The Gates Foundation isn't well known for its grantmaking to support humanitarian relief efforts around the world, but it's actually a major player in this space. Which underscores a point we often make about Gates: even when this foundation does something on a scale that's small for them, its funding can loom large for NGOs.
Right now, it's a good thing that the Gates Foundation devotes a slice of its resources to humanitarian issues, with a record number of refugees in the world, many in desperate situations—yet with many foundations steering clear of this urgent challenge.
Throughout the year, Gates has supported refugee related humanitarian efforts in Syria and Iraq, and more recently lent a hand in helping those who have been displaced by the ongoing conflicts in South Sudan, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. Now, the foundation is turning its attention to the droves of people who are escaping violence and persecution in their home countries and fleeing for Europe.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation to support its response efforts related to the immediate needs of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe.
The grant comes out of the foundation’s Emergency Response program under its complex emergency relief strategy. This strategy involves awarding grants toward basic relief and support including food, water, healthcare, and shelter. According to the foundation, more often than not, these complex emergency grants “include an element of violent conflict and involve political and military forces and disruptions of national systems.”
While we applaud any funder that stands up and pays attention to refugees, it must be said that a $1 million grant to help the masses of displaced people crossing Europe’s borders by land and by sea is a pretty small drop in the bucket in the face of rising needs for emergency relief.
The European Commission is expecting some 3 million refugee arrivals by 2017, and no matter how many billions of dollars governments have pledged over that time, those amounts fall miserably short of what is needed. The UNHCR has been desperately begging private donors to close the breach here, but that agency has also been desperately trying to raise private funds to address other situations, as well.
Sure, the mighty Gates Foundation could be doing more, and hopefully it will. But the good news is that it definitely has been picking up the pace with its refugee-related funding. We're still wondering when more funders will join this push.