Dmitry Fedorenko: “There are practically no projects like ours in the world. Perhaps only sales at churches”
— You're a well-known advertiser and publisher. But over the last year you've been doing a lot of public activity. Now there's “Murakhi” too. How do you find time for it all?
— Most men around the age of 40 start to re-examine their attitude to life – and two years ago I also was no exception. This process happens differently for everyone. For example, I came back from Myanmar, and decided not to celebrate my birthday, ignored the date and went to a tattooist and made myself an enormous tattoo.
At that moment, I had two businesses: the digital agency “Peppermint interactive”, one of the oldest web-productions in Ukraine, “Studio7”, and the Internet publication “Our Kiev” about our everyday life, and about how to live comfortably in the city. Despite the fact that Our Kiev is the most visited portal in the capital, from the business point of view it was less “effective”, and I got tired of working on so many projects at once, and was thinking about abandoning it.
So I was sitting in the chair, the tattoo artist was drilling my arm and saying how he came from Kharkov, how he settled down in Kiev and got to know the city, and tried to understand it. And how much he had been helped by one Internet resource, “Our Kiev”. He had no idea who was sitting in front of him. And for me, of course, this was a sign.
In my opinion, every man should leave behind something in this life, besides children.
I’ve been working in advertising all my life, and I think it’s a good business, it’s an engine of progress, this business should certainly exist, but… The main task of advertising is to create demand, which is fictitious, and essentially artificial, which no sensible person actually needs.
After looking at “Our Kiev”, I realized that people really did need this platform – and I left the agency business. Now I’m just a shareholder.
— But when you left your main business, you certainly didn’t “retire”.
— I wanted to do something real that brought benefit to people. I started searching for a format for a social project. At that time I had an uncompleted project for a fundraising platform for child oncology, I had a business model and a donor foundation, which we wanted to work with. And everything was more or less ready.
But November came and Maidan took place, which turned the life of our entire country upside down. We found ourselves in the whirlpool of social processes, and in Kiev this affected absolutely everyone, reducing the range of topics to one – the revolution, something had to be changed!
Of course, we took part in all the “Maidan” movements, we worked as volunteers, gathered money for defibrillators for hospitals, stood at the barricades, printed newspapers, put leaflets in letterboxes and made stickers.
From November to April, my wife and I were involved in all spheres of the revolutionary life of the capital, and when we calculated everything we had spent in April, we found that it was about enough to buy half a one-room apartment in Kiev…
Around July I realized that I didn’t have any money left. There was a crisis in the country, business was at a standstill, and spending money from reserves “for a rainy day” was not possible either. So I went to the guys who were going to the frontline, and said I was prepared to go with them. They talked me out of this idea, saying it was better for me to stay in Kiev, earn money and send it to them. I would be much more useful like this than over there, on the battlefield.
I went to work on the Kiev military hospital. My friend and I helped with a «hands-on» approach: we carried injured patients on stretchers to operation and bandaging rooms, and at the same talks to them. From the conversations with them I realized that if there weren't volunteers, then everything would have ended a long time ago, because it's the volunteers who give the soldiers water, food, clothing, transport, and all possible aid.
-The topic of volunteers and supporting the military by people at home also arose this summer in Israel. Despite the fact that the state finances its army quite well, and the military are clothed and equipped, Israelis from all over the country still put together parcels with socks, cigarettes, items of hygiene and even home-baking, and they sent the soldiers letters of support and gratitude, and children's drawings. In a difficult situation, we proved to be similar.
— In Ukraine, back in March the expression arose: “We must learn to live like in Israel”.
Terrorists always try to achieve the most important thing. To sow fear and unbelief in us, and drive us into depression. And if we don't give into this, but live ordinary lives, and take up arms from time to time, then they won't achieve their goal. Our armies are very similar in their formation. In both Ukraine and Israel, people are defended by young men and women from next door. This is why it's important for them to understand that someone really needs their protection, that someone values it.
— In Israel, the specifics of military operations are such that they are short-term, they only last a few months and don't bankrupt the country. Although they do hit hard at the budget, of course. In Ukraine this year, there were difficulties with the budget, to put it mildly. The reserves of people who are not indifferent, like you and your wife, are also running out. But the anti-terrorist operation is not coming to an end. Additionally, winter has arrived. Soldiers, patients and refugees need enormous support. And you’ve evidently thought up a way to help them.
— The idea arose by chance. In the summer I bought a cupboard for the balcony in our apartment, where I started to put all the things I didn't want: electric appliances, clothing, a lamp I bought on impulse that took up half the cupboard... When I gathered these things together, I suddenly realized that all this stuff, which our family held on because “it might come in handy one day”, was in fact completely unnecessary, and simply took up space in the apartment and the garage, and now in the new cupboard. But I had bought all these things for a lot of money, and I didn't want to just throw them away. I had the idea to sell it all.
