Building Hope in Brazil

By : Burr Purnell


Using business as a force for good is smart business. It builds culture, promotes empathy and compassion, and fills our hearts and minds with hope for a better future. In late 2019, I proposed to our CEO, Alex Collmer, that we carve off a piece of our foundation’s annual budget for a Give’s sponsored service trip to a country where we work and live. He smiled his boyish smile and said, “I love that idea, let’s do it.” 

Being fresh off a family service trip a few months prior had proven to me that giving one’s energy and time is far more gratifying than writing a check, buying mint cookies, or signing a petition. The act of being being part of the solution by showing up and standing beside someone in need changed my life and I hoped would change the lives of a few VodMobbers too.  

A relative latecomer to volunteering, my desire was to “hook” employees by cultivating the spirit of giving through physically participating in an act that was much bigger than themselves. Why? For the future. To pass forward the torch of love and compassion for one another. Working at VidMob will not be the last job for most of us in our careers. So even if just one of the seventeen employees that went on the trip demanded a similar social good service program from their next employer, I’d consider that a win. A win for the employees and for society.

As soon as the planning started, it ended due to the pandemic. The world was still. The birds chirp a little louder. Horns from all buses were almost nonexistent. An indefinite hold gripped us all. Years went by before an ember glowed and I was able to begin planning again. Although I was isolated at home, somehow, during the pandemic, I felt magically connected to more people than at any other time in my career. I did the best I could to turn lemons into lemonade.

One of the most meaningful connections I made was when my co-worker, Jessica Mendoza, from Mexico City, introduced me to a contact at Twitter for Good in Washington D.C., who in turn introduced me to TECHO in Miami, FL. TECHO (teh-choh) is a youth-led non-profit organization that works in Latin America to create a just society without poverty. Their mission is to change that reality, end poverty, and shape a future we all want to live in. In 25 years TECHO has built over 1.3M homes in over 19 countries. After two Zoom meetings, it was clear that TECHO needed to create intelligent videos for their marketing, and Gives’ needed an organization seasoned in planning service trips for multinational companies. Our service opportunity would be to participate in their emergency house building program which would consist of helping build two 12’ x 20’ homes an hour’s bus ride outside of Rio de Janeiro. Perfect. Let’s go, let’s go! And go we did.

Mid-May arrived and from around the globe, a cross-functional group of VidMobbers boarded planes to Brazil. When we arrived we took the obligatory sightseeing tours and then met up with the TECHO team to make the final mental preparations for two very full days of painting, digging, hammering, and some more digging.To give a sense of the service trip from an inside perspective, I interviewed Kelly Abrams, from the Growth team, and asked her a few questions in hopes of framing the experience and adding some additional color. 

Below is what Kelly had to say:

Q: Kelly, why did you sign up for the VidMob Service trip to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil?
A: I originally signed up for the trip as I thought it was an amazing initiative for Vidmob to come together and really put a lot of our shared excitement and passion about Gives to work in an extremely tangible way. I love being able to see the impact on someone’s life, not only through the work we are able to do normally through Gives, but I was also excited to see what difference we, as a company, would be able to make in a more “boots on the ground” experience.

Q: Since this was the inaugural trip and there were no other stories to learn from, what did you ‘expect’ to get out of the experience?
A: This is a tough one. I knew we’d be able to build homes for both Bruna and Louisa, two young mothers both living in poverty. And, I knew I’d get personal growth out of this experience and be able to spend time with colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while or even ever met before; but beyond that, I really didn’t go in expecting to get one specific thing from the trip.

Q: If you got something different than you expected what was it?
A: I got many things from the experience that I didn’t think I would get or didn’t expect to get going into it. 

  • I got the opportunity to connect with people I had never met before on a uniquely foundational level. I was challenged by communication in a way that I never had before and relying on body language, facial expressions, gestures, and even dance moves. A majority of the local community didn’t speak any English and I, unfortunately, don’t speak Portuguese. Going into the experience, I thought that we would be able to figure out a way to communicate through some shared words or other similar romance languages; however, that really wasn’t the case. It was such an interesting opportunity and reminder of how unique communities and cultures are around the world, but how, at our core, we’re all the same. 
  • I also got to look in the mirror a bit. I was on a team that built a house for Bruna, a 23-year-old woman with a six-year-old and a newborn. There are only a few years of an age difference between me and Bruna but yet we’re in such different places not only physically in the world but also in our lives. She was so happy and appreciative of everything that she had and yet it was amazing to see someone like me next to her being the same in so many ways yet so different as well.
  • I also had the opportunity to spend time with coworkers that I had not spent time with before. While I knew this was the case going in, I didn’t realize the extent to which I would get to know these colleagues and connect with them throughout the experience. So fun and so rewarding.

Q: Did the trip change your perspective on giving or ways people can help each other in our daily lives?
A: I definitely think it did. One of the things I struggled with during the trip was the fact that we were privileged enough to go down there, build a home, feel like we made a big difference, and then leave; however, through my conversations with the TECHO team and with my own colleagues, I was reminded of the ripple effect. Although I may not be there to see how building this house will have changed Bruna and Luisa’s life beyond the days that we were there, it was a reminder of just how much one action can make a difference. The home provides her the opportunity to bring her family back together and provides her with a new sense of security and safety. The ripple effect was not only evident within Bruna, her friends, and the community, but also within our larger team. Being able to take our experience back to the rest of our colleagues, friends, family members, and beyond, allowed us to create that ripple effect within our own communities.

Q: You’re a person with great influence at VidMob, what would you say to others that may consider signing up for a trip in the future?
A: I appreciate you saying “a person with great influence” but I don’t feel that way about myself. If anyone is willing to listen, I’d tell them to apply to any future trip that VidMob offers. I still can’t believe I got to do this as part of my job and have the experience I did through work. I would also share how unique it is to have a company that cares so much and is committed to doing good.

After over 180+ people hours of hard work, we paused and looked up at two structures that didn’t exist two days earlier. In the end, we celebrated with two young families who now had a proper home. We smiled, hugged, and cried. We embraced acknowledging that what we do for each other and how we show up in the world matters.

Seventeen employees from VidMob went on a service trip to Brazil to make the lives of two beautiful young families better. It’s hard to quantify what we did and perhaps calculating it isn’t even necessary. However, what I’m sure is necessary, and what does matter, is that VidMob showed up. We stood in solidarity and we gave wholeheartedly of ourselves without expecting anything in return. Now what’s critical is that we keep up the momentum, we practice kindness and we build the future we want to see.