Michaela Bercu (far left) volunteering at a hospital in Israel. Michaela Bercu (far left) volunteering at a hospital in Israel. Michaela Bercu (far left) volunteering at a hospital in Israel. (Photo: Courtesy Save a Child's Heart)

Former Israeli supermodel launches Tribu, an app that makes volunteering easy

Michaela Bercu has gone from the cover of Vogue to connecting volunteers with worthy causes.

Michaela Bercu likes to break down barriers. In November, 1988, she became the first model to wear jeans on the cover of Vogue, shunning the usual formality of the high-end fashion magazine. "I had just looked at that picture and sensed the winds of change," famed Vogue editor Anna Wintour recalled. "And you can't ask for more from a cover image than that."

It's now 30 years later and Bercu is hoping to change another norm: toppling the barriers of entry to volunteering. Inspired by the word "contribute," she has launched Tribu, an app which connects volunteering needs with those who wish to help. She has spent the past four years developing the platform with her husband, Israeli tech entrepreneur Ron Zuckerman.

They started by launching it in a Tel Aviv neighborhood to see if it would actually work. An elderly woman was in the hospital and had no family to visit her. Like a bat signal being broadcast in the sky, people who had downloaded the app saw the opportunity and quickly rushed to her bedside. "Suddenly she had so many visitors coming to take care of her," Bercu told From The Grapevine. "It's just a small thing to sit with someone who is alone so they are not so lonely. And it lightens up her life. And for the one who's giving the service, it makes you feel wonderful. You change someone's life."

For Bercu, she's a firm believer that volunteering does more for the giver than the one who receives the kindness. "It makes you who did the service feel so good," she said. "So much research has been done with people of all ages that volunteering makes you feel wonderful, and makes you feel that you did good. The experience of bringing someone a smile on their face gives you so much satisfaction."

The app has expanded across Israel and has become particularly popular with high school students there, as they are required to do a certain number of hours of community service before they can graduate. In addition to helping the students find nearby volunteering opportunities, Tribu also contains a desktop dashboard. Supervisors at a volunteering site – like a hospital or animal shelter – can use the platform to keep track of all the hours that the student volunteers.

Hoping to learn how the app can best be used on a college campus, Bercu and Zuckerman set up a pilot program at the University of Southern California to see how students in America would use the service.

She points out that there are volunteering opportunities for just about anybody. "If you're going to the supermarket, and there's someone in your building that can't go, just buy some groceries for the other person. Or just visit with someone for half an hour, or walk someone's dog, or make an extra meal to help somebody."

The 52-year-old Israel-born Bercu is combining her multiple interests. In college she studied communication and eventually went on to get a master's in Drama Therapy. She put the latter to use working in clinics and schools helping women and children tell their stories, express feelings and solve problems. When she's not spending time building up the Tribu community, she is herself volunteering.

As for TribU, Bercu is hoping that the movement she started will continue to expand. "In five years, I would love the app to be in every household around the world," she told us. "Because we can all give and get so much from it."

Bercu has appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and in advertising campaigns for L'Oreal and Bloomingdales. Bercu has appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and in advertising campaigns for L'Oreal and Bloomingdales. (Photo: Courtesy Michaela Bercu)

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Former Israeli supermodel launches Tribu, an app that makes volunteering easy
Michaela Bercu has gone from the cover of Vogue to connecting volunteers with worthy causes.