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Bamboo Biking through Manila

Kelly Salance

Over the past two decades, the construction of bicycle frames has undergone radical changes, from incorporating aircraft-grade titanium to the carbon fiber preferred by many professional riders. Yet those expensive materials, while incredibly strong and light, remain out of reach for many cyclists in developing nations.

But what if bike frames could be constructed using a fast-growing organic material that exhibits greater tensile strength than steel and withstands compression better than concrete, while also providing employment opportunities for those looking to escape poverty? For the Philippines’ BamBike, the answer lay in an abundant local material—bamboo—and a workforce eager for new opportunities.


It all began little more than a decade ago, when Filipino-American BamBike founder Bryan Benitez McClelland partnered with local non-profit Gawad Kalinga on a sustainable community development program for Victoria, a municipality located on the southern edge of Laguna de Bey, a large freshwater lake south of Manila. After researching methods for using bamboo (a similar program had shown success in Africa), Bambike began training workers to build frames for all-terrain, road, and even children’s bikes.

Those bikes, which range in price from $171 USD for the Bambino to $1,050 for the Luntian 2.0, are built and tested by nine workers who handcraft between 15–25 frames per month, says Joshua Gan, supply chain head for Bambike. “Prior to Bambike, they were farmers or tricycle drivers,” Gan says. “One of the first Bambuilders, who just finished college, is now working with us in Manila as shop manager in training. We focus on quality work rather than mass production.”


While Bambike focuses on training its full-time workers to build quality frames, it also invests in the workers’ lives by training and paying for the community's preschool teacher, and the company is building a bamboo nursery as well as developing the area to accommodate Bambike Ecotours for even greater employment opportunities.

“Apart from selling Bambikes, our main revenue generator is Bambike Ecotours, where we provide guided tours on bamboo bikes,” Gan says. “Zendesk Manila has engaged our services to provide their employees with monthly Bambike Ecotours around their workplace. Zendesk, together with our other corporate partners, is helping us fund Bambike's scholarship fund where we will provide for the college needs of the children of the Bambuilders.”  

For Zendesk employee Lila Marie Uy, the Bambike Ecotours provide her with an opportunity to reduce stress, learn local history, and support an organization that’s helping impoverished communities grow both financially and socially. “BamBike is not just about riding the bamboo bike, but it is also a fun way to learn the history of the city,” says Uy. “And what's more exciting is that we were riding a bamboo-frame bike.”

While Bambike plans for future expansion of its Ecotours, its popular Manila route provides an intimate view of the historic walled city of Manila, Intramuros, much of which has been rebuilt since incurring devastating damage during the Battle of Manila in early 1945. Meanwhile, Bambike has begun planning to create more jobs for local workers by expanding into other product lines such as furniture and construction material, which the company believes would also benefit the local bamboo industry, Gan says.

Cultivating the next generation of Filipino leaders

Kelly Salance

In 1967, less than a year before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

While King’s response referred to the daunting circumstances faced by African-Americans in the United States, it’s not difficult to apply the civil right leader’s statement to any disenfranchised community trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty. In the Philippines, for example, more than one-third of children cannot afford to enroll in secondary school, effectively ending their education at grade six. And in a global economy that demands technical and communication skills in order to compete, that struggle to obtain education means diminished prospects for thousands of Filipino children.


However, that’s a fate Gawad Kalinga refuses to accept. In 2014 the NGO established the School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED), which focuses on teaching students character development, enterprise management, communications, business math, and agriculture (and then pairs students with enterprises to further develop their skills). Moreover, the organization has also partnered with Zendesk on the Cultivate program, which augments Gawad Kalinga’s curriculum by offering courses in academic, professional, and behavioral competencies.

“There are a lot of reasons why a huge percentage of Filipinos do not have access to quality education,” says Aya Daisa Babela, Zendesk’s Cultivate curriculum architect. “This does not only happen in the secondary school and college level—some Filipinos do not even get the chance to finish their elementary school years. It is a sad reality, but many of these factors are deeply rooted in poverty. The cost of quality education is too high for most families to afford, and the priority for parents and even children is to put food on the table.”

