Impacting the International Nonprofit Community, with Trish Perkins

Trish Perkins is a Salesforce MVP and executive director of Worldstouch, an organization that provides affordable, quality Salesforce solutions to nonprofit clients worldwide. Instead of charging an hourly or project-based rate to her international clients, she exchanges her expertise for transportation, housing, and meal expenses. Her personal mission is to promote world peace through deep intercultural understanding and communication. 

Inside Impact is hosted by Unity Web Agency CEO Alisa Herr and is produced by Earfluence.


This transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.

Trish: That was my sort of dream that I was gonna have for the rest of my life. I was gonna be this like wonderful writer. And I realized that actually I’m no good at rejection at all. I look around for another career and I wanted to learn about computers. So I went back to college when I was 55, my husband was a college professor and they gave us 10 courses for free. So I went back to college and I just started taking courses and I fell in love with databases. 

I get paid in room and board, feed me, put me up. After that I said, okay, feed me and put me up and pick me up at the airport and give me decent internet and we’ll call it best friend hospitality. So that’s, that’s basically how I work internationally. I mean, they just don’t have that kind of money.

So I ask my American clients to pay me an hourly wage, I sell them contracts with a certain number of hours. I get paid upfront. They pay me and I work for them. And then I turn around and spend that money on airplane tickets and sometimes on hotels, but because I’m asking my clients to feed me and put me up a lot of times I’m sleeping in a dormitory somewhere, or one organization that I worked with, they had an Airbnb that was right next door to the executive director’s house. They put me up there. So that’s my business model.

Alisa: It’s so creative and I love that it supports the lifestyle that you wanna live. You get to travel the world, and do it while helping people and not having to spend much money.

Trish: Right. So the thing, the thing is, in 1978, I quit my job as a newspaper reporter and decided I was going around the world. And you know, you, you start off and you’re like, oh, I wanna see all the cathedrals. And I wanna go to all the, the things and you just, you know, you go to all the, all the tourist things that you ever do.

And then at some point about six months into that, it was an 18-month trip, by the way, there just gets to be a moment when you’re like, no, I mean, I, I just wanna meet the people from this place and I wanna understand how they live and I wanna understand how they think, what goes through their minds, how they see the world.

I mean, that is way more important than any kind of temple visit that you can do or bus ride that you can get on that goes around with a, with a loud speaker talking to you. And so, at that point I went to Nepal and I got involved in a project that was rebuilding this one city in the Katmandu valley, and I built a library for them, which was, I think, I think that you could say that was my first database, was their library.

Alisa: Oh, wow. That is so cool. I didn’t realize that’s what you did out there.

Trish: Yeah. I mean, I did a bunch of stuff. I mean, I did, you know, I rode around and I had a rail pass and I went to beaches and I mean, you know, I did all the stuff that. You know, hippies did in 1970, you know, only I was doing it in 1978, but it just, no, I mean that, isn’t the way I wanna live.

That isn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to really get deep. I wanted to go deeper into the culture and to learn about the way people think about things. I mean, for instance, I learned a whole lot about arranged marriages that I never knew on that trip. And I kind of got to be a fan of it, although I didn’t have one, but I, you know, I’m not, I’m not like opposed to arranged marriages at this point cuz I understand where they come from and what happens with them.

Alisa: Yeah. When you’re going to work with a client internationally, how long do you stay? And is it different for newer clients versus ones that you’ve worked with for a long time?

Trish: No, actually the, I don’t make a distinction that way at all. Typically I try to stay about three weeks, I three weeks to a month, really, because it kind of takes that long to get stuff done, to get everything, the things take longer outside the United States. I mean, I once said that, and this is maybe true that a project that would take me a week in the states takes me three weeks in India.

And so, I mean, but I’ve been working with a client that I have in India for since 2006. So we’ve been able to accomplish a whole bunch of stuff since then. Yeah.

Alisa: What, what it kind of impacts that speed for getting things done? Is it internet connection speed, or is it something else?

Trish: It’s the primacy of interpersonal relationships.

