A massive painting hangs in the hallway of supermodel Michaela Bercu’s home about 30 minutes north of Tel Aviv. It’s made from hundreds of thin but hefty laser-cut layers of metal that colorfully replicate her French Vogue cover from September 1988. It was commissioned by her husband, Israeli businessman Ron Zuckerman, and it’s as big as a modest garage door. Its size is well-deserved, after all: Bercu, now 51 with four children, has a storied career as a cover girl.
Standing in front of the painting, we talk a bit about that day when she posed for Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover from November 1988 in a Christian Lacroix haute couture sweater and a pair of faded jeans. (The story goes that she had gained weight while on vacation in Israel and wasn’t able to fit into the matching skirt.) It was the first time that a model had ever appeared in jeans on Vogue’s cover. You would think, like many supermodels, Bercu’s second act would be something like becoming a Pilates instructor or releasing a skin-care line. Instead, she’s releasing a new app, Tribu, that she has created with Zuckerman. The Tribu icon is friendly and inviting: a bright red square with a smiley face. But don’t be fooled. Bercu and Zuckerman say Tribu is poised to become the Uber of volunteering, a technology that could revolutionize the concept of people helping people.
Tribu originates from a personal cause close to Bercu. While living in Los Angeles, Bercu and her husband met producer Scooter Braun and his wife, Yael Cohen, the CEO of Fuck Cancer. “She was connected to an organization for women who have breast cancer, and she showed that taking care of one person fell on one person, not because people didn’t want to help, but because it wasn’t easy to help. They didn’t know how to help and where to start,” Bercu tells me about Cohen’s efforts. “So my husband and his partner developed an app for them. In each family and each group of people, they open up their own hub for somebody to take care of this person, all the needs of the week, and each person participating in the app would take part in whatever they could help with.” From there, Tribu was born, and was developed over a period of four years.
The app is intended to make volunteering easy, and it does. Users are able to scroll through its interface and search for causes that they’re passionate about, like animal welfare or elder care. In Israel, where 90 hours of community service is required for students to graduate from high school, the app has already been implemented in several schools. Bercu’s 16-year-old daughter, Talia, sits next to me and shows me how she’s currently enrolled in a scouts program as a counselor for children through Tribu. In the app, she reports the time she has volunteered and gets it digitally approved by her supervisor. “Before, they didn’t know how to look at the hours of what the kids were doing, or how to send them to volunteer,” says Bercu. “It was on a paper or Google docs. It was a mishmash.”
Bercu has always had an interest in philanthropy. She has a degree in drama therapy, something that prompted her to research the social effects of volunteering. “People want to help. Sometimes, you see those big ads [for volunteering] and you think it is so far away,” she says. “But even if you think about it in your own neighborhood, there are little things that you can do.” Bercu cites an article on Harvard University’s website that claims that giving time to the well-being of others can improve mental health and lower blood pressure. “What can make people happier? There are many things. The two main things are: Meditation when people do it consecutively every day, and the second thing is volunteering.”
Currently Tribu is being used in pilot mode at the University of Southern California; Bercu hopes it eventually will become international. “If I can do one good thing and be a little bit of a better person with a better heart, that is all that matters. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much education [you have], when you do something for your heart, one good thing, one better thing, it helps a little bit. It is a real fulfillment,” she says. “I really believe in it.”
Special thanks to Michal Ronen (makeup) and Yaniv Zada (hair).