When Russia invaded her homeland of Ukraine, a UK-based tech entrepreneur Irra Ariella Khicco-founder of Zamnasetting up a fundraising page to support people in Ukraine directly. Khi’s father (70 years) and godmother (82) are both in Ukraine, as are her stepsister and her children. Khi then temporarily stepped out of her day job at Zamna (which operates a blockchain system to securely share and verify passenger identities for airlines and travel authorities).
The following weeks were a blur.
But while her fundraiser brought in a lot of money, Khi realized there was no viable NGO to distribute supplies on the ground in the midst of a fast-moving war zone. She also realized that the only way to get supplies to Ukraine would be with a team that spoke at least three languages: Ukrainian, Polish and Russian (Khi speaks all three). “There was a huge gap between Western aid and their ability to get aid across borders,” she said.
This led her to create the Sunflower relief NGO.
She jumped in and “dirty hands” by making dozens of video calls to groups of local drivers in Ukraine to get supplies.
She was joined by other Ukrainian volunteers in London, who initially built a team of 10 people, all multilingual.
Seven months later, she now has a team of more than 200 people internationally distributed.
Fortunately, her role at Zamna meant she could also call many an airline CEO to talk about sending deliveries to countries bordering Ukraine, via fear airlines. Some have even diverted planes after a call from Khi.
In addition to distributing aid, she also built a network of hyper-local information on the ground, built a network of contacts in the country and collected data from local sources, using messaging platforms such as SMS, Telegram, WhatsApp and sometimes Facebook Messenger. .
Since then, Khi has attracted individuals in venture capital and private equity to support Sunflower.
“Every cent we raise goes directly to the families we’ve supported through our network. The call to action is that you are in venture capital and you can spare some resources, please contact us as we have only been raising money for six months and every cent goes towards helping people on the ground. We are all volunteers at Sunflower.”
“We are on a tight budget and our operational budget never touches our aid budget. We are talking about pure donation. We don’t have enough aid money to help those who really need it most in the war zone,” she told me.
“Many very senior partners and VCs who have donated said, ‘Just send me the reports. We don’t want publicity or our name in the light.’ Much of it is driven by the fact that they want high-integrity verified recipients, because donating to larger organizations doesn’t give you what Sunflower gives you, which is very specific case reports, photos, videos, reactions from people. We now have over 250,000 people we’ve helped, they’re all documented and you can really see the impact you’re making,” she told me during a phone call.
And Zonnebloem has certainly been busy.
In front of Founders Forum 2022Irra helped coordinate the appearance from President Zelenskyy as a hologram, and has raised an incredible $1 million this year.
It is now linked to £2.25 million to verified NGOs in Ukraine. Here are a few examples of how it has helped so far:
- Sunflower Relief was asked to find funds and logistics to help buy food/groceries for 3,500 internally displaced refugees in Ukraine who currently live in schools and nurseries. . Thanks to partners Serhii Nizhinskii, Asociatia pastel, IsraAID Germany e. V. c/o ZWST and Civic Radauti Association and supplier Riso Vignola, Italy, managed to collect 27 pallets, totaling five tons of goods, all paid for with the donation from the Accel organization.
- Glib Lazorenko (Surgeon) — asked for help to get medical instruments for the injured. Critical medical aid was delivered to the State Scientific Institute “Scientific and Practical Center for Preventive and Clinical Medicine” in Kiev for seriously injured Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.
- Sunflower helped fund Baby Lifeline outreach; Andrea Fraser of Justice.org of Edinburgh, NHS Scotland, a UK-based charity (“the sender”) donated to the Ukrainian Hospital in Kharkiv and the Mechnikov Regional Clinical Hospital.