Alisa: Oh, okay.

Trish: Because you don’t just sit down and say, okay, now let’s get down to business. What are your requirements? What am I doing for you? Let’s make a list. You know, it just, it doesn’t work that way. You go out to dinner and then, you know, you talk, you know, you tell each other life stories, I go out with the ladies from the organization in Nepal.

I go out, we go out for an afternoon snack, you know, we get ourselves some cake and some chai and we talk and I mean, it’s just, we make relationships. And so that’s, that’s what really, really matters and relationships take time. And I mean, that’s what I’m there for, so I wanna take the time that I need to really make friends with these folks.

And I do, I, I, I make friends and they’re friends that are still my friends. They’re my lifelong friends now. So that’s my, that’s what I wanna do. That’s the way I wanna do it because I really wanna have friends everywhere.

Alisa: Yeah.

Trish: That’s the idea.

Alisa: That’s such a great, I love that perspective of, so it sounds like your, your business at World’s Touch is about making friends and building relationships and the minor part of that is the sales force part.

Trish: Yeah. You could say that. You could say that. My, my Salesforce clients won’t necessarily agree with you. My Americans, because we get right down to business in America, but it is true, it’s the relationships that count for all of us, I think, them as well as me, so yeah.

And then Salesforce is there and, and Salesforce is an important part of it because it is impacting the way they do business. It is impacting the kinds of, of lives that they can make a difference in. Because now they have data and now they can say, Okay, we have, I mean, I’ve got one organization that can say that they have pretty much eliminated the infant mortality rate in, in the part of Nepal, I mean India, where they, where they operate, they have health workers that go once a month to visit families and anybody who’s a little bit sick gets to a hospital. It, you know, we knew for a long time that they were saving lives, but now we know they’re saving lives, we have the numbers, so that makes a difference.

Alisa: It does. I, when you were telling the story, like your story from the beginning and talking about how you fell in love with the databases, it struck a chord theme because when I was in library school and I took a database class, I fell in love. I don’t know what it is about them, but they’re great.

Trish: Okay, let me, lemme tell you what its,

Alisa: OK. OK, good. Yeah, let’s do it.

Trish: Because I have the, I, I, I I’ve thought about this, okay. Because one of the things that I love, love to do is to get into the closet and take everything out of the closet and then organize it by stuff, by categories, and put it into boxes and label the boxes, and then put it back in the closet. I wanna see it all organized. I wanna see the things that belong together, together, and I want ’em to be different. And apart from the things that they don’t belong with, and that is a database.

Alisa: Yeah, you’re right. I think what I love about them is the relationships between all of the pieces.

Trish: Yeah.

Alisa: I think thinking about what I love about databases, I think it is that

Trish: That is true. That is true. And that, that, and Salesforce is great for that. I love the way we can, we make, we make relationships and then we make affiliations between people and organizations, and the relationships are sometimes quite complex. I’m working with an organization right now that, that keeps track.

They’ve got, they it’s called Williams syndrome and I’d never heard of it before, but it is a pretty serious kind of syndrome that kids can be born with. And so we keep track of the caregivers and the grandparents and the relatives and the friends and the professionals that are all involved around this one individual and, and all of that data, all of those relationships are in Salesforce. They’re a mess right now, but they’re going to be cleaned up.

Alisa: So, I’d love to hear some stories of how you’ve been able to impact different nonprofits around the world. You talked a little bit about the, this tracking, the infant mortality rate. What about, is it Cambodia where you’ve been working with the school? Could you tell that? Could you tell that to, our listeners?

Trish: I originally got into this because the guy who does the fundraising for the circus, for the Cambodian circus, asked a question on one of the forums that I regularly frequent. And I answered his question. And then I said, you know, how about if I come to Cambodia? And he was like, sure, sure just come.

So I went to Cambodia to see him and I, and in the process of, of that particular visit, I understood that all of the acrobats, all of the performers in the circus comes from a school that was started after Pol Pot, who was a terrible, horrible dictator, who killed a lot of people. And there was a French woman who was working with these refugee children and she thought, and I think she’s probably right that art, of all different kinds of art can actually impact the trauma that these children have experienced.

