485.Margarita Soto and Jing Liang
JIng Liang, Margarita Soto, Will Bachman
Will Bachman 00:02
Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. In today’s episode, I’m very pleased to welcome my two Umbrex co founders Margarita, Soto and Jing Liang. And what we’re going to be talking about is the efforts that they have been leading to support orphans in Ukraine. I want to start with Jing Jing. I know that on a trip to Ukraine in 2017, you got to know an orphanage got introduced to North foster orphaned family, I should say not an orphanage, and saw that they were in need you began supporting that family, you’ve been supporting them ever since? Well, before this war started you, you actually moved to Ukraine and we’re living there. January of 2022, before this war started, paint us a picture help us understand what’s the situation of orphans in Ukraine, I understand that the government kind of de institutionalized some degree, moved orphans out of orphanages into family. Tell us a little bit about the situation of orphans in Ukraine.
JIng Liang 01:10
Sure. So maybe I’ll just give a very brief background in terms of the the orphan foster family system in Ukraine, and also the NGO I started called Son feller Academy. So Ukraine started the institutionalizing their orphanages, they would basically send these kids to live with a foster family. And they range anywhere from four to 10 Orphans per family. And there may be one or two, you know, kids, that that the who are actual biological children of the orphan, the foster parents, I had started sponsoring one of these families in 2017. And I, what I was doing was, I really want to change their life trajectories with these kids. So I was paying for monthly English tutors, private tutors, for all the kids monthly math tutors. I bought them all laptops, use Lenovo, all smartphones. So they have basically headstart in life. I had moved to Kyiv in 2020, basically, right when the lockdown, the first lockdown ended in New York, and I, I was wanted to go to Kyiv to build my data cleaning startup. I started sponsoring a second family, also, you know, buying them use laptops, etc. When the war started, and I left he of one week before the actual invasion, I went to Amsterdam, because the US Embassy kept emailing us every single day to tell us to get out. And when the war started, I was completely shocked. And I I kept I wanted, I made sure that the families I was supporting were safe. And then they were with some kind of other kind of help from other NGOs. The families that I was supporting ended up, you know, in Spain, one and the other one in Italy. But that, at that point, I also wanted to see whether, you know, there are many other foster families like this orphan foster families like this throughout Ukraine. So me and the general manager that I hired to kind of run this NGO started to reaching out to other families to see what help they need, because they were fleeing war, they were fleeing, you know, from the heaviest parts, where there were heaviest heavy fighting. Initially, we were just doing no small kind of, you know, funds, my own funds, and also, you know, from close friends who are donating to support emergency needs for mid food, medicine, clothing, etc. But then, you know, we now have so many more families and, and Margarita, you know, stepped in to help expand our effort. And I’ll turn it over to Margarita and see and let her talk about where we are right now. Margarita. Thank
Margarita Soto 04:13
you. Sure. Thanks for having us. Thanks, Jen, Jane for that intro. So Umbrex already has a commitment to pro bono work. I like to think of us building out each individual consultants ability to have their own corporate social responsibility arm of their business, via the Umbrex community. And, you know, we were able to roll up our sleeves and help during the pandemic, we’ve been able to help with lots of nonprofits and NGOs who come to us for help. And of course, when the war broke out, I was again, just really inspired by the community, just meeting right away and trying to think how they can help. And we identified several initiatives including Jim’s initiative to support these foster families we learned there at that point the many families that are stuck, right, if you have a family with five to 10 children, you can imagine the cost of relocating, you could imagine the burden of just the logistics, let alone the expense, let alone the trauma. When you’re dealing with foster care, children, there’s a history and many of them have special needs. And my personal story, as you know, Will, my parents adopted a foster child when, actually, you know, when I was older, and I also worked with, with the foster care system in, in the United States with Child Protective Services, early in my career, so when the war broke out, I immediately thought of vulnerable families and what it means for vulnerable family to leave. And I knew that the logistics of that, you know, we’re just overwhelming. So we stepped in, and the generosity of the Umbrex community that donations came in, and we were able to raise $25,000 to help over 60 families with one time emergency funds. And, and that really about four to $500 a month helps a large family like this. For as much as you can imagine probably a month, of course, the crisis continues, and the needs are great. And every day, we get approached by new families.
Will Bachman 06:26
You say for a minute, how did you Margarita, go from, you know, the two families Jim was supporting to 60 families? How did you identify them? And so forth? I think that you hired someone else around in Ukraine. Yeah.
