Our mission became to make a strong connection between Ukraine and America through sharing of ideas, culture, and mutual support.
Our first project was called the Youth Bank Project. We wanted to fund small $100 youth-led projects throughout Ukraine utilizing the Peace Corps community, which included training youth in project management and community development principles. Unfortunately, with the Euromaidan revolution and the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated and our Youth Bank project lost the interest of the youth. As the situation worsened in Eastern Ukraine and Internally Displaces People flooded the rest of Ukraine, we realized our Youth Bank project was like trying to give a haircut to someone suffering from a heart attack. Since then, our focuses have drifted elsewhere, but we’d love to return to this idea someday to help develop young leaders and activists in Ukraine.
Currently we have two active and ongoing programs. The first began as a Peace Corps project aimed at economic development that has established itself into a well-known program and brand among volunteers and their families; it’s called Eastern Rinok. They provide training and support to a collective of Ukrainian artisans by helping them make their products available online to an international market. Not only does this make being an artist in Ukraine more economically viable, it helps spread the Ukrainian culture abroad, develops business and personal skills of Ukrainian artists and creates a strong and well supported artist community. Earlier this year we took the Eastern Rinok team under our organization’s umbrella and have worked together to strengthen their program and give them a home in America to work under. We are very proud of what Eastern Rinok has done and its bright future. So far, they have helped artists reach over $15,000 in sales on the online marketplace Etsy. We’re currently looking into providing training to Internally Displaced Peoples with artistic talents and getting them involved in the Eastern Rinok project to help them get back to work. (more information on how to buy Eastern Rinok goods can be found on www.easternrinok.com)
Our second project addresses the needs of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) that have fled the war in East Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea to other parts of Ukraine; it’s called the Refugee Crisis Fund. We began by responding to a very dear friend to Peace Corps Volunteers, Vladimir Oros, and his plea for help to support the refugees flooding into his city of Dobropol’ye, Donetsk Oblast. The city was absolutely overwhelmed with refugees and we decided to do what we could to help. In a week we raised $1939 and delivered it to a partner organization in Dobropol’ye. We worked very flexibly with our partner organization so they could buy the most pressing needs for refugees when the money became available to them. They were able to give away 63 kits for families with children under 1 year old that contained baby food, juice, baby formula, milk, baby vitamins, porridge, cereal, diapers, laundry detergent, soaps/shampoos for babies, water, and baby hygiene supplies. Based on the lessons we learned and the systems we developed from our first round of delivering aid, we’ve added two more partner organizations and plan on helping refugee camps in Donetsk region, Zhytomyr region, and Sumy region in the near future. Once the situation stabilizes, we hope to help these Internally Displaced People transition back into normal life.
Someone asked me the other day why Peace Corps Volunteers from Ukraine, despite traveling all over the world, are so strongly connected with Ukraine and care about it more deeply than any other place they have traveled. I’ve asked this question to several Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, and the answer most of us agree on is that the Ukrainian people do not become your friend, they become your family. They will check in with you like an uncle, cousin, or sister. Every volunteer feels like they have family in Ukraine. Our hearts ache with our Ukrainian family and we are compelled to help and to do whatever we can to be a drop of water in the sea of change sweeping over Ukraine right now. This is why I believe our organization has been able to do so much with only the help of volunteers in such a short period of time. We are proud of Ukraine, and hope to be a small part in bringing Ukrainians the great future they deserve. We’re hoping for a day when Ukraine is no longer suffering from a heart attack and we can go back to giving it a metaphorical haircut, but until then, just like family, we will be helping respond to the crisis and helping Ukrainians get back on their feet and back to work making their country great.
For more information about Bridge to Ukraine, check out: www.bridge2ukraine.org and www.facebook.com/bridge2ukraine.
Refugees: The 1951 Refugee Convention defines refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state – indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. Without the assistance from other countries, their situation is often deadly or intolerable at best (3).
