Ukraine DAO Founder Spills the Truth on DAOs
Plus Ukraine DAO origin story, organization health, why no tokens, purpose in DAO work and much more.
This is a very special interview for me with Alona, the co-founder of Ukraine DAO. I saw the making of Ukraine DAO from the very beginning on Twitter when they first popped up on Feb 24th, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Seeing how quickly they organized and fundraised got me thinking on how DAOs are an excellent model for organizing around causes.
I was impressed to see how quickly Ukraine DAO came together. They set-up all the essentials for fundraising online using the power of web3 tools and community. The fundraising was entirely in crypto and they raised $7 million in five days from over 3000 people on the internet. That was just WOW for me. I’ve been in the social good space for over a decade and have never come across this kind of speed and scale.
I documented their campaign about a month after their live unfolding on Twitter - Deep Dive Into Ukraine DAO - A Model for Future Nonprofits
So I’m very grateful that I got to speak to Alona, the co-founder and operational lead of Ukraine DAO to get first hand information from her.
DC: I'll start by asking how are you feeling. It must be exhausting and painful to see what’s happening with your country?
Alona: Yeah, I'm gonna turn on my camera to say, “hello”. I'm walking my dog Sasha. So it would be easier for me if I have the video off.
Yeah, it's been difficult but I realize humans are very adaptable creatures and I'm trying to adapt as well. I think I'm coping well.
Could you do a quick intro about yourself because I barely know anything about you.
DC: Sure. I’m Deepa and I got into crypto last year around May 2021. It was around the time when COVID was crazy in India and some Indian crypto folks on Twitter set up a fund and started fundraising in crypto. Vitalik Buterin donated like a billion dollars to that fund and that really got me interested into seeing how crypto is actually making a real life impact. Like this magical internet money, created out of thin air can actually buy oxygen cylinders and save lives. I wrote about my journey into crypto and I’ll share that article with you.
That event really got me into crypto and I started looking at crypto from the social impact lens. ... With Ukraine, I saw the same thing happen again.
DC: I noticed how quickly you all organized and raised $7M in crypto in 5 days? I started tracking your campaign from day 1.
Alona: It was founded on the 21st of February. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24th so a couple days before the invasion.
DC: Yeah I know, I actually went through your interviews and got to understand how you thought about it. Like how you reserved the Twitter handle, and then you spoke to a few people in the crypto community and they made introductions. So I learnt a lot just by going through your interviews and absorbing as much as I could from what's available publicly.
You didn't have to go through the trouble of opening bank accounts. You just opened a multisig, and then the whole internet community came together.
That's the power of web3 - the tools and the community coming together to make a significant impact.
Alona: Yeah. It's actually excellent timing with you today because I literally did a Twitter space today with Yuriy, he's Ukrainian. He is the lead of our translation and writing pod. Pods are working groups. It's like a short word for a working group.
And all the working groups that we have are in Telegram group chats. So we discussed moving the working groups to Discord so that the community can interact with them more and that they're not like close.
We are three co-founders - myself, Steve and Matt. And Matt is the guy from PleasrDAO.
I was alerted by my friend on the 19th of January who has connections with the Ukraine secret service that the invasion was very likely. I didn't think much of it because in Ukraine as part of Russian hybrid warfare there was always the next invasion date.
So I called my parents and I was like, “listen, I know you're not gonna do anything, but it's my duty to tell you this is what I've been told.”
They laughed at me and that was a completely normal reaction on their part because Ukrainians are so used to all these threats.
I wasn't a political activist as a career. I was a normal person. I was no one before the invasion on the 24th, nobody knew me at all. I had 400 followers on Twitter. I wasn't a known activist. There was not a single article about me ever in the media before.
Like you said it's amazing how the community can come together and can raise a lot of money in a short span of time.
To me, the most significant part of this whole story is social mobility for people who are really passionate about the cause.
To put it in context for you I was living a very low key lifestyle and I was really happy about it. I'm passionate about privacy and anonymity and the opportunities that blockchain provides with that. And so I was always very happy that I live my happy life.
But then I saw the amount of propaganda and the lies that were being published in mainstream media. I realized that not many people in the west are speaking up in favor of Ukraine and not that many people are telling the truth.
I first started in 2015 providing informal support to the revolution of dignity in Ukraine in 2015, but that's another story. So I had some experience with it and I was just constantly tweeting. And people were trusting me to deliver them credible information from way before the invasion.
And so this time when I went online I saw something was really off. Western countries don't usually start sending out diplomats back home when Russia is making threats. It's usually not what happens.
I'm usually a very stress resilient person, but watching all that unfold and no one is like reacting and doing enough to prevent this invasion. It was really scary.
And so something fascinating in my view happened on the 19th of February - four to five days before the invasion. I messaged the guy, Matt from PleasrDAO I just told you about, and I will show you the messages.
Like it's almost scary looking at them now.
He was the only person (Matt of Pleasr DAO) out of everyone I knew who could pull off what we did. And I had no idea when I messaged him. I had no idea that he was going to be able to do that.