And so she set up this art school. So that’s what kind of school it is. It’s an art school, it’s a performing and visual art school. And one of the performances is the circus. The circus only uses graduates from their circus program. And I, I went originally just to help him with his fundraising.

And then the executive director of the school said to me, you know, we really, we really need to manage this school. And so turns out that Salesforce has an, an education management system called EDA, Education Data Architecture, and so I use the education data architecture to completely design and, and build a school management system for Cambodia for this far, the, the it’s called, Selpak ponleu, something or other, which means actually it means the brightness of being. So it’s really kind of wonderful.

And I also trained the locals to the, the folks who, who work on the staff at the, at the school to manage their system. So I need to go back now and help them with it some more in the next year or so. We won’t, we won’t make it on this part, the trip that I’m gonna do this year, but we will, I will get back there and just do a refresher course for people and make sure everybody is kind, still doing the same thing.

Alisa: How did the pandemic impact your work?

Trish: Well, I didn’t go anywhere.

Alisa: Yeah. Yeah.

Trish: You know, what that meant was that I worked, I continued to work with my American clients because I, all my American clients I work with from home, except that actually last summer, we took a trip around the United States and I visited and worked with five of my American clients.

Alisa: Oh, that’s nice.

Trish: That was fun. That was really fun to meet in person and connect. That was really the same thing we made friends, you know, I’ve got like, I know there’s a woman out in Oregon who is a lifelong friend of mine now, after having worked with her. She’s the fundraiser for the Latino Association of Bend, Oregon. So yeah. And she’s a really dynamite fundraiser too, but Salesforce helps her fundraise. So that’s yeah,

Alisa: When did you get to start traveling again internationally? Have you?

Trish: We went to France. I have one client who is actually a for-profit client, I do his documentation. I’m his like editor. So that’s my, my sort of writing skills thing. You know, I, I went up to him at a conference and said, you know, Michelle, your documentation really sucks. So I, why don’t you let me fix it, you know? And, and I will go by the same international plan with you that I do every, everybody else. Feed me, put me up, you know, provide me with transportation and, decent internet. And so he puts me up in a really nice hotel because he’s a for profit company,

so, one of the things I wanted to do was to get a European client this year. That was my goal, and now I have another French client, the fundraiser from far the Cambodian circus has started his own organization and wrote me and said, Trish, do you know anybody that could maybe help me with my sales force? And I wrote him back and said would you consider me?

Alisa: Yeah.

Trish: And he said, oh, would you do it? And I’m like, heck yeah. so, yeah. So I’ll be seeing him. He lives in Paris, his colleague lives in Marseille.

Alisa: Mm-hmm.

Trish: Both of my children were born in Marseille. So I have a really warm place in my heart for Marseille so that’ll be, that’ll be fun. We’ll I’ll do that. I’m also going to meetings in London and in Amsterdam and in Prague. So I’m hoping to possibly pick up some more, European clients that way, but we’ll. I’m kind of busy right now. So it doesn’t really matter if I don’t get any more clients for a few days.

Alisa: Well, that’s an exciting place to be in.

Trish: yeah, it is. It’s. I mean, I, I never ever imagined that it would be this successful. I never ever thought that I could continue over year, over year, over year, making enough money to take me around the world and take me in all kinds of different places. And, but also my husband now. 

Alisa: I’m curious. This is just me being very curious, but I wonder, do you know how many countries you’ve visited and also how many languages do you know?

Trish: So I really only speak French and English fluently. When I was in Turkey for seven weeks, I got to the point where I could actually basically communicate, you know, but I’m, I love to learn languages. That’s kind of, I think it’s a database thing somehow. I’m not sure how, so I

Alisa: You’ve got a table in your, in your brain that’s for languages. And then there’s another table that has words.

