Receive more by giving

HebronSoft is an IT company based in Lviv. It specializes in Blockchain, full-cycle mobile, and web development. What makes the company unique is the non-profit education charity organization Hebron IT Academy. The founders of HebronSoft aim to give a chance for underprivileged children to shine. Driven by this idea, they created a social enterprise that earns money to contribute to charity. It is one of the few companies, which started from a social project, and later gave rise to a separate IT company.

Everyone can make a difference

I was lucky to enroll in a Master’s Degree program at Penn University. There were wellness and educational camps for children in need from developing countries. After the camp, some of these kids were adopted. I worked at the camp as an interpreter. Later I was also involved in the adoption decision-making process. Our team and I was helping to choose future parents for children based on their interests. If the kid was into sports, we’d do our best to find a sporty family, etc.

These kids, if encouraged, can reach any goal. One of the adopted Ukrainian kids, Dmytro Kunzbyk is now a member of the US triathlon team. Another girl from Ukraine is now studying at Stanford University. My heart was always open to unprivileged children. That project was the final straw that made me start Hebron Academy.

Jim Rohn once said, “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” I learned that helping people is important and I tried to implement this principle. In the US the government encourages people to share: people engaged incharity pay fewer taxes. Having lived in the US, I adopted the giving back culture and decided to contribute to the unprivileged children here in Ukraine. I met many middle-class people who spend their time and money going to countries like Ukraine to adopt children, even if they have their own. That was inspiring.

How we started

The most difficult time for unprivileged children is when they graduate from orphanages. Just imagine, for many years they were in foster care, and now the time to sustain themselves comes. Our system makes these children disabled. They don’t get life skills: they do not know how to cook, how to clean house, how to pick clothes etc. Orphanage workers used to it for them. My husband and I decided to start an academy to help these children. Like in the famous quote we decided to teach them how to fish instead of giving them fish. So they could achieve anything they want by themselves.

“Like in the famous quote we decided to teach Hebron students how to fish instead of giving them fish. So they could achieve anything they want by themselves.”

Hebron IT Academy started three years ago. My husband and I started to look for a proper house where we could start the academy. Our costs were enough to buy a house and find first students. Once the academy started doing pretty well, some people began to contribute. We make all our financial expenses transparent, record all the spendings to make sure that the financial help is not wasted.

Later we started to look for professors and mentors for our students. Our connections helped us to find IT specialists, who could team orphans programing. We had we invested all the money we had in Hebron Academy to pay salaries to the professors, provide students with everything they need, to pay utilities, etc.

At first, it was far from perfect: we couldn’t afford new laptops so we had used ones. We could pay salaries to only two professors instead of 5. We didn’t do any selections for students to enroll in the academy.. That was a mistake, as not all the children were motivated to learn and improve their skills. As it was a pilot project nobody knew who we are, so we asked our friends to help us. We contacted orphanages and looked for children but it wasn’t easy as we didn’t have any social trust at that time. Nobody knew about our project. Luckily now we have a good reputation.

What is Hebron IT Academy in 2019?

Starting from 2018, we organize summer camps where we select teenagers that will study at IT Academy. Summer camps last two weeks, during this time 50–60 kids from all over Ukraine visit IT companies in Lviv, play games, and take tests. In the end, we select from 10 to 12 the most motivated and brightest boys to stay at the academy. Our students are usually 16–17 years old. By far, all our students were boys, who have just graduated from orphanages. Hebron IT Academy offers 2-year educational program for students. Accommodation, pocket money, clothes, and healthcare are also provided by the academy . We are going to start the same project for girls, but we need a new house for that. Collecting funds for the academy for girls is one of our priorities. One of the main goals of our academy is to create a self-sustainable organization where alumni would help the students to grow.

“One of the main goals of our academy is to create a self-sustainable organization where alumni would help the students to grow”.

The study program at Hebron IT Academy includes everyday routine: programming classes, English, math, and history of Ukraine. Programming consists of classes in front end, back end, mobile and blockchain development. We try to develop critical and logical thinking. Besides the main program, we give lectures on time management, marketing, self-branding, business analytics, etc. We bring the brightest people in the industry to come and share proper values to our students. Volunteering is also a necessary part of the program. Our students go to other orphanages with motivational and empowering speeches for unprivileged children.

