Working in Service of the Greater Good: Reflections on the War in Ukraine

Donnie Charleston April 12, 2022

We’ve all watched Putin’s attack on Ukraine with outrage. Not since World War II has the world witnessed such intentional destruction in Europe—destruction rivaled only by the horrors of natural disasters. When faced with these kinds of tragedies, we band together as global citizens, sacrificing what we can to aid those affected. No less is required of us now. 

This is the ethos I carried with me 20 years ago when I was deployed to El Salvador as a U.S. Army Reserve medic in response to Hurricane Mitch. One of the deadliest hurricanes in history, Mitch caused over 11,000 deaths and billions of dollars in physical destruction in Central America. Diseases like cholera ran rampant in its aftermath, causing further death and despair. 

“I’m no longer a soldier, but I still work in service to the ideals that guided me in Hurricane Mitch’s aftermath. These ideals are, in large part, why I joined Social Finance. We believe in equity, opportunity, and self-determination—and the human dignity that comes with those values.”

Guided by a belief in global citizenship, my fellow soldiers and I built schools, created clean water systems, and, in my case, provided medical care to the people of Chirilagua. I remember walking across vacant lands—lands that had been home to thriving villages before floodwaters and 200-mph winds washed them away—and seeing no signs of human life. But more vividly than the destruction, I remember the smiles on the faces of the survivors I met, young and old alike. They moved forward with persistence, strong in the face of tragedy. 

I’m no longer a soldier, but I still work in service to the ideals that guided me in Hurricane Mitch’s aftermath. These ideals are, in large part, why I joined Social Finance. We believe in equity, opportunity, and self-determination—and the human dignity that comes with those values.

Unlike the global crisis I witnessed long ago, the current atrocities in Ukraine are intentional, malicious, and manmade. Yet, like a natural disaster, they are exposing the fragility of essential infrastructure, services, and systems of care for the vulnerable.

I am glad to have recently joined Social Finance, an organization committed to transforming lives by strengthening the capacity of governments and catalyzing partnerships between the public, private, and social sectors. Social Finance US is part of a global network with sister organizations in the UK, Netherlands, and Israel that also share this commitment. Our partners at Social Finance UK have already begun this work by launching a refugee resettlement initiative, Homes for Ukraine, for Ukrainians escaping violence. We recognize that this kind of work will be ever more important in the days, weeks, and months to come. 

For the moment the situation in Ukraine has our attention, but the ongoing deaths and displacements amidst the conflicts in Cameroon, Somalia, and Ethiopia number in the millions and should prick our collective conscience as well. The ideals of global citizenship demand that we honor their struggle with no less enthusiasm and compassion than that which we have mustered for Ukraine. 

Donnie Charleston is the Vice President of Public Sector Partnerships at Social Finance and a former medic in the U.S. Army Reserve.