To establish an emergency network in disaster zones so that people in need can contact their family and friends: this is the goal of Instant Network, a project of the Vodafone Foundation, in which a team of international colleagues from the Vodafone Group and VodafoneZiggo come to the rescue in crisis situations all over the world, including wars and weather disasters.
Babet Agten works for VodafoneZiggo’s HR department and is a member of the Instant Network team. She helps out on site and also handles communication about the missions.
Evacuation from Kyiv
In May 2022 she was involved in the evacuation of Vodafone employees and their families from Kyiv, Ukraine. They came to the Netherlands so that they could temporarily live and work in an unoccupied hotel. These accommodations, along with the technological aspects, posed certain logistical challenges. “Yet we succeeded in the end, thanks to good teamwork and thinking outside the box. We were able to give a warm welcome to our colleagues from the war zone.”
During a project of this sort, it’s the personal encounters that make the most lasting impression on Babet. “For example, I once met an 84-year-old woman. She was sitting in a chair, very neatly dressed, waiting for her room to be ready. She had just come off a stressful bus trip that took more than 22 hours. So I thought she could probably use a cup of coffee. I was struggling to communicate this offer to her, but to my surprise she answered in perfect English.”
She will get her own coffee
The woman said that she had been in the Netherlands several years before, as an interpreter at an antiterrorism conference. “At the time, she had traipsed through the Rembrandt Museum as if in a dream, marvelling at the beautiful artworks, at our country and at all the lovely things she saw here,” says Babet. “In a despondent tone, she told me that she had never imagined that she might return here under these circumstances. And the only thing that she actually wanted now was a nice cup of coffee and a cigarette on the wooden bench in front of the hotel. And she would make her own coffee, she said, because she thought it was so wonderful of us to take her in, here in the Netherlands, that she absolutely did not want me to get coffee for her on top of everything else.”
On an ordinary working day, Babet provides training and support for other VodafoneZiggo employees. "The work for Instant Network always pops up out of the blue. Then all of a sudden you’re leaving your daily job behind. You depart for someplace you’ve never seen before, then once you’re there you have to do a lot of improvising and have to think up new ways of working. Personally I am definitely not a techie, but there have been several times during missions when I found myself up on a ladder, connecting wires. You help each other and you know that you can have faith in each other’s expertise.”
Orphanage in Poland
Babet recently travelled to Poland with the team to help set up an internet connection at an orphanage for Ukrainian children. “Then at the end of the day, you’re sitting together with your colleagues, stirring through a Polish soup with unidentifiable pieces in it, not too sure about what you're eating. But what really matters is the happiness you feel when you see 100 enthusiastic children around you, gathering all their devices together for the new Wi-Fi password as soon as the first bars appear on their screens.
Smiling mothers and children
“In my HR job, it sometimes seems that I am so far removed from the impact we can have with our technology and, most of all, with our skills and expertise,” says Babet. “But with the Instant Network projects I am right there in the thick of things. I see kids opening their laptops to start their class, I see mothers with children starting to smile and relax when they move into their temporary new accommodations. I am humbled by their gratitude. What we do matters.”
A helping hand
She is glad that she has the opportunity to do this work. “I am incredibly appreciative that my employer gives me opportunities to contribute to things that I believe in and support. VodafoneZiggo gives me that little ‘helping hand’ when I need it and is waiting for me with a warm welcome when I return. You can't put a price on that. It’s more than just being a good employer; they go above and beyond.
Through the “Instant Network” programme, the Vodafone Foundation makes equipment and people available to build temporary mobile networks in disaster areas. This volunteer group is made up of Vodafone employees, including Dutch VodafoneZiggo staff. In recent years, Instant Network has provided emergency aid after several natural disasters, including in Mozambique and the Philippines, and in the humanitarian crisis on the borders of Ukraine.