I’ve been at MuleSoft for two years now, including one year as part of Salesforce. Our 1-1-1 model is one of the most exciting things we do as a company. I’m always proud and happy to talk about it to people I’ve met.
One of the coolest things we have at Salesforce is 56 hours of volunteer time off (VTO) per year. I was thinking about volunteering last autumn and realized that I should do it in Ukraine. I grew up there but left my home country almost nine years ago now. The time to start paying back finally came.
I knew the founder of a Ukrainian non-profit called Pro.Svit. They run a crowdfunding site for small educational projects in Ukraine called GoFundEd. It allows teachers and students in small remote schools to raise money for their projects and initiatives (e.g., students wanting to open a local TV station in the school can create a project on the platform and raise money from donors). I reached out to her and asked if I could come volunteer. She said yes, and the process started.
I wanted to bring more people with me. I asked my colleagues and dear kind friends at MuleSoft/Salesforce if someone wanted to join me. Tony Li and Sohail Ahmed agreed immediately.
The three of us decided to go to Ukraine for the full two weeks — seven days of VTO, and few days after to explore the country. During preparation to the VTO we talked to non-profit about work we could do.
We identified a few areas where we could help:
- Improve translation of the Gofunded site to English. It was half done. The most important pieces of information (like payment details, payment dialogs) were all in Ukrainian.
- Improve the donation process from U.S.
- UX improvements to the site.
While planning, VTO founder of Pro.Svit suggested we go on a field trip to Eastern Ukraine and visit two schools in the remote villages near the city of Kramatorsk. We didn’t know what to expect from the trip and what would be our role, but it was one of the best experiences.
We visited two schools. One modern, well equipped and impressive and the other a typical underfunded school. In both schools, we had a short tour with the principal and teachers followed by a panel where kids would ask us about life in the U.S., our careers, our experiences in school, etc.
In the underfunded school, after the official part was over, I was surrounded by eight children who were curious about my experience moving to the U.S. They shared their plans and career dreams with me. It was a dialogue of equal people. I was interested in their lives and they were interested in mine.
This was a conversation where children inspired me and hopefully I inspired them too. At that moment I realized what volunteering was really about. It wasn’t about fixing technical problems on the web site. It was about connecting to people.
Back in Kyiv we continued working every day on our technical tasks. During the evening we had a lot of social time with our host organizations: we attended a TEDx viewing event, we did an Easter eggs painting class, we had board game nights, we went to Crimean and Georgian restaurants, music concerts, Presidential debates, and more. It was a very immersive experience that allowed us to get a lot of cultural insights into life in Ukraine.
People from the host organization were very happy to have us, as we were their first volunteers. Working in the NGO is satisfying but it’s also emotionally hard and demanding. People pour their hearts into the work and it leads to burn out. I was told multiple times that having us there inspired our hosts. We were curious about their work, their projects, they saw how we worked — it inspired them and gave them additional energy.
At the end of VTO we had few free days that we spent doing a road trip to Western Ukraine. We visited city of Lviv and Carpathian Mountains.
In the span of two weeks we:
- Visited East and West of Ukraine separated by more than 1000 km.
- Learned to cook traditional Ukrainian food and make Easter eggs.
- Visited two schools.
- Completed over 20 technical tasks.
- Volunteered for over 168 hours.
- Ate 37 bowls of borscht.
- Fell in love with Ukraine.
- Made a lot of friends.
- Lost one hat (that still might be recovered with the help of our new friends).
For more information on our 1-1-1 model, please see our giving back page.