It all started on Friday the 13th, 2020 – two days after the WHO officially made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
Some weeks earlier we were all still joking around, what the fuzz was all about, some minor cold or flu; it was so unreal and so distant. Who would have thought that one year later, we would still be stuck in a weird version of a “Pandemic Groundhog Day” – reliving the same lockdown day over and over again. Well, considering all this back and forth, opening up, back to lockdown, opening up again, nah, just kidding, back to closing shops & stuff again – maybe it has become more like a modern version of the Truman Show and somewhere people are laughing at us and having the best time being entertained by this absurdity.
In extreme times like these, weak points and vulnerabilities become even more visible, industrial digitization faced its biggest test to date. The pandemic has forced many of us in some position of discomfort, but at the same time we all gained a new respect for the environment and common humanity, prioritizing public health over the economy and being offered a chance for a better future.
Together with my co-worker, friend and partner in crime Antonio Maiolo, I founded wirhelfen.eu, our vision of improving people’s lives by offering help exactly when and where it’s needed – for anyone. It became the central point of contact for everyone in Germany looking for help or offering aid during COVID-19 and beyond – believing in making the world a better place.
The starting point: analog age?
On March 11, 2020, we were chatting after work on recent events and all the COVID-19 news flashes really got us thinking. Antonio and I are doers who want to solve problems, getting straight to work and are willing to take risks in order to get the job done. When the pandemic hit us, we wanted to do something. We wanted to help, not just sit around and watch the world go crazy.
On March 12, 2020, we exchanged ideas. Antonio was somewhat annoyed by all these uncoordinated neighborhood aids, notice boards and postings. Are we still living in a digital age or has COVID-19 sent us back to the analog age? I was asking myself what our purpose at work really was about and also wondering if there really wasn’t a central contact point for people in need during a crisis. Not even by our government?
Soon it became pretty clear: we wanted to create a central support platform for everyone who was seeking or offering help. Fast, simple, with an interactive map for any location in Germany.
On March 13, 2020, we put together an elevator pitch for our GMs at Rapid Peaks. A three-minute pitch on Friday the 13th. We wanted to do this, either with our employers or without them. The management decided within seconds. Managing a purpose-driven ecosystem, there was no mistaking what ought to be done.
Within the next three days we put together a team, worked day and night – literally – and launched our MVP on Monday, March 16, 2020. That was the beginning of wirhelfen.eu – our non-profit organization. Many of you know the story and platform by now.
It was bigger than us
Although Antonio and I had no experience with NGOs, we focused on solving the problem, offering a solution for everyone who was looking for help or wanted to offer any kind of support. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, co-workers, neighbors, companies, other NGOs, media, the government – everyone grew closer together. The word spread: local administrations recommended our platform out of home at bus & train stations, broadcast media promoted wirhelfen.eu, celebrities, athletes and companies wanted to donate. It got bigger and bigger.
Antonio and I didn’t get more than two hours of sleep per night for almost a whole month. Yet, we kept going following our purpose, learning on the fly. We created a huge support network, have been collaborating with the federal government and the federal states, put together a growth plan. Though there were many ups and downs, we kept going.
Antonio and I will probably remember this one time when an elderly lady wrote to us asking for help. She was considered at high risk from coronavirus, in her 80s, suffered from a chronic disease and just didn’t get the help from the federal state she was living in. I called her back to verify her story, to talk to her. – Speaking of analog age: yes, in the beginning Antonio and I answered every single request. As I said, learning on the fly…. – Anyways, we managed to find someone who could help this lady and she was so thankful and grateful that she cried on the phone. She even wanted to donate, but we respectfully declined and told her: “This is what this platform is all about. Finding and offering the help exactly where it is needed the most.” It was moments like these that kept us going while at the same time working our full-time jobs. But it was bigger than us.
“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick – do not lose faith”
The work at wirhelfen.eu has given us time to think about what kind of people we are. It strengthened our values and character, and it helped us identify things in us that we wanted to improve. As founders, Antonio and I will always be the soul of wirhelfen.eu, but we decided to now leave the operational business to a wonderful, inspiring team of volunteers who will keep our vision going. Special thanks to the management at Rapid Peaks and the whole team: Christian, Nenad, Marc, Fabi, Stefan, Dominik, Alex, Luke, Laura, Lukas, Simona, Flo, Krisha, Patrick, Celal, Regina, Viktor, Jonathan, Adriana, Sarina, Alberto and all the other helping hands.
Antonio and I will stay hungry and foolish and are now off to something new continuing to create change, finding simple solutions for complex problems, following our purpose to leave a mark on the world.
Vanessa Hülse & Antonio Maiolo