On the 21st, I published that open letter. I don't know if you've come across it.
DC: No, I didn't read that.
Alona: Okay. So I never published an open letter in my life. Like I just never did. For some reason I published this through the Free Ross DAO blog.
I'm very grateful that FreeRoss DAO let me do it because it's quite a political thing. And I really appreciated that. They gave me that platform to publish it.
So it was published literally three days before the invasion. And then Matt of PleasrDAO retweeted the letter I published. So that’s how we got started.
As Ukraine DAO we are focusing right now on information support for Ukraine and providing credible information instead of it coming from the Russian propaganda.
DC: That's something I’d like to understand - what are your long term initiatives? I understand immediate fundraising was more towards immediate relief. But I'm sure as Ukraine DAO you must have thought of some long term strategy in terms of support for Ukraine.
Alona: That's the beauty of a DAO which is not possible with a traditional charity is that we adjust to Ukraine and to its needs immediately.
When there was one need for fundraising for the army, that was the biggest priority. That's what we were doing. These working groups that you see that I have sent you in a message - they are not equally active at the same time and they don't have to be.
So for example right now the priority is for information support. So the fact checking and media literacy group is the most important.
But at the same time the other groups are there. And so that means that when I need them, I go to them. For example, if I have IT problems I go there and I'm like, “Guys help me with this.” And someone volunteers to help us with that problem. And that's the case for pretty much everything.
DC: I also wanted to know in terms of contributors at the beginning and now. The numbers must have dropped. There must have been a rush in the beginning because it was in the heat of the moment. Very few from those days must be with you and new ones must have joined.
Alona: We have new people joining literally every other day. Like the team is growing super fast.
I select people very carefully into the organization. So not everyone is included.
DC: Is there an application process for contributors?
Alona: Yes. There is a contributor form.
First of all, I've contributed to DAOs for almost a year now. I have noticed certain things that make DAOs extremely inefficient and they are persistent across multiple different DAOs that I've seen.
That's why when I started Ukraine DAO, I kinda already knew what to avoid. One of those things was token-based governance.
Volatile tokens that when there is a bear market, everyone in the DAO is crying. I didn't feel like it was appropriate for our purpose at all. That's the first thing.
Second, I don't believe that in our case it's appropriate for anyone to be able to join the DAO as a contributor that would put us in danger for obvious reasons.
I've done a huge amount of research with the team on how to achieve organizational health.
So I can show you one of the draft docs, it's not updated, but it will give you a good understanding of the logic in developing this.
The key points are as follows.
The most important advantage that Ukraine DAO can achieve is organizational health and that applies to any group of people, any DAO, any kind of organization that wants to get something done. It's not specific to Ukraine DAO.
So what organizational health means is like minimal politics. And I don't mean international politics.
DC: Yeah I get it, you mean toxicity.
Alona: Yeah. And I try to keep it very light, we joke a lot and have fun together. It's a very different kind of fun not like how corporations try to do it.
DC: Yeah I know what you mean, the corporate types being forced and boring.
Alona: Ukraine DAO was started by a group of friends before anything. And it remains so even though we’ve completely grown.
The co-founders, they're not as active anymore, but they're very helpful. Steve, for example, the other co-founder, he's coming tomorrow to London to meet me with his wife and kids, which is amazing.
I've never met my co-founders before. We have a very good relationship, but they have three other jobs. So they cannot be hanging out with me all day.
With the new contributors I’m trying to develop a wholesome culture. We are all super supportive. We all really care about each other.
Minimal politics, minimal confusion. I try to communicate super clearly who we are, what we are about and how we are different from others DAOs.
High productivity with a DAO in the war time is hard but I think we are getting a lot of stuff done and low turnover. Except Nadia of Pussy Riot, nobody else has left.
Low turnover is something that I think is a good indicator of whether the team is toxic or not.
And so that brings us to the point of culture fit. That's the most important thing for us when we select a person. It's critical.
We have a fundamental page. On that page we spent an enormous amount of time writing up the core values because it's very important. The core values are something that makes the organization stand out from others.
I've seen so many projects they put absolutely generic, meaningless stuff in the documentation. That's something that we did in the beginning too. I wrote like decentralization, integrity, transparency bullshit.
DC: It's not from the heart, there is no thought behind it. Just copy and paste. Like even we are building a DAO to study Impact DAOs and I can totally relate to you. I’ve been listing our values in our Discord where we collaborate and there is a lot of thought behind each. There’s nothing corporatey - it gives a different vibe altogether.
Alona: The way you define values is you look at the leaders in the community. And you look at what are the traits about them that are pushing this project forward? That kind of stuff. The manifesto I shared with you there are some resources on how to define values.
First I wrote up these bullshit values. Because I didn't know what to put on the list. And then literally we ended up throwing away all those values and writing up our actual ones.
I'll have to go soon, but we can continue afterwards on Telegram text.
As an organization, in terms of governance, I don't want this DAO to do anything that Ukrainians would not want to do because this DAO is for them and not to make anyone feel good about themselves.