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Gawad Kalinga and Cultivate serve to bridge the competency gap between what’s being taught in Filipino schools and what employers need in the workforce, Babela says. “In my years of training adults, there is a huge number of fresh graduates that still need additional training in English communication skills,” she says. “There are a lot of business process outsourcing (BPO) companies here that hire young adults that can speak and write English well to provide all kinds of customer service via different channels such as phone, email, and chat. However, many companies have to implement near-hire programs that bridge that competency gap and teach vital skills in the workplace such as communication and personal development skills.”

While Cultivate targets employable skills, it also serves to help students unlearn poor cultural self-image. “When we talk about personal development skills, I am deeply passionate about leveraging the Filipino identity,” Babela says. “Many Filipino students feel that they are inferior to other cultures, and through personal development classes we try to discover the strengths of their identities as Filipinos and the values that we can bring to the table.”

That emphasis on cultural pride complements Cultivate’s efforts to instill resilience in the students and an overall sense of cultural competency. “Cultural competency, which we define as understanding their strengths as Filipino youths and leveraging them as they work with different cultures, will become a prevalent theme in all workshops,” Babela says. “This is especially relevant to SEED students as they frequently interact with people of different nationalities. They have the capacity to capitalize on Filipino values and excellence to become culturally competent in a world without borders.”

Our first batch of Cultivate scholars on graduation day at Zendesk.

Our first batch of Cultivate scholars on graduation day at Zendesk.

Zendesk mentors have begun to notice changes in the students, ranging from increased confidence in public speaking to improvements in neutralizing their accents in English. The second class of SEED students will start the Cultivate curriculum in August.

“We’re excited to tweak the modules based on the feedback that we got from Zendesk volunteers and Gawad Kalinga,” Babela says. “We are also exploring other partnerships such as Angat Buhay with the Office of the Vice President. At the end of this year, we plan to collaborate with ADB’s Youth for Asia Program. All of our partnerships aim to improve the lives of the Filipino youth with experiential learning.”

Addressing Homelessness as a Community

Kelly Salance

On a late October Sunday in 1887, the bearded and bespectacled Reverend Hugh Price Hughes stepped up to the pulpit in London’s St. James Hall to give some of the first public remarks about the Methodist mission movement, a radical call to action for Christians to get involved personally in breaking the cycle of poverty in the city’s neighborhoods.

“In London at this moment, the poorer districts are growing poorer and poorer, and those who ought to mingle with the less privileged are several miles off,” he said to a crowd of about 2,000. “Alas that in this great London there should be so many thousands whose whole life is absorbed in a desperate attempt to keep their heads just above water.”

Hughes’s passion for putting Christ’s teachings into direct action—which he referred to as “social Christianity”—did not fall on deaf ears. The Welshman, along with his wife Katherine and other devout members of the congregation, took up the banner by founding the West London Mission, which provided care and support for the most vulnerable citizens of London: children, the homeless, the sick.


Now, more than a century later, that Mission continues its work, serving citizens who face many of same problems their forebears did—economic inequality, substance abuse, and personal trauma. Since the 1970s, the organization has run its day centre on Seymour Place, which assists about 100 homeless people per day, mostly men over the age of 25. Those clients—10 or more of whom are newly homeless—can use the centre to access critical services that most people take for granted: a hot breakfast, a shower, and medical care, as well as hair cuts, laundry facilities, and mail collection.

Information from WLM on the rise of homelessness in the UK (2017).

Information from WLM on the rise of homelessness in the UK (2017).

The organization also provides care homes for men with alcohol dependency, as well as support services for men re-entering society after a prison sentence, veterans, and those who need affordable mental health treatment. The centre’s staff also teaches financial resilience and computer skills that can help clients stay off the streets.

“In the majority of cases we see, a relationship breakdown has been part of that person’s journey into homelessness,” said Martha Awojobi, WLM corporate development officer. “Someone’s marriage has fallen apart, for example. We’ve seen a lot of older men whose partner has died—they’re a 65-year-old man who can’t make the mortgage and finds himself on the street.”