Trish: Exactly. So I try to learn, I mean, I’m, I’ve been learning Nepali off and on for since 2006. And you know, if, if the person in the room or in the car with me cannot speak a word of English, we can still. If I’ve been there long enough for it to come back.

Alisa: Yeah. So you’ve been doing this for 18 years. what has surprised you along the way?

Trish: Well, the main thing that surprised me was that I could keep doing it,

Alisa: Yeah.

Trish: you know? I just wanted to do it. I just did. I didn’t think about, you know, how long I’d be able to do it and now I, I don’t wanna stop doing it, I’m happy to keep doing this. And so, as long as I can travel. I wanna do that.

Alisa: That’s great. what place that you’ve visited or nonprofit that you’ve worked with has made the biggest difference on your life?

Trish: You know, I looked at that question and I thought, oh my God, you know, they all, they all impact, every one of them. But then I said, okay, well, I’ll just tell the story of our CRD CBR. So our CRD CBR, I can’t even tell you, CBR is Community Based Rehabilitation, which has nothing to do with what they do.

I mean, it’s they’re like two guys that sat in rooms opposite each. And, I came to visit them originally because they were members of this sort of like couch surfing organization that I belong to. That’s called Serve Us. In Serve Us you get two nights to stay with people and they feed you and they put you up.

And you get to know them and you talk and, you know, you make friends. And so the, both of these people were members of that organization. So while I was in Nepal, I went over to Bharatpur to talk to them. And, you know, we worked on their access database together and, we began a relationship and at one point they told me it’s Syria and Ramesh.

Syria. And Ramesh told me that they would like to have a database of all of the disabled people in Nepal and what kind of services they were receiving, and where were they getting those services? So the service providers for, for disabled people, cuz that’s their focus. They, they work with disabled people and they work with disabled policy.

They help build, you know, create the laws in Nepal about disability. And what I realized at that point was we need a mobile app. It’s like if we’re gonna go tramping around in the middle of the villages and what have you, we need a mobile app. And that is when I started trying to put together, trying to find somebody that would do a mobile app that would, that they could afford, which there isn’t anybody that will do a mobile app that they can afford. 

They inspired me to create a mobile app that would work with Salesforce, that would be free, that would be open source, that would work offline, and that would need one user to come in, even though there’s 75 health workers out there. Part of the problem is, is that if they had to buy licenses for every single one of those 75 health workers, it would cost them like $9,000 a year, which is not gonna work. You know, I, I tried so much to find somebody that could, they could afford.

That has just changed everything in terms of, I mean, I’m working with, it’s an all-volunteer team. I’m working with all kinds of people who know all kinds of different stuff from me. I’m the cheerleader. I don’t know very much, but I just can cheerlead this thing through that’s all, but it’s it is my legacy. If I can pull this off, if, if we together can pull this off, then we will have contributed something to the nonprofit international world that nobody else has done for them.

Alisa: Let’s talk about your mission, about promoting world peace through deep intercultural understanding and communication. I think you might have touched on this a bit in your story, but what has led you to having this be your life’s mission?

Trish: I think we have to circle back to Serve Us.

Alisa: Mm-hmm

Trish: Because, Serve Us is a peace organization. And Serve Us believes that we get world peace, one friendship at a time. And I mean, that is their, that that’s their basic approach to the world. And, I mean, my first trip around the world, I think by that time I was, I was thinking, okay, I need to understand what part of me is American. And what part of me is just human, because all of us think all of our beliefs in all of our attitudes and everything about us is human.

It’s just human. This is all the stuff we really firmly believe. That’s just what humans do. That’s how we that’s how humans do it. And they just don’t that isn’t the way the world works. And so what, you know, where does my American person, I mean, I’m, I’m fundamentally American. There’s no question about it.

You don’t get out from under that, but, but where does that end and where does my humanity, my just plain simple humanity begin? So let me just use another analogy to explain this. When you’re learning a language, you feel the percentage of the other language opening up to you little by little by little, you know, it’s like for a while, you know that, I mean, right now, I would say in my Spanish I’m maybe at 3% that I can understand which when people are talking, and that’s all right. I mean, that’s not bad, you know, I mean, I, I sat in on a meeting today and, you know, I could kind of understand sorta of, kind of a little bit and every now and then they would get off on a topic that I knew something about. And then I could understand more, but I would still say two or 3%.

