On a Wednesday afternoon, over 60 employees at a large Ukrainian food manufacturer joined an online resilience training program. As the instructor, Sharon Salzberg, led them through a compassion practice, participants in Kyiv heard the siren that announced yet another airstrike approaching. The translator for the session lost power and internet connectivity due to the bombings. When he was able to dial back in, he was taking the call from the bathroom in his apartment, where he was sheltering away from nearby windows. It had been two months since the 2022 Russia-Ukraine conflict began and employees at MHP were now familiar with the lengths they had to go through to stay safe while at work in a war zone. That day, all of the workshop participants chose to continue with their online training as a way to learn skills and practices that could help them navigate the extremely challenging and unprecedented time they had been experiencing.
MHP is one of the largest companies in Ukraine with 30,000 employees and 50 plants across the country. They are a major food supplier and have kept in business throughout the war, even as their factories are being bombed in various regions. MHP employees are essential workers as they harvest, process, and distribute food products. The company has also helped employees relocate to safer areas, provided psychological therapy sessions, and supported the wide range of employee needs, both personal and professional, throughout the crisis.
As one of the first corporations in Ukraine to create a stand-alone well-being team with corporate psychologists, MHP started a company-wide meditation program at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the meditation instructors had participated in the Search Inside Yourself program–the mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training that was born at Google–and reached out to the SIY Global team to explore opportunities to bring helpful emotional intelligence tools and practices to all MHP employees.
Natalya Sheremeta, MHP’s Chief Well-being Officer, and the rest of the group leading this employee wellness initiative, were specifically looking for a program that focused on cultivating the skill of mental and emotional resilience. “People respond differently during a crisis. Some employees are engaging in dialogue, others are trying to be brave, and some are extremely sensitive during this difficult time. And while focusing on well-being and resilience may not seem as a key priority in this case, this conflict made us realize these skills are actually our biggest priority in a moment of crisis,” said Sheremeta, who ended up having to travel to Austria, leaving Ukraine and her husband behind in March, hoping to keep her two young children safe.
Immediately after hearing about the request, the SIY Global team offered its Adaptive Resilience program to all MHP employees at no cost. In addition, SIY Global CEO, Rich Fernandez, brought together some of the most experienced and influential mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and resilience teachers in the world to share helpful and applicable practices with MHP employees as an additional pro bono offering. For eight consecutive weeks, MHP employees could attend a live online session led by instructors that included Chade Meng Tan, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Daniel Goleman, Amishi Jha, Trudy Goodman, and Karen Doyle Grossman. “As a public-benefit corporation, we are committed to supporting individuals, teams, and organizations with the emotional intelligence, human connection practices, and resilience tools that can help them in highly practical ways, even in the midst of the most extreme situations. And as a global organization with many certified teachers in Eastern Europe, we felt the collective responsibility to support essential workers in Ukraine in this trying time,” explained Fernandez.
SIY Global’s programming received over 1,000 registrations from employees at MHP and highly positive feedback. “This [program] is what will stay with me after the war, ” mentioned Roman Slobodian, a Specialist of Corporate Learning at MHP.
“When I first heard this request from the MHP team, I didn’t know how we would be able to help. The situation for many Ukrainians was dire to say the least. How can you support people in the middle of a war, thousands of miles away? However, I had the opportunity to interact with MHP employees week after week and witness the positive impact our programs had,” explained Elizabeth Alvarado, Client Engagement Manager at SIY Global. The results were so positive that after experiencing Adaptive Resilience and the speaker series, the MHP leadership team decided to partner with SIY Global to scale the programming by certifying a small group of employees on a pro bono basis through its train-the-trainer methodology. In partnership with SIY Global’s sister nonprofit, SIYLI, these mental and emotional resilience tools will be delivered in Ukrainian on a sustained basis to support employees for the duration of the conflict and beyond.
Recordings of the SIY Global Speaker Series and Adaptive Resilience workshops have been made available to all MHP employees, and select content has also been offered to the general public in Ukraine. According to Yurii Mykolyshyn from the Innovation Department at MHP, “Resilience and emotional intelligence skills are critical now in Ukraine for people's inner stability, recovery, and decision making. We really appreciate the possibility to search inside and continue our deep transformation both individually and at organizational levels.”
In the words of Natalya Sheremeta, “We are more resilient and adaptable than we think. We never imagined that we would have to live through a war in our lifetime, let alone live through it and still go to the office, and work on our projects, and have to attempt to keep our routines. And adapting happened quicker than we imagined. Even after a few weeks, people started reacting in new ways, shifting to a new way of living, even while understanding this is a terrible event in this century. This war showed us how we can lose everything in an instant, it made us see what is truly a priority. It taught us that we need to connect with our own selves and learn how to better manage external situations, or manage ourselves. We’re the only ones in charge of our own emotions. And that can actually save our lives. Even in the middle of a war.”