1. http://www.internal-displacement.org/europe-the-caucasus-and-central-asia/ukraine/2014/time-to-act-internal-displacement-on-the-rise-in-ukraine/ (Accessed 11/19/2014)
2. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c146.html (11/19/2014)
3. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html (11/19/2014)
To help us provide humanitarian aid to IDP’s in Ukraine, who are fleeing the violence and unrest in Eastern Ukraine, you can:
2. Create your own personal fundraiser and raise funds from your friends, family, and colleagues!
3. Share this post and make more people aware!
This is a news article posted in the local online news portal from Dobropol’ye. We translated into English so you can see what they’re saying about Bridge to Ukraine and the help we’ve given to the community there.
Bridge of Aid from the United States to Dobropol’ye + PHOTOS
For the last few days in Dobropol’ye, humanitarian aid has been in short supply for those forced into displacement from the anti-terror operation zone. And if kits filled with groceries from the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation “Pomozhem” [“Let’s Help”] are allowing us to provide stable nutrition, then the autumn weather will bring new challenges for us. You can already feel the need for baby food and toiletries.
Most of the city’s resources have already been exhausted, as 5,095 people have officially registered. 510 of them are children going to Dobropol’ye’s schools, and for students in grades 1-4, money from the budget must be allocated for them to eat. The whole situation is complicated by the lack of water from the North Donetsk-Donbass canal.
Concerning the current situation, it is necessary to attract resources from outside the city’s borders; even if the city’s residents actively brought humanitarian aid and assisted financially at the beginning, now even those resources are running out. This is why the community organization Dobropol’skiy Tsentr Molodyezhi DOBRO [Dobropol’ye Youth Center DOBRO] took on the responsibility of seeking additional funds. In 2012, our organization initiated a partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps in Ukraine, thanks to which we carried out two projects—“Knowing is Living” and “Local Action School”—but due to the events in the country, our volunteer William Ray had to leave Ukraine and return home.
However, as we all know, there are no former volunteers, and once you start out on the path of helping others, you always will. That’s why our partners Richard and Casey, who had been volunteers in Makeevka and Zhitomyr, created the NGO “Bridge to Ukraine,” and it is thanks to these people’s commitment that $1,939 of monetary aid was able to be raised in literally a couple days. But collecting money is one thing—spending it correctly another thing entirely. And for that, our long-time partner Yakov Roglayin from the Donetskiy Gorodskoy Blagotvoritel’niy Fond “Dobrota” [Donetsk City Charity Foundation “Dobrota”] took up the cause. Establishing official relations and wiring the money to the Foundation’s account took around two weeks, but next time there won’t be these kind of problems. The agreement has been signed.
Our organization chose this route thanks to the commitment of Lidia Cherkashina, who, in the first days of the anti-terror operation, started welcoming families of IDPs into her home and the homes of friends. Young mothers with children who ended up in a difficult spot could always count on Lidia’s help, while the close collaboration of the Red Cross, the Dobropol’ye City Council and the Dobropol’ye Raion City Administration allowed us to collect approximate real-time data on the number of children younger than one year and their needs. And Aleksandr Mediuk made the video that showed the current situation in the city.
And then that day came to Dobropoly’e when the humanitarian aid arrived: boxes of baby food, diapers, water, toiletries, and medicines. In the course of a few days, the aid was broken down into kits by age and delivered in the city of Belitskoe, where a humanitarian center near the Executive Committee was created, and Natalia Belik organized the disbursement of aid for 20 children. In the raion, people volunteered to help at the Department of Labor and Social Security, while Liudmila Litvinova reconciledthe work of a mobile office with the disbursement of humanitarian aid for 17 children living in our villages. In Dobropol’ye, the store Superkants took over the function of a humanitarian center, and Elena Bolotova has long been helping our organization in various initiatives. This time she (with the help of the Red Cross and workers of the 102nd cabinet of the Executive Committee) organized the disbursement of 26 humanitarian aid kits. In all, 24,755 hryvnias worth of groceries and toiletries were distributed.
