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Empowering the next generation of STEM Leaders

Kelly Salance


Diverse and inclusive companies are more successful and more profitable than those companies that are not. The most simple search on the correlations between a diversity and profitability immediately return numerous, well-researched and substantiated reports correlating these two goals positively.

For instance: “Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to McKinsey’s report, “Delivering through Diversity. And the list of other think tanks citing these same benefits goes on and on.

Yet, the reality is the vast majority of the tech industry struggles with representation of minority groups, including women, which is why at the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation one of our core values is creating equity within our workplace, our communities, and society. One organization we partner with to help achieve this is Teen-Turn in our Dublin office.

Teen-Turn provides teen girls aged 15 to 16 years old the opportunity to gain hands-on technology experience through after-school workshops and two-week summer work placement in technology companies. Teen-Turn’s philosophy is rooted in the idea that when girls are users of technology, but are not involved in building that technology, their perspectives are not incorporated into the design. The end result is a myopic product that doesn’t reflect their needs. Given tech’s ubiquity throughout nearly everything we do, and increasing estimates that thousands of unfilled software engineering jobs will continue to go unfilled, balanced representation is not only necessary from a customer experience perspective, without it, economies risk becoming increasingly vulnerable.

So at Teen-Turn, young women are encouraged to experience, what it is to contribute to the very technology they use. In doing so, girls can better understand the importance of having a say in how a product that they use is developed, and why they might want to have a career in technology.

Nikita and Greta with Zendesk staff at our Dublin Office opening.

Nikita and Greta with Zendesk staff at our Dublin Office opening.

Zendesk recently hosted two Teen-Turn interns, Nikita and Greta, to join us for a two-week ‘Teen-Turnship’ working with our software engineering team in Dublin. While at Zendesk, they met with each department to better understand the business and then focused the majority of their time on learning how to code using Ruby on Rails. Throughout the two weeks, they spent time learning the basics of the language eventually starting to build websites of their own.

The result: “It’s not boring at all!” according to Nikita. Both were surprised with how fun coding was and said they would love to take more computer science courses after they finish their certs this year. Greta said she found that learning about localization in engineering was really interesting and wants to explore that in her future classes. Meanwhile, Nikita’s biggest takeaway was that there are so many different roles in a technology company that it was the first time she considered that there is a place for her in the tech industry.

While we know there isn’t one simple solution to increasing representation in our industry, for many Teen-Turn girls, this internship is first time they can see themselves working in technology. It is one small piece that adds up to building a more diverse workforce. If you are interested in working with Teen-Turn reach out to them here.

Internship Spotlight: Roy Abouhamad

Kelly Salance

At the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation, we strongly believe in creating equity within our communities, workplace, and society. One way we achieve this is through workforce development programs — programs and internships that provide opportunities for job seekers to expand their skill sets while gaining exposure to the workforce. In our London office, we partner with HeadStart London to do just that.

HeadStart London is an organization that brings together industry leaders, charities, and young people to bridge the gap between schools and work. Through HeadStart youth aged 16-18 participate in workshops and interviews and eventually have the opportunity for work with partner businesses. Zendesk has partnered with HeadStart since 2015, hiring cohorts of students for week-long internships. One such student was Roy who interned in April 2017. While here, Roy made lasting connections. That summer he applied and was selected for an internship with our Sales team.

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What made you choose HeadStart?

I started in the National Citizen Service program, an organization that offers 15 to 17 year olds the opportunity to try new things, learn new skills, and meet new people. While at NCS, I attended a HeadStart workshop and learned what a cool program it was. HeadStart is designed to allow young people to get ahead in their career if they volunteer at least 16 hours of their time in the local community. While I was a bit skeptical about the program at first, one of the potential employers — Zendesk — caught my eye.

Roy with the other HeadStart interns during his week long internship last year.

Roy with the other HeadStart interns during his week long internship last year.

How was your first week of work experience?

I joined the Customer Success team and really enjoyed it. It was a totally new experience for me as I have not worked in an office environment before but everyone was so nice and accommodating. I learned so much that week. My two big takeaways were learning how to be a part of a team and how to work towards a deadline. Both are important skills that I just hadn’t had a lot of exposure to before being in an office.

How has your time been in the Sales Department for your Summer internship?

I have really enjoyed it! I spent the summer researching people that we can contact within businesses and inputting that information into Salesforce. It is a whole new skill set I learned this summer. The highlight for me is definitely being a part of the team and the general working environment.

What advice would you give to other potential HeadStart Interns?

