Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ukraine Little League Baseball Championships June 4-8 in Illichivsk

Corporate social responsibility (and it's PR/marketing value) has begun to come into fashion in Ukraine in the past 6 months. Most of the major brands have been doing this to varying degrees for years, but senior management has never really taken a strategic approach to this. The higher awareness could be driven in part by the oligarchs here. Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine's richest citizens and son-in-law to Ukraine's pre-Orange Revolution president Leonid Kuchma, and his wife have been particularly active. Among other activities, he and his wife founded an anti-AIDS foundation, a chartered a school of economics, opened an art center, and organized a free Elton John concert on Maidan (which, by the way, was great! Elton played all of his best songs for 3 hours without an intermission). In the cases of the oligarchs, the motivation is mainly out of business interest than altruism. In a nutshell, western investors have long known that they accumulated their wealth under, to be kind, "questionable" circumstances. For many, this makes them questionable business partners. So, they are using philanthropy as a way to clean up their images (a la Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.) in order to hopefully give them easier access to foreign capital. My philanthropic endeavors are quite a bit more modest, but in the spirit I wanted to plug my pet project here in Ukraine: Little League Baseball.
Last year I came across an article about Little League baseball in Ukraine, and for the past six months or so I've been volunteering to help the program raise money through corporate sponsors and donations. While football (i.e. soccer) is still by far the most popular sport in Ukraine, Little League baseball and softball is played by hundreds of kids across the country. They're pretty good, too! The Ukrainian 13-14 year old team is the defending European Junior League Champion. For the first time, they competed in the United States for a chance to qualify for the Little League World Series.
The program is administered by Ukrainian-American Basil Tarasko is an "old school" coach, former math teacher, and scout for the San Diego Padres. Basil has poured his heart, soul, time and money into helping the kids of Ukraine through the gift of sport for the past 13 years. He's currently here on his 50th trip to Ukraine for the championships.
Basil and Little League have many small individual and business sponsors, there has been little support (financial or otherwise) by companies in Ukraine, in my opinion primarily due to a lack of awareness. Hertz Ukraine was the first company to step up and finance the Ukrainian team's transportation costs and uniforms for the regional playoffs in Poland each year. So if you are coming to Ukraine and need a rental car, please support our sponsor and go Hertz! You even get a 10% discount off your rental if you mention Little League - I'm not kidding. And for the first time, the Odessa chapter of Lions Club International is getting involved. They will be having a barbeque for the kids and coaches, and will take on the coaches in an exhibition softball game. I know the kids and the Lions are going to have a great time!
Ukraine Little League also includes 12 orphanage leagues across the country, including one league for deaf orphans. Basil's dream is to hold the first national Little League Baseball Championship for orphans. This would not only be the first in Ukraine, but the FIRST IN THE WORLD! The Kyiv chapter of Lions Club International has graciously donated money to help us give these orphans an opportunity they'll never forget. But, we still need more funds to make this idea a reality.

If you or your business would like to help the orphans of Ukraine, or just be part of a "world's first" project, please visit Ukraine Little League's official website for more information, which includes a Paypal account for donations. Or you can contact Basil or myself directly.
Here is a video on YouTube about Little League in Ukraine. The footage here was shot several years ago as part of a documentary meant to produced about baseball in Ukraine. However, it was beat out by another, apparently more interesting, subject also being considered at the time.