WLM helps fill in the gaps where public social services run short, but the organization faces the age-old problem of securing enough funds to accomplish its goals. Yet when Zendesk opened its nearby office in 2015, the Mission found a partner that shared the same commitment to fighting poverty, homelessness, and overcoming technical illiteracy.

In keeping with Hughes’ vision of direct action, Zendesk’s employees get personally involved in helping the centre, from delivering chicken every Thursday for hungry clients to donating clothing during times of harsh weather. During a particularly bitter stretch of weather recently, Zendesk stepped up to help. “Zendesk supported us with hats, scarves, basically helping us keep our service users alive,” Awojobi said.

With homelessness in London skyrocketing—roughly 40 percent of its citizens are just one paycheck away from the streets—it’s an issue that will remain a problem for the foreseeable future. But as Awojobi sees it, West London Mission has a responsibility to continue to empower people affected by homelessness, poverty, and trauma and support from the whole community is essential to make these positive transformations.

“Once you volunteer at our day centre, there’s no going back,” Awojobi said. “Homelessness looks just like me and you.”

How can you help? Visit West London Mission's website to learn more on getting involved.

Caring for the Whole Family

Kelly Salance

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It’s the middle of a freezing winter night, and your child is sick—desperately so. Panicked, you jump into the back of the ambulance, forgetting your coat and your wallet. But you’re not thinking about those things; your focus is on getting your child the help she needs.

That help can be found at pediatric intensive care units around the United Kingdom, such as the one located at St. Mary’s Hospital in London’s Paddington district. Founded in 1992 by Dr. Parviz Habibi, PICU began with a single bed but now treats approximately 400 critically ill children each year. For more than two decades, the unit has grown thanks to its associated charity, COSMIC, which has raised more than a million pounds for new equipment, as well as £500,000 toward research of childhood maladies ranging from meningitis to Kawasaki disease.


In the United Kingdom, demand for beds in pediatric intensive care units often outstrips supply, which means parents frequently have to travel long distances—sometimes from as far away as Scotland—to get the care their children need, says Vicky Rees, COSMIC’s head of fundraising and communications. In 2017 PICU had to turn away 200 children due to lack of beds, but COSMIC—with help from Zendesk and other patrons such as Sir Richard Branson—has been working toward adding between eight and 15 beds starting in January 2019, with plans for a large family area so anxious parents can rest comfortably while their son or daughter gets critical care.

“We try to provide holistic care for the families,” Rees says. “We’ve been putting parents up in local hotels and Airbnbs so they’re within walking distances.”

Although the expansion will help the unit meet the demand for care, it will place even greater pressure on family housing. That means COSMIC has been forced to reimagine how it supports patients’ families. Local hotels don’t provide the environment many families need during a stressful time, says Rees, who is part of a small staff consisting of Charity Director Chloë Oliver, Fundraising and Communications Executive Emily Hughes, and Fundraising Assistant George Lee.

The idea is to create a home-away-from-home, with communal family areas, kitchens, and laundry facilities, that is attached to the ward itself. Considering that the average family stays for six days—and sometimes as long as 18 months—having a place that feels like home can make a huge difference.

“We want rooms that feel like proper bedrooms, with phones that connect directly to hospital rooms,” says Rees, who points out that half of the families end up suffering from PTSD or need bereavement assistance. “Being able to talk with other parents in shared facilities, being able to make a cup of tea—those small things make it a little more bearable for families.”

The project will be divided into three phases, with an emphasis on not disrupting care for children in any way; as part of that effort, PICU will be refurbishing an adjacent ward followed by a second area. Besides needing more beds, PICU simply requires more space for physicians to work and to store the vital medical equipment the charity has acquired over the years.

Some of that medical equipment (ventilators, medicine pumps, and more) comes care of Zendesk, which entered COSMIC’s orbit five years ago when the company opened an office in the Paddington area.

“They wanted to give back,” Rees says. “They helped produce a booklet for parents with PTSD and helped us fund countless numbers of hotel rooms and contributed to the costs of the new units. The help has been incredible.”


