September 06, 2022  

Connecting Ukrainian refugees to relief efforts in Europe

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Erhan Ok stepped in to help when the conflict in Ukraine began. His efforts led PepsiCo to build #TogetherForUkraine, a central hub where associates can find and offer support.

Erhan Ok pulled up outside the arched entrance to the train station in Przemyśl, Poland, just before midnight. He and a friend made the three-hour drive from Krakow ready to offer transportation and any other support they could to the Ukrainian refugees crossing the border to escape the deadly conflict. But as they opened the doors to their minivan on the cold March night, they weren’t ready for what they would experience. 

“I had never seen so many women with babies and small children with them,” Erhan recalls. “My heart was crying inside. But my attitude was motivating. I was trying to give them comfort. I wanted them to know I was here for them and would give them as much as I could.”  

Erhan has continued to seek out ways to deliver on those words. He made donations to charities aiding displaced Ukrainians. He assisted refugees looking for job placement in Poland. He opened his home to his ex-wife and six of her family members who fled Ukraine. And he used the skills and expertise that helped him become the Intelligent Automation & Integration Lead at PepsiCo’s IT hub in Krakow to design #TogetherForUkraine — an app that brings together all of PepsiCo’s efforts to support Ukrainians in one place.

Screenshot of #TogetherForUkraine app with

PepsiCo’s #TogetherForUkraine app was designed to be a central hub 
where associates can find and offer support.

The idea for the app came into focus during a meeting with PepsiCo leaders. A primary function of Erhan’s role is developing inventive fixes to problems and inefficiencies affecting the business, and the HR Director for PepsiCo Europe was in search of one. “There were so many associates donating money and other support to Ukrainian refugees, but there was no official record,” Erhan explains.

He had noticed something similar in Krakow — Ukrainian refugees were requesting support and plenty of locals were willing to offer it, but there was no central hub to connect them. “PepsiCo management wanted to understand what was being donated so they could ensure the support went to the right people,” Erhan says. “That was my inspiration.”

Erhan opened PowerPoint and began sketching a mock-up of the app that same day. He devised a clear, intuitive design. The home screen contains four buttons: “Offer help,” “Find help,” “Ask for urgent help,” and “Looking for a job?” Associates can share either what type of support they’re able to provide or what type of support they’re looking for, then scroll through posts to see if there is a match. Categories include accommodation, transportation, clothing, help with government officials, psychological support and translation, all separated by country and city. “My goal was to make the app as easy and simple to use as possible,” Erhan says.

Normally, a project such as that might take up to two months to complete. But #TogetherForUkraine was live in Krakow five days after being conceived and rolled out to the rest of Europe three days later. To meet the whirlwind timeline, Erhan coordinated with a dedicated group of 15 associates that included a code developer, a legal team and communications specialists. “Having so many people connected, united and helping one another was such an inspiring moment,” Erhan says.

Thanks to their efforts, hundreds have been able to use #TogetherforUkraine to support PepsiCo colleagues. “I feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of a solution that is helping people,” Erhan says. It’s something he has been driven to do ever since he was a young boy growing up in a small village in Turkey. “At every stage of my life, I met great people who knew how to share and lift others up,” he explains. “I’m paying back the gratitude I have for them by providing for others who are in need.”

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