Joe Freedman, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Nashville is the founder and CEO of Event Works Rentals. Joe saw a need for entrepreneurs to help the Ukrainian people fight their war and tapped his entrepreneurial skills and resources to do so. Here’s what he shared about the experience:
During a recent trip to Ukraine to deliver donated drones, I visited Auschwitz across the border in Poland. On a wall in this place where so many innocent people were killed is a plaque: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
As a Jew, this warning is especially present to me, which is why I have a deep and lifelong disdain for bullies. When Russia invaded Ukraine, I saw another potential slaughter of innocents. History repeating itself. I’ll never understand why so many people ignore atrocities—then or now.
But what can I do? I don’t have military, medical, or other skills to help the Ukrainians. I have no political strings to pull. I’m just an average guy, a businessperson, frustrated and deeply affected by watching another tyrant slake his thirst with innocent blood.
Then I realized there was something I could do. I’m a member of EO Nashville, the largest US chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization—which has chapters all over the world. So, I emailed each of the 23 entrepreneurs in EO Russia and the 48 members in EO Poland. The Russian entrepreneurs wanted to help their friends and relatives in Ukraine. Several Polish EO members are engaged in supporting and providing aid to Ukrainians. I had found good people who wanted to help, so that was a start. I began communicating with my network about how someone in Nashville could help victims of a war on another continent.
And then a drone company on which I sit on the board of directors, Red Cat Holdings, started getting emails from Ukrainian drone pilots assisting in the war effort–civilians, not professional soldiers. They were asking for American-made drones to help set up refugee safe zone exits, detect and detonate land mines, survey damaged buildings for rescue operations, and other humanitarian efforts.
I knew it was time to act. I rounded up a dozen durable and agile racing drones and boarded a plane with fellow EO Nashville member, Steve Curnutte. Together with a drone expert, we flew to Warsaw, drove to the border, crossed into Ukraine, and hand-delivered the drones to professional drone pilots at their hidden headquarters where the drones are equipped for various tasks—some humanitarian, some military. Either way, they are saving innocent lives.
That delivery was the first installment in what I hope will be a steady stream of drones to Ukraine through a non-profit organization, Drones for Good Worldwide. We are raising money to buy and deliver drones to the 400+ drone pilots in Ukraine to use in humanitarian ways–helping to save lives and keep people safe.
While in Ukraine, I also met with and vetted the on-the-ground non-profit organization, Aid Legion, which will help with the logistics of getting the drones to the right people. Also, my new friends from EO Poland, who themselves have been raising funds and providing relief to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine, helped me scout warehouse space near the border to store the drones before delivering them.
It was Passover when I boarded the plane to deliver drones to Ukraine, a celebration of another time when oppressed people successfully freed themselves from tyranny, though many perished in the process. And while millions perished from the horrors of World War II—both on the battlefield and in death camp gas chambers—ultimately, good prevailed over evil. It is my wish, and belief, that the same will happen in Ukraine, hopefully sooner than later.
Here are my entrepreneurial take-aways from this venture about how to use your network and skills to try and solve problems outside of those encountered in running a business:
- A global network is a superpower that can help you solve just about any problem. Connecting with entrepreneurs in Poland gave me the strong advantage of having people on the ground, in a place I’d never been, whom I knew I could trust–literally with my life. I was able to trust that they were who they said they were—something not always possible in a war zone—and trust that they had the business sense and local knowledge to bring success to both the trip and the subsequent non-profit we set up.
- I confirmed what all entrepreneurs know: The market and the entrepreneurial energy that drives us are very effective at quickly identifying issues and doing something about them. The Ukraine War is unique in being the first international conflict in which private business, without urging or organizing by the government, is directly reaching out to help. The early use of drones in this war is a prime example. This venture began when non-military professional drone pilots in Ukraine started using their own drones to help Ukrainians. Their employers got involved, and then it went international—an entirely voluntary business effort—not to fight the war, certainly, but to provide the humanitarian support people need especially during wartime.
My effort in Ukraine with the drone company on whose board I sit is one among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others being carried out by fast-acting entrepreneurs and other caring people, just like you. Maybe ordinary people can stop history from repeating itself.