We are doing an interview on Zoom. The Covid-19 virus is still very much in evidence. Natasha Freidus (“Tasha”) opens up her computer and she appears!
“Hey Tasha, how are you? We haven’t spoken in a while.” You see, her mom is best friends with my wife, Judie from their days at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and I’ve known Tasha since she was in grade school. I even went to her high school graduation because they lived in our town, Chappaqua, NY. I should say, we moved to THEIR town, since they were living here before us.
I tell her that I want to do a “cover shot” using the Zoom computer screen because it is only fitting given the circumstances in which we are all still sort of locked down even though we still go out and do errands with masks and gloves. I have even done a few corporate head shots with everyone in the studio trying to practice social distancing as much as possible.
“You’ll have to wait a minute while I put on some lipstick and fix my hair a bit,” she says, as her screen goes black for a few seconds.
“No problem,” I said. As I waited, I quickly went over a few questions I wanted to ask her. She comes back on the screen. “So, let’s begin somewhat at the beginning. I know you run something called ‘Needs List’, but what in your childhood and formative years started you thinking along these lines”?
“Well, I grew up in a kind sheltered suburb and when I was a senior in high school, I convinced my parents to let me go on a trip to Thailand. That was in 1990.” Tasha went on to say that she did some volunteer work in a refugee camp there and her views on social justice became really cemented. She studied International Relations at MIT, and worked in Tucson, Arizona as a community organizer and teacher of English and Citizenship. While in Arizona, she became more interested in policy as it related to how government treats various groups of people. While at MIT, Tasha also worked in the field of Urban Studies and began her first entrepreneurial venture called “Creative Narrations.”
The focus of this business was to aid various groups of people in being able to tell their particular story using computer technology. Around 2010, Tasha went out to Silicon Valley to help folks at Hewlett-Packard and some university non-profit agencies learn how to tell their stories. Much of this was on-line training, Tasha said. She also got involved with some of her customers who were working on immigration issues.
She didn’t really have the idea for “Needs List” until she had moved her family to France in 2013, for a change of pace. She wanted to go to a rural area of France, rather than settle in Paris, also because she wanted to live in the countryside and experience what life was like there. While dropping her kids off at school, she was asked by another parent to come with her to a town called Beziers, France to help some people there. It was there that she saw people who were in need of household items like diapers, clothing and other sundries. She got the idea to post some of these “needs” on Facebook to see if she could get any response. Well, she got a lot of responses.
She then got the idea to create a kind of “wedding registry for aid,” as she put it. People would go on the Facebook group and post what they could donate and other would post what they needed. Her job was to get those folks together. She was interested in how today’s technology could be used for this purpose. Whatever you may think of Facebook, it is good at connecting people. So that’s what Tasha used it to do. Her partner in this venture is a woman named Amanda Levinson, who is actually headquartered in Philadelphia.
The website states: “Since our founding, NeedsList has evolved from a ‘wedding registry for humanitarian aid’ to a software that any organization can license to match needs and offers in real-time for urgent local needs. The idea for NeedsList was sparked in 2015 at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. NeedsList's cofounder Tasha was in France trying to help local Syrian refugee families, and Amanda was in Philly trying to figure out how to support these families without shipping stuff overseas.
The needs were overwhelming and constantly changing, and nobody could ever really keep track of what was needed. Tasha hacked a wedding registry as a way to communicate needs in real-time and the idea for NeedsList was born!”
At some point, Natasha decided that she would contact the folks at FEMA in the states to see if she might be able to partner with them to provide some relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. FEMA actually didn’t have anything like what Tasha was proposing to match needs with supplies.
She managed to get a couple of “Angel Investors” to help fund her developing technology. Their seed money, along with some technical help from her computer programmer husband, Andrew, got the project off the ground. They now use their own technology team which has installed a proprietary software that actually “learns” to help match needs with supplies.
They want to “use technology in a way that makes aid more transparent,” she says. She mentioned the fact that many people want to help refugees and other stricken areas of the world, but they often don’t know how. Sometimes people or countries will send some aid packages to a ravaged area like Haiti, say, and the goods will just sit at the port because no one really knows how best to use it or where it should be sent. “So, that’s the challenge,” Tasha says. “To find out who needs what, where.” Her company’s software actually learns where the needs are just from so much use.
I asked her what made her move from France to Toronto, Canada. “Well, my husband is Canadian and Canada has a refugee sponsor program, and the country treats its refugees and other immigrants far better than they are treated in the United States. So settling in Toronto, was almost a natural,” she says.
She has always been keenly aware of social justice and the need to promote it to any degree she can. She has always had a feeling of responsibility to her community, no matter where she finds herself. And going hand-in-hand with these basic tenets is a overarching interest in climate justice as well. She has tried to raise her children with the same sense of morality about the world as she has. She wants them to have a “greater sense of the world,” and how mankind contributes to its success or failure.
Master Photographer William Lulow specializes in portraits and commercial photography. He provides the greater New York City area with top quality photography for advertising, public relations, event and individual use. He also strives to educate photographers through his workshops and blog. For more information, please see his website.