Kidsave Co-Founder and CEO Randi Thompson joined C-Sweet for a fireside chat on professional pivots and stepping in to meet the need. C-Sweet is a global community of female executives working together to unleash women’s unlimited potential in leadership. C-Sweet regularly hosts leadership conferences where women in power can share their experiences, trials, and triumphs in the worlds of business, entrepreneurship, and charity work.
For the September session, C-Sweet’s focused on transferring business skills and practices into mission-driven leadership. Thompson, who left a successful career in corporate marketing and public relations to start a nonprofit for orphans, spoke candidly about her own journey.
When speaking about this pivotal career shift, Thompson said, “Honestly, I never ever thought that I would someday start a nonprofit, but once I was exposed to the issue of children growing up around the world without the love and support of a family, it became something I had to do.”
For Thompson, it all started after her friend and colleague, Terry Baugh, visited Russia. While in Russia, Baugh visited an orphanage, and she was horrified by what she saw. She told Thompson about the tragic conditions she witnessed, conditions that Thompson would soon see for herself.
“I was in Kazakhstan on a business trip, and I visited an orphanage for older children. I was shocked to see so many kids living together in these awful conditions, and no one was helping them,” said Thompson.
Thompson and Baugh began researching, trying to find an organization that they could contribute to.
“At first, we tried to do pro-bono work, tried to volunteer, but no one was really working in this space, no one was really helping the older kids,” explained Thompson.
After realizing that there wasn’t a group dedicated to helping older orphans and kids in care, Baugh and Thompson made their decision: they would start their own.
At first, Kidsave only worked internationally. “We started our work internationally because that is where we were first exposed to this issue,” said Thompson. “Soon, we realized that this wasn’t just a foreign problem; there were thousands of kids in foster care here in the U.S. who needed our help, too.”
Since its founding in 1999, Kidsave has expanded its work internationally in Ukraine, Colombia, and Sierra Leone and domestically in Los Angeles, D.C., and Houston. While each location works in cooperation with its own local government and child welfare agencies, the founding principle remains the same: every child, everywhere, deserves a family.
For over twenty years, Kidsave’s programs have been extremely successful, helping older orphans and kids in foster care connect with caring adults and find forever families. But in 2022, Kidsave faced one of its biggest challenges yet: war.
“We’ve been working in Ukraine since 2016 in the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, and in those regions, we had 144 children who we had placed with families within the last two years. Well, when the war broke out, those were the two areas that Russia attacked first,” said Thompson. “The very first thing that we did was get those 144 children and their families out of harm’s way. But after they were all safe, we knew we had to keep going.”
Kidsave’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine began with three Kidsave staff members and their family and friends conducting rescue and evacuations with their own personal cars. Within the first six weeks of the war, Kidsave had acquired three buses, and the team had grown from ten people to fifty. Now, almost seven months into the war, Kidsave’s Ukraine team has over 300 volunteers operating a fleet of fifty vehicles, managing three warehouses, and distributing food and aid to 52 villages. Since February 24, Kidsave has rescued 27,081 people and delivered 642 tons of humanitarian aid.
Thompson attributed this incredible accomplishment to her staff, Kidsave’s supporters, and the Ukrainian people. “We have about 300 volunteers working on this effort at this point, and many of them are Ukrainian people who have stepped up to support each other,” said Thompson. “This conflict has really shown that when people are given the opportunity to step up and help, they will do it.”
Thompson expressed that while she knew Kidsave had to act and help Ukraine, she worried about funding. She was concerned that there would not be enough support for the work in Ukraine, and the humanitarian efforts may draw funding away from Kidsave’s programs in the U.S. Fortunately, that has not been the case.
“Thankfully, our supporters have come with us on this journey,” explained Thompson. “Our regular programs here in the U.S. in Los Angeles and Houston are doing great—none of their support has been sacrificed or cannibalized by this effort. Our supporters have been unwavering, and we’ve gained new supporters along the way as well.”
While Kidsave’s accomplishments in Ukraine have been great, the need continues to grow. Seasons are changing in Ukraine, and the nights are becoming colder. Although Ukrainian forces have made recent gains in reclaiming the east, much of the eastern border of Ukraine is still under Russian control.
“The need is even greater now,” said Thompson. “We have so many displaced people who we have helped get out of combat zones who still need support and will need provisions through the winter. Even with the recent gains in Kharkiv, Russia currently controls 20% of the landmass of Ukraine, including most of the winter crops. They also continue to bomb electrical plants, so we are looking at very basic needs for the winter like generators, flashlights, winter clothing, blankets, food.”
Thompson expressed that while Kidsave is not a humanitarian aid organization, they are committed to helping the people of Ukraine through this crisis. Thompson and her team are already planning for the future as they make preparations to open a representative office in Ukraine and, should funding allow, build a Kidsave Center in Western Ukraine. This center will serve as a safe space, a place to train social workers and therapists on Kidsave’s model, and to conduct seminars and activities for the children and teens in the programs.
“The people of Ukraine are not giving up, and neither are we,” said Thompson.
To learn more about Kidsave’s work in Ukraine, visit www.kidsave.org/standwithukraine/.