This Funder is Thinking Locally To Deal With a Global Humanitarian Crisis

The global refugee crisis has become far worse than anyone ever expected. We hear all the time that it’s the “largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” The scope and scale, not to mention true level of human suffering, is difficult to fathom. When refugee stories make the media rounds, the focus tends to be on Syrian refugees and for good reason. According to the latest Syria Regional Refugee Response report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are nearly 5 million Syrian refugees worldwide.

But the global refugee crisis is bigger than Syria—much bigger.

UNCHR puts the number of global refugees at 21.3 million. But it says there are another 40 million people who've been forcibly displaced from their homes and are internal refugees. In 2015 alone, over 12 million people were added to this vast, miserable sea of humanity.

We've written often about the lack of movement by major foundations in the U.S. and abroad to address this issue. We've also written about the few funders that aren’t turning their backs on the suffering of displaced people. Standouts, here, include the UPS, Western Union, and Stavros Niarchos foundations, all of which have stepped up by committing millions of dollars and resources to ease the misery of the world’s refugees.

Another standout funder in this space is the Ikea Foundation. In recent years, Ikea has been ramping up its funding considerably. To give you an idea of what this looks like, in 2014, the foundation increased its giving by over 20 percent, with around $140 million in grant money going out the door that year. Major points of funding interest for Ikea include disaster response and relief and helping refugees.

Related: Ikea Foundation Remains Front and Center in Global Refugee Crisis Funding

Ikea has approached the refugee crisis from all angles. It has given $95 million to provide shelter, care and education for refugee children and their families in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Bangladesh, and $70 million to help the UNHCR assist 120,000 Somali refugees who recently arrived at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The foundation is also the major backer of Better Shelter, a for-profit social enterprise working in collaboration with the UNHCR to develop a more durable housing alternative to the flimsy, poorly insulated tents typically used to house refugees around the world.

Related: Ikea’s BetterShelters Getting Put to Work in Nepal

Now, the foundation is stepping up again to help the world’s multitudes in crisis with an over $8 million (€7.3 million) give to Oxfam.  

The grant launches a three-year program to “ensure local humanitarian actors in Bangladesh and Uganda are able to cope more effectively with crises, from severe flooding to large numbers of refugees fleeing conflict.” Oxfam will use the funds to provide basic needs, including water, sanitation, food, shelter and money. But there’s another long-term goal, here.

The global humanitarian ecosystem is broken, or at the very least, overstretched. Especially considering the U.N.'s multi-year, multi-billion-dollar funding shortfalls and the fact that donation pledges are slow to roll in—as of June 2016, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan or 3RP, had only received a measly 30 percent of its $4.55 billion funding requirements. As if the money problem couldn’t get any worse, the state of the global humanitarian system all but ignores local organizations, which only receive about 0.2 percent of funding dollars.

But it's often local groups that find themselves on the front lines of refugee problems, as throngs of people needing help show up in communities bordering conflict zones.

Ikea and Oxfam’s new partnership is addressing this challenge by facilitating collaboration between country- and district-level agencies, helping local groups develop tools and resources to better handle emergency and disaster situations, direct cash programs, and arrange peer learning opportunities. The program will also help local NGOs set up monitoring and financial management systems. Oxfam has also committed to increase its humanitarian funding directed at local agencies from 20 percent to 30 percent by 2018.

For its part, the Ikea Foundation has always been a nimble and responsive disaster and refugee funder. Regarding this latest gift, Per Heggenes, CEO of the foundation, said: “Local organizations are often better placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture.”