Work hard and try to do things that will make you memorable at Zendesk. I continually emailed to see if there were any potential summer internships which resulted in me being interviewed for this internship role.

What are you career goals and aspirations?

I am currently on my way to University and am waiting to find out which one I got into. From there, I eventually want to become a software engineer working for a technology company. My time at Zendesk strengthened my dream of working as a coder in the tech industry while providing me the work experience I need to get there.

Roy is one of the 55 week-long interns that Zendesk has hosted over the last three and a half years. Want to host interns in your office? Reach out to info@neighborfoundation to learn more about how we run our program or to HeadStart directly if you want to launch this program in your office.

The Importance of Trust

Kelly Salance

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When Projectos Amigos Das Crinças (PAC) opened their new community center in the São Domingos neighborhood in São Paulo, creating a foundation of trust was their number one priority.

PAC is a non-profit whose mission is to promote the personal and social development of at risk youth up to 18 years old. In addition to PAC’s two children’s homes, their community center has become the heart of the neighborhood. As we know it today, PAC’s thriving center serves over 120 youth in the neighborhood and offers social and educational activities (such as ballet and art classes), playgrounds, income generating workshops for families, and psychosocial care. How did PAC establish trust with the families of the neighborhood to become a shining light in a sometimes grim area?


The answer is actually quite simple. When PAC first opened their doors they built a free library available to everyone in the neighborhood. Free of charge, anyone could stop by and borrow a book. This was the first time residents of the neighborhood didn’t have to pay to check something out. Rosane Chene, Founding Director of PAC, points to this simple gesture as symbol for how they hoped to be a part of the community. “We used this library as our way to show we trust the people of São Domingos, so they can trust us.”

Since the early days of the community center, PAC has always prided itself in listening and being part of the neighborhood. With these goals in mind, they are taking on a new challenge of building a second community center in a neighboring area, Pirituba. The vision is to develop and construct an adequate space to increase social and cultural inclusion. With help from Zendesk, PAC was able purchase an empty plot of land, getting one step closer to making this vision a reality.

Rendering of PAC's second community center.

Rendering of PAC's second community center.

From an empty lot, PAC plans to construct a colorful 765 square metered building complete with a cafeteria, classrooms, a computer room, a dance studio, meeting spaces, and office spaces to serve over 2,500 families and their 300+ children and teens. To help visualize this space, Zendesk worked with PAC to create a VR experience of the Community Center. Through this and the renderings, you can clearly envision this beautiful space empowering youth and their families to grow, learn and ultimately drive this neighborhood of São Paulo to be a more equal place.

Through opening its doors to all the community, PAC’s community centers are a trusted and loving place helping to lift up many children and their families.

Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders

Kelly Salance

Finding a job is a challenging process, particularly if you are a young adult entering the workforce for the first time. It can be difficult to understand where to start your search, how to apply, and what are the best ways to market yourself. The challenge becomes increasingly difficult if you are in a place like Brazil, where the unemployment rate is alarmingly high for young people. In 2017, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Brazil was 30.5%. With a staggering 6.6 million young people (aged 18 -24) not in school or at work, what can be done?

Enter Instituto da Oportunidade Social (IOS) — a non-profit in São Paulo with a mission to seek, support and train young people (15-29 years old) who have less access to job opportunities. Founded in 1998, IOS has always put young people at the center of their mission. Their core objective is to bring technological access to low income youth through professional training programs. From business management and entrepreneurship trainings, to technical IT software courses, IOS offers a variety of classes and workshops to prepare young people to enter the workforce.

Despite 2017 being economically difficult for young adults in Brazil, IOS saw an 18% increase in their youth entering the job market. In all, 1,016 IOS students became employed. Moreover, of the students who graduated from IOS in 2017, at least 35% are working and 15% enrolled in higher education. These numbers indicate that over half of IOS trainees are in better social and economic opportunities after completing their time at IOS.

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When a young person arrives at IOS, they do more than just attend trainings. They work to gain knowledge and the skill set to own their destiny. IOS is preparing their students for formal employment in a competitive job market and showing how to address the youth unemployment challenge to achieve lasting change.

Work in Brazil? Partner with IOS and learn how to hire a student in your office here.

Learn more about Zendesk’s partnership with IOS here.  


Generations come together, one bike ride at a time

Kelly Salance

There’s something liberating and peaceful about being able to take in nature from the seat of a bicycle, something Ole Kassow understands quite well. An avid cyclist, the Copenhagen resident began to wonder: how could a community get seniors with limited mobility back on bikes so they could experience that joy once again?