Thank you very much to all those who participated in this endeavor, and we hope that the next steps in helping children will be even more productive, with even more people stepping up to the plate.
Author: Vladimir Oros
Today, Bridge to Ukraine is announcing a new project called the Refugee Crisis Fund. Due to the overwhelming humanitarian need in Ukraine for refugees running from the violence in Donetsk and Lugansk, we have decided to partner up with local organizations that are providing aid to refugee camps in order to provide basic needs like food, water, bedding, blankets, clothes and medicine.
The UNHCR has estimated over 190,000 Ukrainians have fled their homes and stayed somewhere in Ukraine, while over 197,000 have fled their homes to seek refuge in Russia. This number is increasing every day as the Ukrainian army gets closer to high population areas and the area of the seperatist rebels lessens. Most people leave with little more than a bag of extra clothes and a day or two worth of food. There are refugees in every region of Ukraine.
We will begin by providing donations to the Donetsk Charitable Fund, who are providing assistance to refugees located on Dobropol’ye, Ukraine which is . There are over 1500 UN registered refugees in this city of 35,000 people that is located about 50 miles northeast of Donetsk city. Locals say there are actually many more refugees, closer to 4000-5000 men, women and children.
We will soon provide more information about this refugee camp, with pictures, videos, and stories. We will provide photos of our aid reaching the refugees. If this is successful, we will open our efforts to other camps and provide assistance to more refugees in need.
If you’d like to help, please donate through our causes campaign page at https://www.causes.com/campaigns/82346-help-internally-displaced-refugees-in-ukraine/description — or you can donate directly to our website atwww.bridge2ukraine.org.
Today, Bridge to Ukraine is excited to announce that we are merging our efforts with a really successful project called Eastern Rinok. Many of our board members have been following what Eastern Rinok have been doing since its inception, and some have been intimately involved. It started as a project with Peace Corps Volunteers to help local Ukrainian artisans sell their work online. Since then ,it has become so much more. It is an empowerment tool, a close-knit community and meaningful work for volunteers, trainers, artisans and customers. The idea is simple, which is why it has been so successful.
The Eastern Rinok team will work the same as they did before, but they will work under the auspices of Bridge to Ukraine. We’re so happy to be working together, and hope we can enable to them to grow, reach more people and strengthen America and Ukraine’s bond to each other through the exchange of culture and ideas.
Eastern Rinok, welcome aboard! We are honored to have you with us!.
Eastern Rinok is a project designed to help Ukrainian artists and entrepreneurs sell their handmade goods using the online sales platform, Etsy.
Ukrainian artists of all backgrounds and influences interested in selling their handmade products are trained by Ukrainian trainers, in conjunction with Peace Corps Volunteers.The artists go through a 5-part training that teaches business skills as well as the technical specifics of the Etsy platform. Once the artists are certified members of the Eastern Rinok team, they benefit from the support of the Eastern Rinok community around the world.
The project was started in 2012 as the brainchild of Peace Corps Volunteers David Malenfant and Stuart King, and Ukrainian artist Sveta (Maiurenko) Malenfant. As of July 2014, Eastern Rinok artists have sold over 350 products on Etsy, yielding over $11,000 sales!
This project has made a measurable economic and social impact on the lives of Eastern Rinok artists: one artist has even donated some of her earnings to improve a school in her local community.
Although Peace Corps Volunteers are not currently in Ukraine, the project is still going strong. There are a total of 22 active Eastern Rinok artisans, including two who have joined the team post- Peace Corps evacuation. Eastern Rinok also benefits from the strong support of Returned PCV’s, their families, and the willingness of Ukrainian artists and trainers to help each other, even if they have never met before in-person.