That help includes lending a hand at COSMIC’s children’s Christmas party. While wrapping presents for the children has become a Zendesk tradition, some, like enterprise account manager James Marlow, go a step further by skydiving or running marathons to raise funds.

“COSMIC is quite close to my heart, as I have children and three of them were premature babies, so I know what it’s like to need specialist support from a hospital,” Marlow says. “I have attended their Christmas concert four years in a row and helped set up, sell raffle tickets, and dressed up as Santa Claus to give out presents to the kids.”

As a charity with a limited number of staff, being able to lean on patrons such as Zendesk can make a challenging job easier to manage, Rees says. “It’s the little things,” she says. “For example, we once asked, ‘Do you have anyone who can build a chair?’ The answer was, ‘Of course we do, we’ll send someone over.’”

Building Community in Melbourne

Kelly Salance

Building trust is not something that can be done overnight. Ed Tudor, executive director of Melbourne Indigenous Transition School (MITS), knows this well. When he set out to tackle one of Australia’s largest social issues – decreasing the educational gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth – he knew it began with trust.

In Australia, the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth’s education is staggering, only 59% of Indigenous 20-24 year olds have completed Year 12, compared to 88% of non-Indigenous Australians.  MITS began its journey to address this issue by speaking with many parents in the remote Northern Territory, an area known for its high Indigenous populations. In fact, the Northern Territory, has the highest proportion of Australia’s Indigenous population, accounting for 25 percent of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That same population, however, is unfortunately mired in poverty, with nearly 45 percent of Indigenous households in the Northern Territory falling below the poverty line.

Photo by Sarah Black Photography

Photo by Sarah Black Photography

With that, it’s not surprising that Indigenous families are excited to give their children the opportunity to further their education. Yet, the transition from a remote community to a bustling city is not an easy one.  It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Not surprisingly many Indigenous students struggle with this transition. Which is why MITS believes in offering a soft landing to this new life, in the form of a transitional year, between primary and secondary education. During that year, students are fully supported to find their identity, fit into the community, and become accustomed to “city-life.” In doing this, MITS believes students can then immediately thrive once they begin their mainstream schooling.

Through this transition year, 22 students are provided accommodations on a historic property named Lockington, in the Vaucluse, Richmond. The grounds consist of two separate living quarters -- one for the boys and one for the girls -- common spaces for meals, studying and free time, and a community fire pit for free evenings.  

Photo by Sarah Black Photography.

Photo by Sarah Black Photography.

A typical day at MITS starts with a 7am wake up call, breakfast as a group in the kitchen and then a short walk down the hill to school at the Richmond Football Club for the day. Here the students have 6 lessons each day; two literacy, two numeracy, and two that broaden the curriculum with Art, History, and PE. As Tudor notes, “Being in the Richmond Football Club for school is extremely valuable. It is a culturally strong place, with a long and proud history of supporting and celebrating Indigenous people and culture. It is also a place of high expectations where everyone is working hard every day to achieve their best.” This inspiring setting paired with a consistent daily schedule helps students in their transition. MITS believes, “Well-being is central to the continuing success of its students, and tailors its programs to reflect this philosophy.” After the busy year, students earn scholarships at one of 20 partner schools in Melbourne, MITS continues to stay involved after the transition year, providing support to their alumni, their new schools and their families back home.

MITS’ first-ever cohort of students graduated in 2016 and the transition school saw some early positive results -- 17 of their 22 students successfully transitioned to secondary schools in Melbourne. Despite this success, MITS realizes that for some students, being away from their family and having to trust in a new support system proved difficult.  This is why the school works to make MITS feel like home by honoring many Northern Territory traditions, such as a smoking ceremony at the start of the year to clear bad spirits away,  and having a Welfare Officer on staff for counseling if needed.

Meanwhile, in an effort to build trust with parents and prospective students, staff used a grant from the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation to produce a virtual reality video tour of the school. They now bring the video with them to remote areas when they are meeting students and their families. This tour helps build a connection of where their child will be going and builds immediate trust between the family and MITS. “Trust is built through consistency, kindness and genuine respect shown every day,” Tudor says and is essential to the success of their program.