Margarita Soto 06:40
Yeah. So I think in our in our aim to help, we also wanted to do no harm, right. And understanding that, you know, there’s limited kind of capacity with our own team. And with our understanding of Ukraine, we hired, we hired a Ukrainian herself, who also had had to leave Ukraine because of the war. And so she did outreach and worked with the two families that we knew and worked with in Arabic, and when we found social media groups where they were supporting each other. And she has made an effort to connect with each one of the families and bet them. So she bets them by checking, they get special documents from Ukraine to verify that, in fact, they are, you know, Foster, foster family supporting these orphans. So she verifies that paperwork, she verifies the identity of the children and the identity of the of the parents, she does video calls with them. So there’s a vetting process to make sure that we actually have identified a family that they’re actually, you know, in the crises that they’re claiming to be in. So when she does that vetting, she writes up a bio, lets us know kind of what their situation is. And then we kind of prioritize them based on need. So that’s how we went from two to 60. Over the course of these these weeks. And we have been able to fundraise, really through the generosity of the Umbrex community, and Veritux community of which I’m incredibly grateful. However, the need continues. And so we realized that we really need to go beyond our network. And we really need to be much more public with it. So I reached out to a dear friend who had a very amazing Fundraising Camp, GoFundMe campaign, during the separation of children’s and families in the former administration. And she, and she talked about her partnership with GoFundMe, and how amazing they have been. So apparently, GoFundMe has a nonprofit arm of GoFundMe. And that supports some projects as a fiscal sponsor. So when you so the NGO is a Ukrainian based NGO, it’s not an American NGO, which is under 501 C, three protection. And so we were also not able to tell people that it was a tax deductible donation. So we reached out to GoFundMe, and they have generally generously allowed our project as part of the few projects that they’re supporting. So they will be our fiscal sponsor. And and we are launching our GoFundMe campaign, actually, we’re going to be launching it tomorrow. And so and just for the date, tomorrow, Wednesday, May 25, where it will be a tax deductible donation for the A US nonprofit that will be supporting our efforts to continue to fundraise for these families.
Will Bachman 09:33
So just just a question about GoFundMe. So this is kind of a perhaps a silly question but normally, like someone sets up a GoFundMe, they say, oh, you know, I, I had this accident, I need to raise funds to go to the hospital or something like that. That money is not tax deductible, right? It’s the same as just giving money to a friend like giving them cash, but it’s quite when you get sponsored by the Go Fund Be nonprofit group. Now that money that people give to, you know, to the orphans agreement that would actually be number one be tax deductible for US taxpayers, right. And what’s the other advantages in terms of oversight and giving people confidence that the money is being used appropriately or tell us a little bit about the oversight aspects of being a nonprofit?
Margarita Soto 10:24
Well, its ups our efforts to having to have the standards of the nonprofit, so we have an accountability to go fund me in terms of how we’re utilizing our funds. And, and making sure that we’re crossing our T’s and dotting our eyes, which we, you know, have been doing anyway. So we appreciate the oversight, and the professionalism. So, our general manager, yeah, go ahead. Yeah,
JIng Liang 10:47
I don’t have a little more, right. So. So we, we do have an accountant. So I set up this as a Ukrainian NGO. So and there are requirements for that, too. So we have an accountant that keeps track of all the money and all the money going out, and go find me requires a a report of how funds are spent. The other important thing I want to point out is that any donations we take in, they go directly to the families 100% of it, you know, some sometimes, you know, the banks from transfer might take out like, you know, point 5% 1%, but all the money that our donors have donated, goes Hunter sent to these families. Umbrex pays for, for one staff that’s helping with the NGO, and I pay for the the general manager that’s running the NGO in Ukraine. So, you know, we do not use donors funds to as overhead for NGO. So I think that’s actually really important, because I think a lot of charities out there, and I would say some of the very big charities, you know, a lot of the money they donate, they end up going to, you know, expensive overhead. And not not not only that, I want to also point out, the other benefit is that, you know, the time when we receive a donation to the time the family receives the money, okay, it’s literally the same day, it could be a few hours afterwards, it just, you know, Ukraine actually has a very efficient electronic payment system. And once we receive the funds we already have, I think now I think over 35 families in waiting for like these emergency need, once we receive it, we sent it out right then and there. Whereas I think some of the large charities because they’re so large, and there’s a quite a bit of kind of bureaucracy, the money that’s received by them may not be spent until, you know, months later, you know, and going through multiple layers. So I think that those are really important differentiations for people considering donating to, you know, sunflower Academy versus other large charities that’s raising money for Ukraine, of course, I mean, I think, you know, it’s good for for people to donate to Ukraine, any charity, that’s, you know, helping Ukraine. But I just want to point out some of the differences and in terms of you’d between some fire academy, and then some of the other kind of charity efforts going on. Yeah, that’s,
Will Bachman 13:16
that’s great. And that’s it, I think a lot of economists talk about direct giving can be very powerful, a little bit like UBI, you know, that whole discussion, Margarita, tell us a little bit about what the organization has been doing to get the word out and tell the individual stories of some of the people that’s been helped, I know that there’s an Instagram account, tell us a little about what you’ve been doing to get the word out and share their stories.