The future is bright for this terrific project! Check out the current items for sale by searching “Eastern Rinok” on www.etsy.com or by clicking the following link: https://www.etsy.com/search?q=eastern%20rinok
On July 5th the Bridge to Ukraine board had a meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We had many things to discuss, especially with the civil unrest, EuroMaidan movement, Russian invasion of Crimea and the current war-like state of Eastern Ukraine all happening since the last time we all met. It was very good for all of us to share ideas, talk about a change of strategies and figure out together how best our small organization can help Ukraine at such a challenging and very fluid time in Ukraine’s history.
Our first program in Ukraine, the Youth Bank, was designed when Ukraine was at peace, and we were concerned about its long-term future and development. It was intended to instill long-term benefits into Ukrainian society at a very lost cost, utilizing our wonderful connections with Peace Corps. We were able to develop training material, a systemized approach to accepting small grant applications and found great interest among young people. Then, the civil unrest began and sidetracked the projects. Young people had more short term and important things to worry about, and they still do. Then Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated, leaving us with very few English speaking connections in Ukraine that understood our approach and had time to dedicate to the projects and trainings. As things degraded further the past few months, it became increasingly clear that Youth Bank projects were becoming nearly impossible to accomplish. The only thing on young people’s minds right now is bringing peace to Ukraine. This is why we have decided to put Youth Bank projects on hold until further notice. We think we have a great idea, and we’re eager to get it started again once things in Ukraine are more peaceful and calm. Until then, we want to help with more short term needs within Ukraine.
Right now, there are two Youth Bank projects currently through the application process and ready to be carried out. After these are carried out we will close Youth Bank for now and change focus.
Our idea is to partner with organizations in Ukraine to provide desparetly needed aid to refugees. Right now the UN Refugee Agency says there are almost 50,000 internally displaced people in Ukraine from Donetsk, Lugansk, and Crimea. It is estimated that there are actually many more than this; people who have fleed to friends or family in other cities.
In the near future, we will help raise funds for local Ukrainian organizations that are aiding refugees, and all funding will go straight towards the most desperate and urgent needs of the refugees. Things like toilet paper, clothes, food, clean water, blankets and toiletry products can be given to the refugees so they can live with some dignity as they face an uncertain future. We are working on finding the most direct and cost effective way to accomplish this right now. Once we find this out, we will begin raising funds and sending aid weekly.
We wish Ukraine was seeing better times, but our love for the country and its people drive us to help, especially when Ukraine needs us most. We want to focus on longterm development, but what Ukraine needs most right now is humanitarian help. We hope beyond words that peace returns to this lovely country we all have called home and that its people can start living the future they all deserve; one full of prosperity, happiness and beauty.
I want to tell you what we’ve been up to the past few months. I apologize for not keeping everyone up to date via this blog, but the situation was constantly changing and evolving. Making concrete decisions the past few months was rather difficult, and the few times I tried to announce something, things changed by the time I finished writing it. This has been the overall theme the past few months for anyone living in Ukraine. Instability and uncertainty.
Obviously, Ukraine has seen its share of turmoil, instability, unrest, and despair the past few months. All of us in the board, including me, have been doing everything possible to support Ukraine. We decided together to leave Bridge to Ukraine out of politics, since we intend to work with young people in Ukraine and do not want to pose any threat to them whatsoever. Our board members, including myself, have not stood idly though. We have taken every chance possible to speak to those that will listen in the US and Ukraine, including talking to media, classrooms in the US, and community groups.
These unfortunate events in Ukraine have caused our pilot Youth Bank projects to be delayed, then postponed, and ultimately cancelled. It was not an easy choice to make, but we decided it was the safest option.
First, during the EuroMaidan protests it was difficult to gather young people because they were distracted by what was going on, and the first project that our group of young people had decided to do required an interest from many young people. It would have been impossible at the time so we delayed the project, hoping for quieter times in the weeks to come.
The protests didn’t calm down, and they in fact got worse. We decided to postpone the first project halfway through and all othe projects indefinitely until things got better. This was another difficult decision. Our group of young people were very excited about this project, especially our group leader, but we all decided together that it was the right choice.
