Force For Good

Force for Good Series: My Father Was My First Teacher in Volunteering

Our Force for Good series meets you with the people at VMware passionate about volunteering. They share the lessons learned in the process and the special moments from their volunteering journey that they cherish. This week – meet Deni Shiligarska, Business Intelligence team.

Tell us about the Service Learning you were recently involved in?

My passion is urban space – specifically places for children. In the last year I’ve been involved in a project for renovation and modernization of school restrooms financed by the City Council. 28 public schools restrooms in Sofia are being renovated. The special requirements are that the projects are sustainable in nature (use of resources and materials), educational (with focus on water consumption and water pollution) and accessible to children with physical disabilities.  

How did you start and why?

I have always been the volunteering type. I was a kid when my father and I started donating Christmas trees to children who could not afford them (we never had a cut Christmas tree at home). In high school I was involved with all sorts of charity organizations – animal rescue, Bulgarian red cross, etc. However, with time my interests and “expertise” have become more pronounced. I was one of the founders of the Green team in my first job in the US. I participated in the efforts of rebuilding Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina – we spent 10 days building a house for a single dad and his son.  I graduated with a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from London School of Economics and went to Nepal to help plan a park by the river in Kathmandu. When I moved back to Bulgaria I knew that I needed to be surrounded by like-minded individuals. One of the reasons I joined VMware eight years ago was the well-established Service learning principles of the community here. It was here at VMware that I started working with the NGO sector and realized how important their struggles, wins and contributions are for our country.

What is volunteering for you? What motivates you to do this?

I do not think I call it volunteering any more. Volunteering, the way I see it, is when a friend organizes an event and I join this event to help for a few hours – clean, paint, serve food to the needy, etc. What I have been more involved in the last years is identifying a gap, researching, bringing people together to solve it, going to meetings with public service officials, organizing an event, fundraising, etc. Results motivate me, I am focused on physical environment, the places that are suitable for kids in the city, to make them safe, attractive, fluid. We have two children and even though my Master’s thesis was about Sofia’s playgrounds well before I became a parent, my true motivation now is to help create a better environment for my children and the children in my city in general. My mind is always busy with new projects – at the moment I am focused on the school buildings – restrooms, hallways, libraries, art rooms, etc. I am happy when we show how things should be done in a modern and inspiring way.

How do you find time for volunteering?

For the busiest phases of the School Toilette project (“Sofia choses the children”) I used to take every Wednesday off to go visit schools, organize workshops with architects and school officials, etc.  We also try to take advantage of our work skills – I am part of a Business Intelligence team at VMware and we have started working on structuring and visualizing data that could be important for budgeting and prioritizing on a city and a municipality level.

What did you learn about yourself while helping the causes?

I have learned that I cannot do anything by myself. I am a team player. I may come up with an idea, with a problem, but the solution would always be the effort of a team. I have learned to appreciate the different talents that people have and to not judge them for not noticing the same things that trigger me.

As a VMware employee, how does our culture of service impact you professionally and personally?

8 years ago, when I joined VMware, I had no idea what the NGO sector did here. Now I not only complete my 40 hours of service learning every year, I am on the board of three NGOs.  4 years ago I had a total fear of speaking in front of people. My voice would start trembling the moment I would grab a microphone. And then my colleagues at VMware helped me. They nominated me for an internal VMware TED talk conference, where I had to share my service learning experience and accomplishments. I went through a month-long training and met people who have been helping me overcome my stage fever ever since.

Two days ago with one of “my” NGOs, I presented at the final of the biggest competition for social entrepreneurship in Bulgaria. We went through dozens of interviews, presentations, TV shows.  At the final my voice did not tremble. I managed to control and channel my emotions to convey our message. We came second out of 111 organizations. I thank my colleagues for helping me prepare for that moment.

Tell us about the people you met on this journey.

The beauty of this journey is the variety of people that you meet. Some people at VMware are passionate about historical preservation, others about animal rescue and helping the elderly. There are people who are focused on education, others on biodiversity activism. While I very well know what my interests and expertise are (urban activism and public space) all my colleagues help me broaden my horizons and challenge me to think outside of my immediate interests.

What would you say to someone who has never been a volunteer, would like to become one, but doesn’t know where to start from?

Just give it a try. Join an event that is organized by a colleague. Feel the spirit, reflect on your contribution and think of the big picture. If everyone of us ends up dedicating 40 hours of service learning a year, this city of ours, this country of ours would soon become a much better place!

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