While at MITS, students explore pathways that are both academic and vocational, in Melbourne, as well as other cities and back home. Students are encouraged to realise their own version of success, articulating their dreams and aspirations, setting goals, and working hard to achieve them. Yet the key ingredient for making aspirations realities is building trust.

Learn more about how you can support MITS here

STREAT - Tastes Good. Does Good.

Kelly Salance

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Think of all the things you need to start your day.  If you are like millions of people around the world, this includes your daily cup of coffee. And if you are like most, you have strong opinions on how you take your coffee. Perhaps it’s in a certain mug, or with milk, or prepared by your favorite barista who knows your special order -- whatever the preference, coffee is a ritual. While people drink coffee all over the world, Melbourne has a particular affinity for coffee. Often dubbed the best coffee culture in the world, the city is no stranger to delicious coffee, picturesque cafes and friendly customer service and STREAT cafes are no exception to this.

Tastes Good. Does Good.

With four cafes around Melbourne, STREAT serves high quality food and coffee in unique and inviting spaces. But what makes STREAT truly special is that they go beyond just being a high quality business. STREAT is a hospitality-focused social enterprise that provides training and employment opportunities for homeless and disadvantaged youth.

Since their days of a single coffee cart in 2010, STREAT now manages eight hospitality businesses with opportunities for their students to train and gain meaningful work experience.  In addition to on the job training, STREAT provides wrap-around support for their student with individual case management, group life skills programs and, most importantly, a sense of belonging.  

What differentiate STREAT other social enterprises in Australia?

Many small socially minded companies -- and Australia has over 20,000 -- start with building a business and then slowly try to grow their philanthropic arm as they become successful. While this might work for some, STREAT felt strongly that it need to dually focus on delivering high quality food while promoting a strong social message.

People become extremely loyal once they learn the food is good AND is doing social good at the same time.
— Ian Johnson, Marketing Manager for STREAT.

They wanted to rapidly grow the their number of cafes so they could rapidly grow the number of young people they are serving.  Throughout these businesses, they have become 70% self-funded and on a path to be completely self funded. It’s with this strong social purpose that STREAT has managed to continue to grow over the last eight years and are changing the world, one coffee at a time.

Next time you need your morning fix or afternoon pick-me-up, head over to one of STREAT's cafes and tweet at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a picture of your drink and we will send some Foundation swag your way! 

Building a Community with St. Anthony’s

Kelly Salance

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Even before San Francisco’s vibrant and gritty Tenderloin neighborhood got its name, Father Alfred Boeddeker was doling free sandwiches out of an auto body shop that would later evolve into St. Anthony Foundation. Today, 67 years after St. Anthony’s first opened its doors, the organization now provides hot meals, shelter, medical care, clothing, addiction recovery programs, job training, and social work resources to a diverse community of San Franciscans in one of the city’s highest need neighborhoods.


Serving around 2,400 meals each day, St. Anthony’s objective isn’t just to provide low-income and homeless individuals with survival resources. Their mission from the beginning has been to cultivate a strong sense of community. “The power of human connection” is the foundation of all of their outreach programs. “We bring people together — many thousands of guests and volunteers — in a spirit of dignity, respect, and compassion,” says Carmen King, St. Anthony’s Communication and PR Lead. “[We] recognize that genuine human connection is the best way to uplift the spirits in all of us.”

San Francisco has entered an era of drastic economic inequality, which as a result, has spawned more problems for San Francisco’s low-income population. “I think that St. Anthony’s is needed now more than ever because of how much displacement has taken place,” says King. “We have created a safe place for a lot of people who’ve been left out of the advancements that have happened in this area.”

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According to St. Anthony’s most recent guest survey, around 56 percent of the families that St. Anthony’s serves are homeless, and the number of homeless guests has increased from 37 percent in 2005 to 46 percent in 2015. St. Anthony’s has also seen a significant uptick in guests needing recovery and rehabilitation programs and senior citizens seeking shelter services.