Then, in February, after the most violent days in the protests, Peace Corps Volunteers evacuated the country. Our original strategy was to use Peace Corps Volunteers to inspire youth projects, to conduct the trainings, and to help coach young people through the Youth Bank process. We were hoping they could come back so we could continue to rely on this strategy. Yesterday we just heard word that the volunteers will not be coming back anytime soon. This means we will have to rethink our strategy.
The good news, is that here in Zhytomyr where I am living, there is a group of young people involved in a project called the “School of Democratic Action”. They are learning to do community projects and are looking for funding. We have decided to contribute the money set aside for Youth Banks to help fund their projects, as it is a very similiar, if not parallel goal.
After this, we will reassess our strategy and figure out if we can continue our Youth Bank projects through some other means. If not, we will work on creating a new meaningful project given the situation.
Meanwhile, we’d like to ask you to keep Ukraine in your thoughts! We’ll do all we can to keep contributing to Ukraine’s future success. Despite the many obstacles we’ve faced the past few months, alongside millions of Ukrainians, we are more driven than ever to keep going; to be a drop of water in the sea of change that is bringing Ukraine towards a brighter future.
I promised to write a blog post about filing for non-profit status, so that is what I’m going to do. I meant to do it a few weeks ago, but life in Ukraine has been very exciting and unpredictable since the protests began and on top of that I also began training to be a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.
So the easiest step in forming a non-profit organization in America is making the decision to begin one. After that, it becomes quite difficult and requires a lot of paperwork, technical writing, in-depth understanding and a lot of fees for filing paperwork. Let me go a little into what it takes, and why when you do the paperwork yourself, it not only saves you money but makes you think about answers to questions about the organization that you never thought about asking yourself.
The first step is forming a board. I was lucky and knew that Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine would be willing to form a board and be active and passionate participants in the process of organizing and governing the organization. We met, made some decisions on our general direction, the name of the organization, and how to communicate with each other and make decisions over long distances since most of us live far from one another in the states. We are still working out kinks in this process, but thanks to the internet and its many tools, this is a possibility that is getting easier and easier every day.
One thing I had going for me was that I had tried to start a non-profit during my graduate school years. I had failed. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into then and wasn’t prepared for the workload, but this time I knew how hard it would be and that it would take a lot of time.
The first step after forming the board was to form a corporation. In Florida, this was very easy. I could go to the Florida website for registering corporations and register an organization in under 10 minutes. It was a very simple and easy process. The only mistake I made was not including certain articles in the Articles of Incorporation that would qualify the organization for non-profit status federally. I later realized this thanks to a lawyer RPCV that was helping us out. I had to file for amendments to the Articles of Incorporation, which took additional time and effort.
We also had to create bylaws and a Conflict of Interest Policy. These can be found in many different variants online. Be sure to shop around for bylaws that best fit what you expect from your board of directors and how you would like your board to govern the organization. Once you find a decent fit, have every member go over it closely and make suggestions for changing the small details. Bylaws aren’t always followed closely, but they are important and dictate how your board will operate and what kind of role they will have in the organization.
The next step is fairly easy, and that is to register your organization with the IRS for an Employee Identification Number (EIN). You can do this online on the IRS website, and it is a fairly quick, easy, and painless process.
After these steps have been taken, you’ll start the long process of filling out Form 1023, the application for non-profit 501(c)(3) status. The main part of the form is only 12 pages or so, depending on the type of organization you are applying with. With that, comes an additional 20 or so additional pages of attachments that answer questions about the organization. The whole process can be very tedious, and sometimes you have to search online to see what the questions really mean since the language is very technical ‘legalese’. This process can take several weeks of information gathering, coffee drinking and consulting people and online resources for the right answers.
