On the left is a picture of our COO Kristen speaking to Wladimir Klitschko. On the right is the reason he is speaking to Wladimir. And below is the story behind the two pictures and how Kristen raised over NOK 4m and sent 15 tons of military clothing into Ukraine within 12 days, despite being sick with Covid and an 11-month-old baby at home.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th of February, we at Forkbeard were in similar disbelieve and shock as the rest of the world. With two of our employees having immediate family back in Ukraine, the events felt especially close. For Kristen it was his wife’s family back in Ukraine which made the events personal. On the day of the invasion the Ukrainian president announced Marshall Law which meant that no fighting aged men could leave the country and might potentially be drafted. During a chat with his father-in-law, he realized that apart from not having any experience, his father-in-law was lacking proper clothing. As Norwegians we pride ourselves in our ability to dress well outdoors. This manifests itself in one of Norway’s famous expressions: “Det fins ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær “– which translates into “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”. These voluntarily and involuntarily drafted men and women were not being addressed by any help that Ukraine was receiving. Governments mostly focused on military equipment and independent organizations on humanitarian aid, leaving them to fight in whatever they had.
The gap in aid, his personal ties to the war in Ukraine and his Norwegian roots is what gave Kristen the idea of leveraging his professional skillset in operations and organize clothing for the Ukrainian draftees. This gave birth to UkrainasFrihetshjelp (Ukraine Freedom Aid in English) which Kristen setup together with some childhood friends to help the men and women voluntarily and involuntarily fighting for Ukraine’s freedom and democracy. Immediately it became clear that they needed donations to buy and send clothing, credibility to raise donations and a strong story to get the ball rolling. In reverse order they got to work.
A compelling story
What characterizes a strong story is that it touches us, meaning we connect with it on a personal level. For Kristen UkrainasFrihetshjelp was personal due to his family in Ukraine. However, for the average Norwegian there was no personal connection. To make it personal, Kristen and his team drew parallels to what Norwegians experienced during WW2. Back then, common Norwegians who were not part of the military, were joining the local resistance to fight the Germans. UkrainasFrihetshjelp was making the plea to help Ukrainians to get clothing to stay warm and keep a high morale while having to protect their country. And the story resonated.
Donations & Logistics
To help the Ukrainian draftees Kristen needed monetary donations to buy specific sizes and types of clothing that his contacts in the Kiev administration and local defense commanders were asking for. The biggest problem was that he had to raise the money fast since nobody knew how long Ukraine would be able to fight back the Russian invasion. He and his team decided to first focus on donors that would quickly establish credibility for his efforts and create a pull effect for private and corporate donors. This strategy paid off and after securing a NOK 1m donation from one of Norway’s largest private investors, they raised over NOK 4m within 12 days of starting UkrainasFrihetshjelp. This credibility-driven strategy also got them in touch with corporate donors and vendors that made equipment donations and gave heavy discounts.
Kristen recalls that a lot of time was spent figuring out different roadblocks and how to mitigate them, as well as accelerate the entire shipment process. This is where the credibility and network he had built up from the donations, once again paid off. They received a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador to Norway who signed papers for getting the equipment across the different borders the trucks had to cross on their way from Norway to Ukraine. To maximize the impact of their aid and help with the logistics, Kristen also got introduced to the Kyiv city administration and the Klitschko brothers. Wladimir even went so far to endorse Kristen’s efforts with a short video that can be found on UkrainasFrihetshjelp’s website.
Results and Corporate Support
Within 12 days in which Kristen started UkrainasFrihetshjelp, he managed to
- Raise over NOK +4m in donations
- Buy clothing for 600 people and collect donations for another 400
- Get sponsored access to a 3000sqm professional warehouse for packing
- Arrange 2 heavily subsidized transporters
- Hand out over 15 tons of clothing and equipment in Ukraine
- Get a full-page news article in Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten
What is truly impressive though is that Kristen managed to deliver his shipment in Ukraine one week earlier than the Norwegian Red Cross, a professional organization, while being sick with Covid and having an 11-month-old baby at home. His story does not only show that there are multiple ways in which corporates can support Ukraine (money, equipment, contacts, etc.), but that even smaller companies and startups, like Forkbeard, can help by donating the time and skillset of highly motivated employees.
Kristen is working now on a second shipment. If you want to support his effort and help clothing the military draftees in Ukraine, you can find the details below or on UkrainasFrihetshjelp’s website here.
The Aftenposten article on UkrainasFrihetshjelp and Kristen you can find online in their digital publication E24 here.