Our students graduate at the age of 18–19, and start working as junior developers straight away. Sometimes we are lucky to have very smart students. One of our students started the academy when he was 16. At that time he didn’t have a place to live in and barely had money for food. Now he’s 18 and he is Tech Lead at HebronSoft. Every month he gets offers from different IT companies with higher salaries, but he stays loyal to us. He doesn’t leave because at Hebron there are people who are like family to him, and there are younger students he wants to help. However, that’s a unique case. Some guys have strong junior level when they graduate, others are more at a trainee level. Still, they have enough skills to find a job: junior or trainee — that’s up to them and their efforts.

Being emerged in the community of IT specialists helps our students grow fast. All of the boys at Hebron share the interest in tech and are fully focused on success. We created a kind of tech incubator: children learn, practice and discuss their projects. They don’t have time to get distracted. One of our graduates who is now a Senior engineer, came to us without knowing how to multiply numbers.

After studying at Hebron Academy, most of our students work at HebronSoft. However, others also work at CoreValue, DataArt, Simplify, etc., some are freelancers. Mostly they are junior and middle-level specialists. Hebron Academy is not an incubator for HebronSoft employees but many graduates start working at Hebron. It is easier for them to work with people they already know. Still, working with orphanages is not as easy as it seems. You should always keep in mind that many of these children have been through trauma, and they can be unpredictable. One of our graduates was fired from CoreValue because he didn’t show up at work for three days after a fight in his dorm. For others, it is hard to believe in themselves and they give up in the middle of classes. Some students are taking Hebron Academy for granted, but after immersing into the real world they are back with an appreciation of the opportunity they have. Each child has a different path.

“Working with orphanages is not as easy as it seems. You should always keep in mind that many of these children have been through trauma, and they can be unpredictable.”

From Academy to HebronSoft

When we started the academy, we faced the lack of professors. Besides, we thought it would be cool to immerse our students into the atmosphere of a real company. They were studying but that knowledge was nothing compared to practice. At that time we couldn’t find partners who would take our students for an internship so our efforts went down the drain. That’s how our social project became a nudge to start our own company.

Finances were the second big problem we had. We started Hebron Academy with our own money and we spent them very quickly. Academy is a very costly enterprise — one student costs us $400 a month. Besides we need to pay salaries to mentors who are all senior developers with high rates. In total, we need about $10,000 a month, and it is really hard to maintain the academy using fundraising costs only. Our social project depends on the HebronSoft success and that is our motivation to work harder and gain more clients.

We started HebronSoft to create a safe place for Hebron graduates to start a and to earn money for the academy development. We hired Senior IT specialists who also mentor Junior employees from the academy. The fact that we work with orphans is a great filter for our employees. We need not only technical specialists, but we also need supervisors. We look for people with the spark in the eyes, who want to share their experience. By far, we managed to pick the team who shares our values. We are happy to see close relations between our experts and students: they play chess, video games, go to the cinema together. Because of our mission, our employees are very loyal, they won’t change a job just by getting a better offers.

All the HebronSoft clients are people of high social values. When people get to know about Hebron Academy, they try to help. Of course, they can donate money, but besides, some of them become our clients or recommend our services to those who need help with software. Most of the people who are looking for ways to help Hebron, are not interested in commercial success only. We explain to our clients that Hebron Academy graduates are not developing products on their own — they make up almost 20% of the whole team, others are Senior specialists. Of course, the main goal of any client is to get their business tasks perfectly done, but the ability to help orphans is like an icing on the cake.

Franchising charity

We have huge plans for Hebron Academy to expand globally. We want to have projects like Hebron in every country where there are children in need. We’ve already received some requests to open Hebron Academy in other countries. To make this happen we need to make sure our partners are reliable, and are not seeking financial benefits but have an open heart to orphans and underprivileged children. At some point, we almost started a project in Nicaragua. We had a partner there, an owner of a hotel, who liked our idea. He was ready to hand over his hotel for Hebron, we found mentors and professors. And when we were about to start, the revolution began.

For now, we decided to focus on our academy in Lviv, because there is still space for improvement. We want to accept more unprivileged children, attract more professors, and start a project for girls. Next year we are going to start 2 new classes — the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. Let’s do good together!

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