And so then it opens up a little more and then it opens up a little more. And it’s the same thing when you’re in a different culture. I mean, I, I firmly believe that it’s important to stay in observation mode rather than judgment, rather than putting people in a box saying, you know, these people are like this or these people are like that, or any of that, it’s just like, just observe, just observe, and then as you observe the understanding of the structure of the culture in front of you begins to open up for you and you begin to understand how people think and how they see the world. 

And so, you know, for instance, when one of my colleagues, you know, father told him that he had to go get a government job. He had an interview and they accepted him, but he didn’t wanna, I mean, he did the interview cuz his dad told him to, but he really didn’t wanna work for that government job. I mean, it just, he didn’t wanna do that. But I knew, as deep as anything I’ve ever known that he did not have a choice, he had to say, yes, he could not say no to his father.

He could never say no to his father and that, you know, it’s like we don’t live in a world like that. I said no to my father a whole bunch of times before I was even 17, much less anything after that, I mean, I constantly said no to my father and mother for that matter, you know, it’s like, and they expected it because I’m, you know, independent and grown up. You know, it’s like people who get married and bring their wife home and live with their parents. You know, we don’t do that.

Alisa: Mm-hmm

Trish: And, and yet, you know, that’s called the joint family system and it works beautifully as, until people wanna be independent, like we are. And then at some it erodes somewhat, but yeah, it’s just like, it opens up to you.

You begin to understand, and then, and then you can, you can sort of let people know that you understand, and they’re like, oh my God, you understand that? You know? there’s a Concept in, Nepali about you, you cannot eat anything from the plate of somebody else. Like you can’t, you know, be eating a donut and sort of break off a part of your donut and give it to the person that’s walking beside you, because it’s such a good donut.

You can’t do that. It’s totally not done. And it’s shocking to people to understand. You know and I learned about that when the first time I, I went. And so now, you know, when I sit down, I mean, I can sort of bring it up and let people know that I understand that. And they’re like, oh, you get that? You know what that is, really? And I’m like, yeah. you know? 

Alisa: And that’s not the kind of thing that you would learn just by going on a tour.

Trish: No, oh, you’d never learn it. You would never learn that that would never be something nobody would ever, nobody would tell you about that unless you were walking down the street with your Nepali buddy, and he’s eating the best yogurt that the world knows, and he hands you a spoon and says, you gotta try this.

And then I go, oh yeah, it’s really good. And he goes, oh my God. Oh my God. I’m getting Juto is the name of it. That’s what it is. I’m giving Juto to a woman. Oh my, oh my God. And all these people around me have seen me do it. Oh no. Oh no. I can’t tell my father, oh no, what am I gonna do? I mean, he was just devastated because he had, he had

Alisa: Oh, this happened.

Trish: Yes it did. Oh yeah.

Alisa: Yeah. So that’s how you learned about it.

Trish: That was the, that was the introduction to the word Juto and the, and the whole concept behind it. Yes,

Alisa: Was the yogurt good?

Trish: It’s fabulous. Yes. And whenever we go to Bharatpur, we get it because that’s where it’s made. Yeah. yeah. So, but we don’t share it with each other in public cuz it’s just not done.

You know, that’s the thing and, and so the, the whole concept of communication and connection, I get that from Serve Us. And then I also learned it traveling, just traveling around the world. And then I think you can kind of get hooked on it. You know, I mean, I, I think people who travel the way I travel, and there’s a lot of people who travel. I mean, this I’m not an, a unique person.

I’m I I’m unique up to the point that I actually can make a living doing it. You know, and I mean, I make a living and then I get to do it because of my living, you know, that, that was kind of a good idea. And I’ve got a lot of Salesforce, people that say to me, oh man, you know, I wanna be you when I grow up and I go, yeah, but here’s the problem.