However, St. Anthony’s is collaborating with Market Street startups and businesses like Zendesk to eradicate the roots of these troubling statistics. “I think the tech companies are bringing people into our communities from all over the country and world who are intelligent, dynamic, and curious about these kinds of problems and really care about making changes,” says King. “We have Zendesk volunteers here all of the time who are interested and passionate about learning what St. Anthony’s does, and they really want to make a difference. I think it’s an incredible thing. I think that the only way that we can solve problems like this is with members like Zendesk. All of those changes start with awareness.”

When it comes to making positive change in our neighborhood, having neighbors like St. Anthony's is vital but they can not do it alone. It takes a whole community to make positive change, and we encourage you to join St. Anthony's. They are tackling big challenges and need all of our help to make San Francisco a place where all people can flourish. Learn more about how to get involved here . To sweeten the deal, tweet at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a picture of you volunteering at St. Anthony's and we will send you some Foundation swag!

Getting to Know the David Rio Chai Bar

Kelly Salance

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In a city known for its innovative coffee scene, David Rio Chai Bar on Market Street, the most significant commercial corridor in San Francisco, breaks the mold with its expansive menu of uniquely crafted chai drinks. But where it’s been most “disruptive” is when it decided to open its first-ever cafe smack-dab in the middle of one of San Francisco’s most challenging neighborhoods, the Tenderloin.


Close to the corner of 6th and Market streets, Chai Bar is surrounded by new gleaming buildings, filled with VCs and tech workers, small businesses serving a very low-income community, non-profits, and a notable homeless population. This unlikely mix is mainly the result of when tech began moving to the Tenderloin in 2011. The results has been a neighborhood grappling with a shifting cultural landscape, especially along Market Street between 6th and 8th streets. Empty buildings that have long sat vacant are now slated to become glitzy hotels and fancy market-rate housing.

David Ababseh, who manages retail operations at David Rio and has worked with the company for six years, said his colleagues reckon with this ongoing tension between old and new on a daily basis, but is optimistic and vigilant that they can have a positive impact.

“The more businesses are here, then the more foot traffic, and the cleaner the streets are going to be,” Ababseh says. “We want to inspire people to come here, but at the same time, a new business can’t open up and think it’s going to be a success because this is the new tech central. A new business needs to help the area. Retail businesses [should] try to hire people from the Tenderloin. Hopefully, the city will invest a bit more in making the street cleaner and safer for everybody.”

Since opening its doors, David Rio has partnered closely with City Impact, a Tenderloin-based non-profit organization that runs a church and a series of social, health, and academic services for local residents, in order to hire locals into cafe jobs.

“You can better the community by hiring from the community,” Ababseh says. “It’s important to me that most of my staff live in the Tenderloin. If there’s two qualified applicants, I will always lean towards someone that’s local.”


Some employees also volunteer at the local needle exchange. Ababseh has also begun implementing a protocol for helping individuals who come into the cafe with substance abuse emergencies; it’s been effective to getting people the help they need, while keeping customers safe, happy, and empathetic to these situations.

Established in 1996, David Rio has always set up shop in areas in the midst of economic and  social transformations. They moved into their wholesale operation to the Dogpatch in 1997, a neighborhood famously known as headquarters of the Hells Angels motorcycle club. It was from this under-the-radar locale, David Rio built a global name for itself, despite not having a brick-and-mortar presence anywhere.

That changed in May 2015, when owners (David) Scott Lowe and Rio Miura opened their first-ever retail location, a 2,600-square foot Chai Bar on Market Street, between 6th and 7th streets. Situated on the ground floor of San Francisco’s iconic 1019 Market Street building (the same building Zendesk calls home), the husband-wife duo once again sought out an underdog neighborhood for this ambitious undertaking.

“We thought we could make a difference there,” Ababseh says. “We wanted to be a leader for positive change, as well as set an example for other businesses to enter the neighborhood.”

The next time you visit David Rio, tweet at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a picture of your drink and we’ll buy you your next chai!