Team Rubicon: Where the Skills of Veterans Meet the Needs of the World
After 23 years of service in the U.S. Navy, former lieutenant commander Michael Davidson found himself at a loss. The Navy had given him a sense of self, a life mission and a community—with retirement came a sudden and unexpected void.
"If you rewind back to when I was 19 joining the Navy, if someone would have told me, 'You know you're going to stick it out for 23 years, and when you retire, you're going to go through a deep dark depression,' I would have laughed at them," says Davidson.
In reality, Davidson's experience is all too common: Nearly 20 percent of returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Coupled with high rates of veteran unemployment, the prevalence of mental health problems demonstrates the intense need for support as veterans transition from military to civilian life.
Enter Team Rubicon, which has helped thousands of veterans—including Davidson—with the shift to civilian life. How? The nonprofit organization is filling the common void experienced by veterans by addressing another pressing humanitarian challenge of our time: disaster response.
The Founding Story
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti—one of the most devastating natural disasters of the 21st century. Former Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty knew they could help; three days later, they led a team of six fellow veterans and first responders into Haiti.
As they treated patients in areas deemed "too dangerous" by other aid organizations and ventured beyond the traditional scope of disaster response, the group discovered two things: their skills and experiences as veterans were uniquely applicable to the needs of emergency response teams, and the work was reviving a sense of purpose they had yet to find outside of the military.
Wood and McNulty's time in Haiti inspired them to found Team Rubicon, which has now deployed on more than 100 operations worldwide with veterans and first responders. Davidson says he will never forget how he felt during his first operation, responding to tornado damage in Oklahoma: "All of the sudden, we had a purpose. Not only we were healing the community, we were healing ourselves."
A Solution for Scale
Team Rubicon prides itself on rapid deployment and efficient, strategic response teams—two mission-critical points that became increasingly difficult as the network of volunteers and operations grew.
Team Rubicon's original process for training and deploying new volunteers was highly manual and time-consuming, with a small internal team juggling paper, spreadsheets and emails to organize operations. The team knew they needed a better solution to efficiently manage and deploy the hundreds of new volunteers joining every week, and in 2014, Team Rubicon became part of the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation’s Strategic Partner Program.
Since transitioning to a cloud-based technology solution, the time to identify, vet and deploy a responder has been cut from four hours to under two minutes.
"As we get faster, we offer capabilities earlier," says Pat Ross, deputy director of membership at Team Rubicon and Marine veteran. "We can surge more people with the appropriate skills to the right place at the right time."
A Greater Purpose
In 2015 alone, Team Rubicon deployed more than 1,300 veterans to 35 domestic and three international operations—totaling more than 75,000 hours of on the ground disaster response.
Beyond training and deployment, the organization uses Cornerstone to build an even stronger community among its international volunteers. Not only can the Team Rubicon staff quickly communicate with volunteers, but also volunteers can connect with each other to share insights, ask questions and socialize — fostering a sense of camaraderie and common purpose that so many are missing after military service.
For Davidson, Team Rubicon revitalized his vigor for life. He now works for the organization full-time developing special training programs for volunteers.
"I'm in that sweet spot now, working for Team Rubicon for a mission that is much larger than myself," he says. "We are helping veterans reintegrate—redefine their purpose—to find that camaraderie again. To be a part of that, there is not a day that goes by that I wake up in the morning and do not feel excited about what lies ahead."