The cost of filing for incorporation, EIN, and non-profit status adds up to about $500 when you do it by yourself. With a lawyer this could cost up to $5000. If you are a setting up a small non-profit and don’t intend to have employees and don’t have the resources to pay a lawyer what may be your first year’s funding goals, this is the only way to go. It is not easy, and requires a lot of effort, patience, and learning. However, it is a very good learning experience and really helps you think about your organization, its mission, strategies, and future. This whole process is a very good litmus test to see if you are passionate and driven enough to keep going with your organization idea.
After months of filling out paperwork, learning legalize and throwing my hands up in frustration, I have finally put together and submitted the paperwork to make Bridge to Ukraine a legitimate Non-Profit Organization in America. This kind of work is usually reserved for professional lawyers who charge at least a thousand dollars (but up to four thousand) to form a non-profit organization under federal law. Unfortunately, we can’t afford that kind of service as an all-volunteer organization. This meant I had to learn how to it all by myself. This cuts the cost of filing for non-profit status to $400, and an increasingly fading hairline.
I’ll create a blog post that goes into detail about the process I took to figure everything out, along with helpful tips. I’m sure there are other organizations that could benefit from that information being available. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of all the forms, organizational information, and official documents necessary to file for non-profit status in the U.S.
Krista Lou Cook was the winner of our photo contest to find the best photograph that represents the mission of Bridge to Ukraine. You can see that picture on our homepage and our facebook cover page. We decided to interview our winner to see who is behind the photo and what their connection with Ukraine is.
Thank you Krista for answering our questions!
What is your connection with Ukraine?
I was raised by my stepfather who was born and raised Ukrainian.
His story is an amazing one of how he escaped Soviet capture and sought refuge to America. I would love to share this story.
Why did you choose your picture to symbolize Bridge to Ukraine?
I liked this photo since It was taken in Ukraine and has my adorable 2nd cousin who is Ukrainian in it. I chose it also since the wording LOVE is in American English, and that that word encompasses that bridging two separate nations needs.
What is going on in the photo? Tell us more about your little cousin!
We were out for a walk in Kotovsk, Ukraine and stopped for tea at a little shop. Anya, who was 9 in this photo, was our translator.
What is your favorite story to tell about Ukraine?
To me Ukraine represents the beauty of the past combined with hope for the future. A favorite moment from my trip to Ukraine was when we visited the village Vellany Kut, Ukraine. This was the village that my dad and his sisters grew up in. My cousin and her family still live there. We visited the old homestead, which still had the grinding wheel outside the storage house. The land is full of rich soil that they can grow their needed crops in . The men in this village still push carts around to transport items, yet there is a little store where you can purchase needed items. They hold onto the traditions of the past, and combine with a few luxuries of the current day.
What are your passions in life? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My two passions are the outdoors, and in loving and serving others. I am a registered nurse and take pride in my occupation to help others to heal and be better. I take every moment I can to spend time outside and enjoy the beauty that is around me.
I wanted to give everyone a quick update on what we’re doing here at Bridge to Ukraine. It’s been a while since I’ve updated everyone.
First, we’ve been working on developing material for our Youth Bank projects. We’ve made a training manual for our “Impact Sessions” which will help the projects make a positive impact on the groups of youth AND their communities by training youth in project management. We’ve also completed the project application forms, the guidelines for applicants and only need to finish Partner Agreement Forms. We will use the pilot projects to fine-tune and improve these materials.
Second, we’re on our way to our first pilot projects! The first meeting for the first pilot project is planned to happen this week. The other two projects should begin later this month. We’re very excited to get started! It’s a big step after all the preparation and hard work we’ve put into setting up a good system for these projects to operate in.
Third, we have come to another bump in the road with filing for non-profit status. We got an envelope from the Florida Incorporation office that said the text we used to make amendments was too small (on the form they gave for us to use). We quickly submitted the documents with larger text, and hopefully we’ll get a response soon so we can submit our federal application. We’re almost there!
Over the next few weeks our pilot projects will begin, take shape, and be carried out. We’ll keep everyone updated with photos, stories, and testimonials from the young participants. Stay tuned!