Margarita Soto 13:44
Sure. So we went and hired another Ukrainian because again, we’re, you know, we’re supporting Ukrainian freelancers, a social media expert to have us create our social media presence. So we now have a Facebook page as well as an Instagram page. Jim, can you share that link, or as we’ll do at the end of the call? So we in those pages, we’re sharing their stories. So as you know, we have when we’re vetting the families, we’re collecting their stories, we have their bios, so we’re able to share pictures and videos of these families and collect their stories. And they’re powerful, you know, we’re talking about families who had normal you know, their their normal lives, which was already you know, a struggle right. And was already trauma you know, filled with so much trauma, right. And now, they’re some families have lost their homes, some families have had to leave, some families are still in their homes and they’re just kind of scared and you know, hearing bombing happening, so that their stories vary. And our goal is to share those stories and talk about kind and center. You know, this work on them because it is about them and we want to support them and help them and any little bit that Folks can can help. You know, we’ll be going directly to them. And we’re excited by the partnership with with sunflower Academy and with with many members in the community of Umbrex, who have rolled up their sleeves and helped also
Will Bachman 15:14
fantastic. So they there’s a for US taxpayers. There’s the GoFundMe now, and we will include that link in the show notes. And I think that there’s also another payment gateway that I that I tested it out for, you know, that works globally, but also particularly for for Europeans. What’s that? What’s that other one?
JIng Liang 15:36
Yeah, so that one is actually a direct credit card donation portal, that goes directly to the NGOs, bank account, Ukraine, it’s a fun, it’s a Fondy. Basically, Fondy is a payment processor based in Europe, and they happen to work for Ukraine, a lot of us processors don’t work with Ukraine. And in fact, I think, you know, some people have experienced difficulties paying by credit card donating by credit card through funding, is because anytime a Credit Car, shows a transaction to Ukraine, which most Americans do not, you know, buy anything or donate anything to Ukraine before the war, it trips up a algorithm. So if this happens, please, you know, work with your credit card company to tell them that, you know, this is not fraud, or just be used to go, right? Yes, we can go to go fund me, I think the other thing that I do want to kind of point out is that the families we’re trying to help right now they’re in dire need. And we have families, who are literally in Kherson, which is being occupied by Russian troops, Russian armies. And typically, their government, the Ukrainian government sends out monthly stipends for these kids. But obviously, you know, you know, it’s not working very well right now. And also, the money actually goes out from the local ministration. And imagine, you know, at city being kind of bombed, the local administration is not working very well. So a lot of these families that especially the, you know, they’re dependent on this money coming from the government to support these kids now, basically, are spending all their money out of their savings, which they don’t have much to begin with. Not only that the prices of food, as you imagine, as increased a lot. So it is very, very dire situation. And we have families identified for people to help immediately. And I think I do want to also mention one thing, right? Despite everything, you know, a lot of these families still have access to internet connection, they still have access to electricity. So some of our donors have connected individually, with Zoom calls with individual families. And to them, that’s been a really, really kind of a valuable personal connection, just like that made a huge impression on me. So I think if any donors would like to actually sponsor a family, we would be happy to connect you with one, we would set up a call, we will provide translators for your call, so you can learn directly from them, you know, what they’re facing? What are the challenges they’re facing? And, and also, I think, you know, I guarantee I’m, I am a much happier person, since supporting orphan foster families. You know, I think of all the money that we make, we need to find ways to spend it, that increase your happiness, and I think this has been one of the highest return investment, you know, spending that I’ve ever had in my life. So I encourage donors, please donate every single dollar helps, but also encouraged those donors that have the ability to sponsor a family and connect with them, so that you can help them right out this war.
Will Bachman 18:53
So I think I understood so Margarita, go ahead.
Margarita Soto 18:56
Yeah. And the other thing is, of course, share, I think we all have communities and networks are part of that are generous and as generous as Umbrex and Veritux have been. So I encourage you to share to share in all of your different spaces you and have it and so that we can get the word out about some of Ukrainians most vulnerable families. All right.
Will Bachman 19:19
Well, thank you to both of you for the work that you’ve been doing to lead this effort. And also, thank you to the numerous members of Umbrex and Veritux that have contributed to this effort, as you know, both their time and their funds. I will include that link for the GoFundMe in the show notes. So please share that and consider making a contribution. You know, 15 or $20 to feed a family for a day. Foreigner dollars could feed a family for a month. So thanks for your contributions, and thanks for listening