DC: Ok, no worries, I have a list of questions that I’ll send it to you. Do you prefer email or Telegram?
Alona: In a text on Telegram only. Email, I will never see it in my life.
DC: The questions would basically be best practices and learnings especially around organizing for relief. For instance yesterday, there was an earthquake in Afghanistan. And I feel like a lot of relief DAOs will come up immediately when you need immediate funds for immediate needs.
So what do you think are the best practices for those DAOs in terms of set up, fundraising, just basic minimum stuff to get rolling on the internet.
Alona: Sure I’ll make a note.
DC: Also your tips for staying safe - operational security.
Alona: Operational safety. Oh, I'm very glad you said it. I've got this document that was shared with me by one of our contributors, Sebastian. This document is applicable to most DAOs in terms of operational security. I'll send you the link.
We also have a very good online safety hub in Ukraine DAO. And it has cybersecurity tips for everyone, not just for DAOs like the general tips for an average user.
It also has communication resilience recommendations for people in the war zone. That's also something that can be helpful for people who are in areas where there is armed conflict of any kind.
This is all the stuff I put together. My cybersecurity firm who is helping me with my own personal cyber security scrutinized it.
They are one of the top guys in London. And so they have checked everything. I can vouch that the information is good to use. So that's pretty much operational security.
DC: How about your DAO tech stack?
Alona: Tech Stack, Ah!
It's funny because we barely use any web3 stuff.
Once I joined this Twitter space, it's about DAO contributor development.
People there were complaining about not having enough tools for collaboration. And I was like, what are you talking about? Like my position on it is if you cannot collaborate in a Google doc, no DAO tool is going to save you.
Ukraine DAO comes from a Telegram group chat. And a Google Doc.
Right now we are upgrading to Notion from Google Doc but that's it, and sometimes we still use Google Doc.
If you look at Ukraine DAO tools there is only one web3 product
That’s from Utopia Labs. That's helping us with treasury management. All the other stuff like Telegram, Notion, Asana, Google Docs, Substack for blog is web2. And so there is no web3 stuff apart from that one thing for multisig. That's all.
DC: That's great. I want to understand one more thing before you go. You’ve mentioned before that you don’t issue tokens and we also don't have any tokens. But then how do you track contribution? How do you vote and all that stuff, because people say you gotta have democratic voting.
Alona: Yes right we don’t have tokens. In terms of recognition we talk about each other. We give each other the spotlight.
I'm the only person who is paid by the DAO. That's the only thing that I do. And I work pretty much 24/7 every day.
As for contributors they are amazing.
We had a call with some other DAO leaders in the space to get their advice on how to run things. And they were like, “Guys how are you tracking your contribution?” And I was like, “we are not tracking them.” They're like, “what do you mean?”
“Then how are you compensating?”, they ask.
There are 150 people working on this stuff. And I'm like, I don't. They're doing it for Ukraine. And people have done incredible amounts of work consistently on a day to day basis because they get something out of it.
Something that money cannot give you and that's a sense of purpose.
A lot of people with high empathy are feeling helpless when they watch what's happening in Ukraine and they feel they cannot do anything. And they think financial donation is the only thing they can do. But maybe they don't have the money.
They come to us, they find us. And I also send you a fascinating audio of one of our team members.
He’s autistic and also has ADHD and he talks to me about it in this very moving audio. About how he's starting to realize that this work, being able to contribute to this DAO made his mental health situation much better.
I never thought about Ukraine DAO that way.
And he doesn't know anything about crypto that's another amazing thing about all this. He's not a web3 native person. He is a lonely soul who is really depressed. And he finds this group of people. He's very knowledgeable about Ukraine. He follows it very closely online, but he doesn't know how to help.
He finds us and we give him an opportunity to do something that's really meaningful. And he finds this community.
I almost cried when I listened to that. He's French, he's not even Ukrainian and our DAO work really gave him a new sense of purpose.
I've got to run now.
DC: Sure, I’ll follow-up on Telegram.♦️
I followed up with Alona on Telegram with few more questions.
Will you ever have a legal structure?
No we don’t and I don’t think we need it now.
Top learnings for starting a relief fundraiser?
Key recommendation from me - give selflessly loads to the cause you are passionate about before you start asking for help. Then people will see why you’re doing what you’re doing and they will help you. Even absolute strangers.
🎙 Alona was interviewed on June 23rd, 2022 as part of the Impact DAOs research project. Prior to starting Ukraine DAO, Alona was on the core team of Free Ross DAO as well as contributing to other DAOs and web3 communities. Alona is originally from Dnipro region, Ukraine. She is currently based in London.
This post is part of a series on the Impact DAOs Research + Book project. This project is by a collective of folks in web3 + impact + media. The team members on Twitter are @tranimal, @katerinabohlec, @Abeers123, @Poplinecreation, @crystaldstreet, @0xSardius, @karanth_harsha, @actThreeCC, @0xSiddhearta, @Value_Strat, @zaldarren, @astrocruz_s, @ashisharora27, @pop_timism + Kim on LI
If you have any questions reach out on Twitter or Discord.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.