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Two months ago this week the State of North Carolina and the Province of Ontario, the two locations where our headquarters are based, went into full lockdown. Our team at NeedsList is global, spanning from Beirut to Brooklyn. We are accustomed to working remotely and are built to respond to crisis. Yet, like people working in startups all over the world, we have had to navigate uncharted territory: school-age children at home needing support; immediate loss of loved ones to COVID-19; and increased anxiety around the uncertainty of our future. …

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Our kids had their last day of in person school over a month ago. Tomorrow is the very first time my son’s class is meeting online.

I wrote the first part of this story back in 2017, and provided an update in 2018. Syria is front and center in my mind these days — here are my reflections on what it means to give a few years later.

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NeedsList Toronto Team

Last Monday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. This Wednesday was Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. In the Jewish faith, the ten days that fall between them are a time for reflection. I’m fortunate to belong to a Jewish humanist congregation that also uses these days of awe as an opportunity to consider our role as individuals in tikkun olam, the healing of the world. Given that NeedsList was born five years ago on Rosh Hashanah, these words from our Rabbi on Wednesday resonated strongly with me:

“If we exaggerate our own importance we might believe that the work of tikkun (healing) rests solely on our own shoulders, and is therefore too heavy to even commence. If we underestimate our own importance we may feel that we have too little to contribute and hesitate to join in the work. But, when we see ourselves as part of a community of individuals, all with shared responsibility, we may find the determination to act.”

Happy second birthday to us!

Just like anyone, it’s the stories that get me. Those little nuggets of hope that pull me out of obsessively reading insane #TrumpWallTweets or fury when organizations like MSF are forced to essentially stop rescuing migrants at sea. Stories like this one from our NeedsList partners in Paris- a group of young people called Compassion Without Borders who have been working with migrants and refugees for three years now. They sent this video after receiving fifty sleeping bags through NeedsList donors:

Ali distributes sleeping bags to homeless migrants throughout Paris.

Their coordinator, Diana, wrote,

Ali is a refugee who received a sleeping bags last year from NeedsList when he was sleeping on the ground in the makeshift camp under the Jaurès metro line. He is now a university student here and is giving back by helping newly arrived refugees. He now passes out the same type of sleeping bags that he once received. …

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To be honest, when I first started thinking about how I could join the ranks of volunteers emerging to support refugees, I didn’t expect to be working directly with Syrian families. I live in a rural area and had no idea that just about twenty kilometers away there was a growing number of Syrian refugees. Meeting these families personally is, of course, a constant affirmation of my commitment and reminder of the issue. But I have a job and young kids and limited free time. …

by Natasha Freidus and John Kluge

Manyang Kher says his earliest memories are of war, death, and a struggle to survive. He became one of the so-called “Lost Boys” at age 3, when he fled civil war in Sudan and spent 13 years living in refugee camps in Ethiopia. Eventually, Manyang was resettled in Richmond, Virginia, where he earned a degree in international law at the University of Richmond.

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Manyang Her, Founder/CEO of 734 Coffee

Today at age 29, Manyang is the founder of 734 Coffee, a Virginia-based social enterprise that aims to support the education of displaced children like him through coffee. 734 Coffee’s beans are harvested by refugee growers in the Gambela region of Ethiopia — at 7˚N 34˚E — where hundreds of thousands of displaced South Sudanese citizens like Manyang now live. …

I moved to Toronto in July. In fact, cannabis and I were both legalized on the same day, as I got my Permanent Residency a few weeks ago. It hasn’t taken long for me to feel at home here. Maybe because Canadians are really putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to social entrepeneurship. Here’s what has happened already this week (and it’s only Thursday!)

  1. Canada is committing $800 million to social finance. (Ok to be fair, this was announced last week but I didn’t read about it until Monday so I think it counts.) This is amazing not just because of the scale, but because it is an incredible example of public sector leadership in this space. Think about NYC paying billions in subsidies to Amazon to set up HQ2 in Queens. What would it look like if New York instead was to set up a social innovation fund to invest in affordable housing, clean energy, and better transportation alternatives instead? …

Last year I wrote about the humbling experience of having Alaa, a Syrian graphic designer, sending me design options for a NeedsList logo. At the time, he was based in Aleppo. It blew my mind that he could be designing at the height of the siege. I had met his brother Tarek in Lyon and stayed in touch with both of them, checking in periodically.


Natasha Freidus

Reflections on innovating crisis relief, standing with refugees, tech for good, and mission-based entrepreneurship.

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