You’ve been doing Salesforce now for how many years. And you’re gonna be doing it how many years before you retire, do you think for a minute that you’re gonna wanna do Salesforce after you’re done? You’re gonna be, let me out of here, you know, I just wanna go on a beach and sit, you know, that’s okay. That’s cool, or like, you know, take tango lessons in, in Buenos Aires, you know, that, why not, you know?

Alisa: Yeah, you were the first person that I’ve met, that, that has a business model like this and lives in this really cool way. And I think it was the very end of 2020 in the beginning of 2021, Angela who at the time was my operations manager, was getting the itch to go and work for a nonprofit somewhere. And she was like, anywhere, I’m happy to go anywhere. And she ended up going to Costa Rica and she had the same, the same agreement, which was I’ll come work for you. And she did. I think she did some operations support and financial kind of consulting for them.

And it was room and board and travel to and from the airport and food. And she continued to work for me. And I just think, you know, I think that knowing you helped me understand more about what she was doing and, and be able to support her more. And, she loved it. She loved it. It was great. We got to have, video calls every week and there were monkeys and toucans and all kinds of Macaws and the background and it was fun. She was on animal reservation, like an animal. What is it called? Animal sanctuary.

Trish: Yeah. Yeah. That’s fantastic. That is a great story. I love that.

Alisa: Well, I have a final question that I like to ask everybody, what person or company doing good has had the biggest impact on you?

Trish: Well, I have to say it’s Salesforce, you know, I mean, for, in, in terms of the company, because Salesforce is dedicated to the nonprofit community, they give 10 free licenses to every nonprofit that is a registered nonprofit, no matter what country they come from, they get 10 free licenses. And that represents about $13,000 a year so it’s a lot of money that, that most nonprofits, even if it’s per nonprofit, 13,000 a year would be just a whole.

Alisa: That is, it’s a massive amount.

Trish: So this is just, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a wonderful donation and they, and they’re dedicated to equality and they’re, they’re dedicated to supporting LGBTQ and trans people and hiring them and supporting them and, people of color. I mean, they’re just, it’s a, it’s an organization that is just dedicated to, to equity and inclusion, and also to support the little small organizations that, that would not be able to afford them. So it’s really, it’s a wonderful organization to work for. I mean, I know that it has its flaws and it does, but I think that the good that the company does, is it outweighs whatever negative things there are, you could find out about them and tell them and say.

But you know the first place I worked when I was working for Salesforce, his name is Mark Sills and he was an activist, a peace activist and a community activist. He founded faith action international house, and he supported immigrants for years and years and I just was really lucky to, to spend time with him and to get the, the kind of perspective that he has. He’s now retired, but he’s still, you know, he’s still principled and rational and deeply, deeply compassionate. If I could, I would love to be as compassionate and as deeply committed to helping others as he is. 

Alisa: I love those answers, and I think that you do have that kind of compassion, from my perspective.

Trish: I appreciate it. And, and, and people tell me that and I, I don’t, I don’t feel uncompassionate. It’s just, you know, in, in some ways you think, well, jeepers, Trish, all you do is techy. You know, that’s it, you just are there. You’re just doing people’s tech. I’m not in Ukraine fighting the Russians, you know what I mean?

It’s like not, I’m not helping refugees get out of Ukraine. I’m, you know, it. although there are some people that are doing databases about it and, and I’m, and I’m, I’m hoping that I’m gonna meet some of them when I’m in Prague. we can, we can talk about what they’re doing and whether I can help anywhere.

Alisa: Well, thank you again for joining me, Trish. It’s always great to talk with you if people wanna learn more about you and what you’re doing, how can they connect with you or learn more?Trish: well, I think they can go to my website at, you know, because this wonderful agency, you know, the Unity Web Agency put together this great website that really does give people a feeling for what I’m doing and where I’m working and what we’re accomplishing. And so, yeah, and there’s a, there’s an email address that’s on that website somewhere. So get ahold of me. That’d be good.