How can this be done more easily than over the Internet? That's how the idea for the “Murakhi” (“Ants”) platform arose, where you can sell any unwanted goods, and the money earned is automatically sent to charity in support of soldiers in the ATO, injured patients and refugees.
— Can only residents of Ukraine take part in the project?
-. To start with we had the name “Pay for Ukraine”, and we targeted the western audience, and promoted the project through embassies. But the experience of volunteer work convinced us to appeal primarily to our own audience, to the ordinary citizens of our country. Additionally, there are technical difficulties with organizing delivery of goods from abroad. Unfortunately, Ukraine is rather backward as a technological civilization, it has to be said. At present we have organized very simple and comprehensive logistics with “New post”, which besides Ukraine only has branches in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
On the whole, our task today is to raise this topic here at least. We're not looking that far in advance at working in Europe and the U.S. In the future, of course, we are considering the possibility of turning our project into an ideological movement, which won't be territorially restricted to one country.
After monitoring the market, I came to the conclusion that projects that were equivalent to ours in format and principle practically do not exist anywhere in the world. Maybe only sales at churches. So as a platform, we have the chance to enter foreign markets.
— It's interesting that your project also stands in unexpected opposition to the consumer society. Old things gain a new life, and at the same time you can help people in need even when there is no money left. Does the platform only work in the format “from people to people”?
— Not only in that format. We are working on creating business accounts: we will propose Ukrainian businesses to put their goods up for sale. This may be a promotion of new projects, or some stockpiled goods. Every stable business that is working on a long-term perspective still looks at the social component – and we want to offer them a convenient tool to realize this need.
— How will the platform work?
-. You register an account from a private individual or business, after which you upload the goods that you want to put on sale, take photos of them, make a description, and set a price.
By the way, here we encountered one problem: people find it hard to establish a price. For example, for a person who bought an iPhone four years ago for $1000, it still costs $1000 today. He doesn't know its real cost on the market, and at the same time doesn't want to sell it too cheaply. Especially since the seller doesn't get the money as cash in hand – it all goes to charity. So we've established the possibility for the system to decide on the price of the item – a moderator will work on this.
— Will the established price be the final one?
— The buyer can take part in a kind of game, by bargaining with the seller and offering his own price for the item. For example, you've set a price for your iPhone at 5 000 hryvnia, but the buyer may write to you that he is prepared to buy it right now for 4 500. In the place of a seller who isn't earning money from this transaction anyway, but wants the money to go to charity as soon as possible, it is highly likely that you will agree to sell your item for the offered sum.
When the cost of the item has been established, it goes up for sale. To purchase it, you have to add the item to your shopping basket and press the “buy” button. The system connects you by email to the seller to confirm the sale of the item, and in 24 hours it receives a reply from him, and after this the buyer gives a similar confirmation.
Once it has received both confirmations, the system sends the seller the transportation cost from our partner “New post” (postal services are already included in the cost of the item), containing the article of the item, which is the same in our system and the delivery system. The seller goes to the nearest branch of “New Post” and sends the parcel with the item to the buyer. “New Post” also has door-to-door courier delivery services, and in this case the cost of the item may increase.
The buyer goes to the postal branch in his city, shows his passport, collects the parcel, checks its contents and pays the established amount for the purchases. This marks the completion of the transaction. After this, the money is transferred to the account of the International charitable fund “Ukraine! I'm for you!” which is the partner of the project.
— You announced three target groups which you'll help – soldiers, patients and refugees. How does the money collected get to them, or what will it be spent on?
— We agreed with five system charitable initiatives, which work in the legislative field of Ukraine. They are companies that we know personally, they work for the goals that they proclaim.
After the launch of “Murakhi”, we plan to meet once a month to examine the applications received from partner funds and determine the percentage ratio of the money distributed between them, and then we will transfer the entire accumulated sum for operational expenses, which should not exceed 20%. The foundations provide us reports about how the money was spent, in any form that is convenient for them, whether this is photo or video evidence, receipts for purchasing goods or something else.
We are now working on accumulating announcements, and over 750 items are already on the site. They are not yet visible, but very soon our platform will work to its full extent, and people will have the chance to see ready announcements and make their own based on the examples.
The next step after the complete launch of the platform will be creating a mobile application. An announcement can be made on the telephone, without transferring the photograph to the computer. This should further simplify users' access to our service.
— We all want to believe that the difficult situation in Eastern Ukraine will soon be resolved. And everyone will return home. What will happen to “Murakhi” then?
— The war will end one day. But the problems which the state is not particularly concerned with at present will remain. They are child oncology, a comfortable old age, problems of invalids, the homeless and stray animals. I'm sure that our citizens will have the habit of using the “Marakhi” platform by that time. And we will be able to accumulate funds successfully to solve the numerous problems that life throws at us.
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