In 2012 Kassow and Dorthe Pederson decided that they had the answer. They founded Cycling Without Age with the purchase of five trishaws, and since then the nonprofit has spread like wildfire, with chapters springing up in 38 countries, including Singapore. Like its fellow chapters all over the globe, Singapore’s Cycling Without Age’s mission is simple: trained volunteers from local universities and companies such as Zendesk take seniors out for rides in trishaws, giving elders an opportunity to be outside, tell their stories and connect with new people.

It’s a small act of kindness that can go a long way, one that takes only an hour of someone’s time, says Marieke Bink, director of the Singapore chapter. Bink, who oversees 198 volunteers and programs aimed at connecting Singapore’s youths with their elders, spoke recently about the chapter’s plans for the future and how her involvement has changed her life.

Marieke Bink, Director of Cycling Without Age - Singapore. Illustration by  Chelsea Larsson .

Marieke Bink, Director of Cycling Without Age - Singapore. Illustration by Chelsea Larsson.

How did you get involved in Cycling Without Age?

When I moved from Copenhagen to Singapore, I had worked for 20 years in health care, mostly with seniors. I wanted to get involved with the community and do something close to my profession. When I got settled in, I called my friend, Pernille Bussone, who started the Cycling Without Age chapter in Singapore. As it turned out, she was stepping down and asked me to take over. Since then the chapter has become more of a formal organization, and in May 2017 we officially registered as a nonprofit. We’re always working on how we can give back and do more. 

Cycling Without Age actively works to connect the young people of Singapore with their elders. How do you train younger adults to work with seniors?

Here we have senior activity centers that are mainly for the poorest people, but we can do more with these centers. They don’t have many activities other than karaoke and bingo. And there is a big age gap here—the youth are very busy and not interested in seniors. So we started asking, how can we combine these two? How can we set up this intergenerational bonding? 

So that’s where the aging simulation suit comes in. It’s heavy, it’s hard to bend the knees, you have earmuffs on so you can’t hear well. Everyone’s so happy when they take it off, and we say, “Yeah, you get to take it off, but seniors can’t.”

To make the most of the experience, we also give the students communication skills training. We try to encourage them to use nonverbal communication, since there are language issues as well as hearing problems. We encourage the seniors to talk about their lives—we say that the ride is free, please pay with your stories.

For seniors who don’t get out much, what sort of effect does getting on a trishaw have on them?

There’s a 90-year-old lady who lives 300 meters from the beach but who can’t make it there, despite loving the ocean. She’s in a wheelchair, and it’s just too far for her, and there’s a highway in between. And for her 70-year-old daughter, the wheelchair is too heavy to push, so she has not been to the beach in 17 years. We were able to take her on a ride in a trishaw, giving her a chance to see the ocean for the first time in years. It’s those little things that are why we do this work.

What are you goals for this chapter of Cycling Without Age?

Our goal is to have at least 50 trishaws taking seniors out on rides throughout Singapore. I also dream of having a social workshop where we train youths to be mechanics for the bikes. That would give them an opportunity for a job and would save us money—and most important, it would allow us to keep the bikes functioning. Safety is a huge priority for us.

Zendesk CEO, Mikkel Svane, taking two seniors out for our inaugural ride.

Zendesk CEO, Mikkel Svane, taking two seniors out for our inaugural ride.

People say, “You don’t put seniors on a bike, they want to go in an air-conditioned car.” But it’s not about going from Point A to Point B. It’s about individualized attention. There was a study recently that found that social isolation is even more deadly than smoking. So what do we do about loneliness? When these seniors ride in the trishaw, they then have a new story to tell. They’ve met someone new, and then they have this energy that keeps them going for a few weeks, until the next ride. It’s such as little token of generosity, but it can be life changing.

Making a house a home with Habitat for Humanity Singapore

Kelly Salance

One Saturday morning this July a one-thousand-strong army of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, armed with paint brushes and cleaning supplies, descended on a half dozen of Singapore’s neighborhoods to complete a simple mission: to clean and revitalize the homes of seniors and low-income families in need.


For the second year in a row, Habitat for Humanity’s Home Sweep Home project focused on Singapore’s rental public housing, which is reserved for citizens who earn $1,500 SGD or less per month. These flats—usually one or two rooms with a kitchen and a bathroom—tend to be in older buildings where the housing authority maintains just the stairwells, lifts, and corridors, says Shila Naidu, resource development manager for Habitat for Humanity Singapore.