When the group of founders got together in Kyiv to conceive what Bridge to Ukraine would be, we understood that we were not thinking of something revolutionary, but we were in the right time and at the right place for something like this to happen. Technology has allowed us to work together from all over the US and Ukraine to make an organization like this work. It is only within the last few years where something like this is even possible (even plane old e-mails wouldn’t be enough to do what we need to do).
Almost every part of our operation is utilizing or will be utilizing new technology that will take the place of face-to-face meetings, discussions and work. That isn’t to say we won’t do things face-to-face, it just means we have an overwhelming dependency on technology to make it happen. It is definitely more challenging than having everyone together in one place, but it can be done. I want to share some of our obstacles and show how we have used or expect to use technology to overcome it. Not everything is a perfect solution, and newer technology may make things even easier. Here’s what we have so far.
How to communicate and share ideas?
We use a variety of ways to communicate. Of course, e-mail is one of the simplest and easiest ways to communicate one-on-one, or one-to-many. However, discussions among many people can get fairly cluttered in e-mail, and back-and-forth chatting can get annoying.
We created a private Facebook group page that enables us to choose a topic to talk about among the board members. This way, we can share ideas, create discussions and keep everyone up to date without flooding the e-mail inbox. It’s a great way to discuss something among a group of people and come to consensus on decisions and make suggestions on documents.
We also use Skype for individual conversations. Either face-to-face or typing. This is good if you need an in depth conversation with a single person. It’s of course widely available, but nonetheless invaluable.
How to organize workloads halfway across the world?
This problem I have thought about long and hard for a while. It seemed difficult to make a list of tasks and for everyone to cooperate to get it done. It is still a challenge, but we just started working with producteev, which is a team task-management application located on the “cloud”. I am still in the midst of setting it up, but I believe this will help us become more organized and work seamlessly across time-zones and borders. We can have up to 15 team-members for free!
How to manage money across two countries, across many states in the US and account for it all?
This has been the biggest issue, and we are still working with a few obstacles. However, the biggest obstacles have been tackled using new technologies and the smaller issues will be ironed out through trial and error.
One of the biggest problems was how to keep track of the money when we are all decentralized. Right now, we are doing it with two systems. One system, wave,will be hooked up to our bank account and serve as an official accounting system. It is cloud based, and a number of board members have access to it and are able use it. The next is a Google docs spreadsheet, which we use to keep a separate record in case our first fails, but also as a measure of transparency. We will keep our Google docs page on our website. Donors, partners, and any interested party can get a detailed look at our finances in one document.
The next problem we had was how to fundraise online. I knew that online fundraising platforms are popular, and we decided to use gofundme due to its simplicity and low percentages it takes out (turns out it was more than expected, because we aren’t a nonprofit org yet.. that was a purpose of the fundraiser). It turned out great and we exceeded our goal, which allowed us to do more pilot projects. When we finished the campaign, we decided to use the same system gofundme uses to process payments, called wepay. They have a donation system that easily integrated into our website, and its super easy to use. We can also setup future fundraising goals through them and not pay as many fees since we are using them directly.
Lastly, we have to figure out how to send money to our partner organizations in Ukraine, so they can give Ukrainian money to the young people. We also need to do this somewhat immediately. The easiest method is western union, but this takes up to 10% of the money transferred. We are still working on the perfect solution to this, and trying different methods. However, I have found that transferring money using “online monetary systems” such asbitcoin, or okpay may be the best options. The processors that transfer the money take as little as 1%, and in order to access the money in Ukraine, it may be an additional 2-3% of fees. However, this still saves roughly 6% in costs. We are still experimenting with these transfers, but we will choose the best option based on security, reliability, ease of use and of course, cost savings.
I hope this is a good summary of all the technology that is enabling us! We will always be looking at new technologies that will make working together easier, more reliable, and enable us to do more and reach more people. If anybody has suggestions, we are open to what you suggest! There are many more obstacles that could be overcome using technology, and as we progess and grow, we will rely on our choices more and more each day.