Before and after of one apartment.

Before and after of one apartment.

“Many of these vulnerable elderly are unable to maintain decent living conditions in their homes due to either low income, low social support, or physical/mental disabilities,” Naidu says. “In fact, most homes have not been cleaned at all for years. The lack of proper sanitation in these homes have resulted in poor living conditions such as infestation of bed bugs, which causes uncomfortable sleepless nights, badly stained walls, and dirt everywhere, including in eating spaces. Consequently, the health of these homeowners declines rapidly in these conditions.”


Beyond cleaning and repainting, Home Sweep Home will also focus on helping residents with hoarding tendencies to clear out dangerous clutter, which can pose a fire hazard to not just the unit itself but the entire housing block. “We are dedicated to the rehabilitation of homes through practical means such as fumigation, cleaning, and painting,” Naidu says. “We seek to provide homeowners with the strength to live the rest of their lives with a restored sense of dignity.”

The genesis of Home Sweep Home stems from two local Habitat for Humanity initiatives: Project HomeWorks and UnLitter Red Dot. UnLitter Red Dot, Naidu says, aims to create a more civic-minded society that avoids littering. So while some volunteers will be working directly in the flats, others will focus on cleaning up litter in the surrounding neighborhoods. “Many people say Singapore is a clean city, but sadly, we are a ‘cleaned’ city with an army of sweepers and cleaners picking up after us everyday,” Naidu says.

While last year’s event led to the cleaning of 120 homes, this year Habitat for Humanity has narrowed the scope to 43 of the toughest units. “This year we wanted to be really selective and only choose homes of the usual Project HomeWorks severity,” Naidu says. “We wanted to focus on homes with real need, thus making the decision to focus on intensive cases even if the numbers look less impressive on paper. We want to make the deepest impact possible with the donor money and volunteer hours put in.”

While Habitat for Humanity continues to fine-tune Home Sweep Home, some elements remain unchanged, such as how volunteers are encouraged to interact with the homeowners. “Volunteers are asked to include the homeowner in the home cleaning process in some way, no matter how small, so as to give the homeowner a sense of ownership and agency in the entire process,” Naidu says. “The home rehabilitation process should be a partnership between volunteers and homeowner, so interaction is one way to facilitate this.”

Those interactions can go a long way toward improving the lives of seniors in need, many of whom now can sleep easy without fear of bed bugs. “Many homeowners express their heartfelt appreciation toward the volunteers for taking the time off to help rehabilitate their homes,” Naidu says. “Most importantly, most homeowners say that the newly rehabilitated home empowers them to maintain the clean conditions of their homes and to live with strength and independence.” 

Get involved with Habitat for Humanity Singapore today!

Making a Difference From the Heart

Kelly Salance

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Fifteen years ago, as Henry and Christine Laimer read the Sunday paper in their Singapore home, they stumbled across a story that would end up changing not just their lives, but the lives of thousands of the people on the island. The article detailed the efforts to feed the hungry with the unsold bread bakeries sent to landfills every day, and as the Austrian expats read, an idea began to germinate: what if bakeries in Singapore could be convinced to donate their leftovers, too?

And with that, the Laimers embarked on a journey that led to the creation of Food from the Heart, a nonprofit that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade and half. From its initial Bread Run, which drew 120 volunteers, Food from the Heart now boasts 1,700 altruists who divert 28,000 kilograms of bread every month from the landfills to hungry residents all over the island.

That mission meets a very real need, said Jade Tan, for Food from the Heart. A recent study indicates that 105,000 households in Singapore subsist on less than $1,500 SD per month, which means a little more than one out of every ten residences need food assistance. Those figures play a large part in why Food from the Heart continually expands its services to the community, which now includes more than 50 self-collection centers where residents can pick up packages consisting of cooking oil, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and other essentials.

“Many of these families struggle to cope with medical, school, and utility bills, let alone put a nutritious meal on the table,” Tan said. “These ration packs go a long way in helping ensure the 8,190 people in the Community Food Pack program receive the nourishment to go on with their daily lives.”

Infogrpahic from Food From the Heart. 

Infogrpahic from Food From the Heart. 

In 2017, Food from the Heart distributed nearly 29,000 food packs to those in need to almost 8,000 beneficiaries, Tan said. Meanwhile, the nonprofit also directs food to 41 welfare homes through the Market Place program, which offers items with damaged packaging (or near-expiration) collected from NTUC Fairprice outlets across the island. That program alone has led to the distribution of $5.52 million worth of food to 35,500 residents in 2017.


Meanwhile, the organization also seeks to increase the number of School Goodie Bag programs on the island, an effort that seeks to combat hunger in Singapore’s schools. “We are currently working with 28 schools on the School Goodie Bag program to serve 5,600 student beneficiaries and their families each month,” Tan said. “We distribute food packs of non-perishable items to 50 of the neediest students in each school to help their families defray living expenses.”

Those food packs include items with high nutritional value, such as milk, oatmeal, and breakfast cereals. “This is in line with our goal to both widen and deepen our contributions to the community as we strive to impact more individuals,” Tan said.

Beyond filling the plates of those in need, Food from the Heart has expanded its services to focus on quality-of-life issues—for example, Toys from the Heart provides toys to children in need, and Birthdays from the Heart gives the underprivileged a chance to celebrate their birthdays with cake and socializing. And the Clean Plate campaign encourages young students to be mindful about wasting food, especially since they often share classrooms with other children who don’t get enough to eat.

Zendesk volunteers helping to sort and bag food. 

Zendesk volunteers helping to sort and bag food. 

Programs like these—whether its distributing bread, groceries, or toys—are powered by dedication and compassion to bring real change to communities across Singapore. Yet, they can not do it alone. Learn more about how you can volunteer with Food From the Heart here.  And as if volunteering doesn't make you feel good enough, tweet at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a picture of you volunteering with FFTH and we will send you some Foundation swag!

Hands On Manila: Transforming the Philippines one daycare at a time

Kelly Salance

Thirty minutes to the southeast of the heart of Manila lies Taguig City, near the Philippines’ largest freshwater lake, Laguna de Bay. Once home to small fishing villages that dotted the lake’s shoreline, the area’s population has grown sixfold since 1980—and despite having a booming downtown business district, smaller enclaves on the outskirts, such as Sitio Pusawan, still struggle with poverty and lack of services.

Part of the Ususan Barangay, Pusawan had long faced a critical shortage of daycare for its children, that is until non-profit Hands on Manila partnered with the local government, the Bases Conversion Development Authority, and Zendesk, to build a new daycare center to accommodate the community’s 150 preschool age children. Completed in early 2017, the Sitio Pusawan Daycare Center now holds four classes a day, providing crucial early education to the community’s children.

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the building of the daycare center in Barangay Ususan, Taguig City.

“There used to be two tiny daycare centers inside the community, but the new center provides a more conducive learning atmosphere for the kids,” says Dondon Marquez, executive director for Hands on Manila. “The center has two rooms and is also used as multipurpose hall where teacher and parent meetings are held, as well as other activities.”

As Marquez sees it, those four classes per day and the role the center plays in supporting the community at large has convinced local officials of the power of public-private partnerships, paving the way for additional donations and serving as an example for other communities in need. “The partnership opened doors for more opportunities for the community,” Marquez says. “Some individuals and corporate donors were inspired to provide some of the center's other needs, like educational materials and equipment, when they saw that the kids were attending classes in the new center.”

Established 17 years ago, Hands on Manila has over 30,000 registered volunteers who have contributed more than 300,000 hours toward projects such as the Sitio Pusuwan Daycare Center. Those efforts have benefited an estimated 58,000 children, 2,000 seniors, 14 public schools/centers, 62 orphanages, and 120 non-governmental organizations—and when the nonprofit sees a community in need, it stays committed to it for the long haul.

For example, since the daycare center opened, its offerings have expanded beyond the original mission of caring for and educating the neighborhood’s children. With food security being a persistent issue for some members of the community, Hands on Manila, in partnership with Zendesk, designed an urban gardening program that recruited the heads of 30 families—along with their children and the center’s staff—to grow organic fruit and vegetables on the center’s land.

“Extra harvests can be sold to neighbors fresh, or they can be processed further for additional income, thus becoming an income-generating project for the community,” Marquez says. “The urban gardening also contributes to community programs for waste management because it uses non-biodegradable plastic bottles as growing containers, reducing waste sent to urban landfills.”

While Hands on Manila’s efforts to improve child care options and food security for Pusawan’s citizens have gained traction in the past year-and-a-half, the nonprofit’s commitment to uplifting the neighborhood isn’t new. At the heart of these efforts to empower communities is Hands on Manila’s focus on making volunteering an integral part of citizens’ lives. Those volunteers—like the ones who helped make the Sitio Pusawan Daycare Center a reality—play an important role in furthering Hands on Manila’s ultimate goal: to transform the Philippines one community at a time.