Finally: New Data Shows That Private Funders Have Stepped Up Giving for the Syrian Crisis

Development Initiatives, which focuses on how data can help end extreme poverty, has released its most recent Global Humanitarian Assistance Report. A major highlight of the report is that private donors have been stepping up in a bigger way to address the ongoing human suffering due to the Syrian refugee crisis. As these things tend to go, though, good news is tempered by some not-so-good news.

First, let’s dig into what’s good. The Syria crisis reportedly received the most money in terms of private funding dollars in 2015. This amounted to six percent of total humanitarian funding that year, and was triple the amount targeting the crisis in 2014. Additionally, that number is likely to be higher. According to the report, “...the contribution of domestic and private sector actors is largely absent from this global calculation as is direct giving between individuals.” So there’s more money out there, but the report’s methodology is limited to the 287 NGOs reporting to the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs Financial Tracking Service (UN OCHA FTS).

Last year's big bump in funding comes after numerous calls for the global community to do more in response to the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history. Any reader of Inside Philanthropy will know that we've been among those banging the drum.  

The Ikea, UPS, and Western Union foundations are just a few of the donor mainstays in this space—work which we’ve covered at length. As well, the Conrad Hilton Foundation, which has historically been attuned to the alleviation of widespread human suffering across the globe, is dialed in here as well. Last year, Hilton awarded five grants for just under $3 million specifically earmarked for Syrian refugees. Its most recent give, $1.9 million awarded at the end of 2015, went to support education for Syrian refugee children living in Turkey.


There have also been a few surprise donors that have jumped in lately to help as well. I would be remiss here if I didn’t bring up Hamdi Ulukaya and Sezgin Baran Korkmaz. Ulukaya,the Turkish-born founder of Chobani yogurt, pledged $2 million to the UNHCR and IRC the aid Syrian refugees. Turkish businessman and philanthropist, Sezgin Baran Korkmaz donated $20 million to Relief International in support its five-year plan to provide humanitarian relief to children impacted by the ongoing conflict in Syria. 

Also worth mentioning is the philanthropic arm of the global financial services firm JP Morgan Chase & Company, which doesn’t typically support global humanitarian relief efforts, but pledged up to $2 million last yearin support of various INGOs that are providing lifesaving resources such as food, water, and medical support to refugees arriving in Europe and the Middle East.


Also noteworthy, in April of this year, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria contributed just over $400,000 to the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), a consolidated leadership framework that addresses the needs of Syrian refugee host communities in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.

A final note on the good news front is the notable overall shift in private sector priorities in the humanitarian funding space. Historically, private funders have “responded more generously to sudden onset emergencies,” such as those cause by natural disasters or events like the recent El Nino weather pattern and the Ebola crisis, than they have to “protracted, conflict related crises.” Think about it. When the Ebola crisis hit, Paul Allen alone committed to at least $100 million to the crisis.

According to Development Initiative’s 2015 humanitarian assistance report from non-state donors, “The historical trend for private donors to respond more favorably to disasters caused by natural hazards than to conflict-driven emergencies has been interrupted by the Syria crisis,” which received the most reported private funding in 2015. That’s the kind of priorization we'd hope for. 

While there’s a lot of positive movement here, not all of the news is good. One of the most alarming patterns is the ongoing funding shortfall. Regardless of uptick in private donations, the UN is reporting a shortfall of nearly $9 billion, which represents 45 percent of all humanitarian funding appeals made by the organization.

In context of the Syria crisis, according to the UN OCHA FTS, only 26 percent of appeals are currently funded, leaving a shortfall of over $5.7 billion. There’s one small caveat here. According to the report, “...the majority of private funding for the Syria crisis was allocated outside of the UN coordinated appeals and was channeled through non-governmental organizations (NGOs).” This unlike funding received from governments, which is generally dedicated to UN appeals.

And while on the one hand, it’s good that Syria is one of the five crises that accounted for more than 50 percent of all funding—the other four crises included those in Yemen, South Sudan, Iraq, and Sudan—that means other global emergencies continue to fall by the wayside.

One other highlight of this data to note is that individual funders have been in the lead over recent years in responding to humanitarian crises. A 2010 to 2014 review of different private donor type revealed that donations from trust, foundations or the private sector accounted for around 31 percent of all private funding, while donations from individuals accounted for around 69 percent.

A last finding to note is that local NGOs—which often are on the front lines of helping refugees—received just 0.5 percent of all humanitarian aid funding in 2015. I’m not going to get too deep into that, as one of the results of the World Humanitarian Summit was a commitment by donors to increase funding to local agencies by 25 percent. We’ll have to see how that shakes out in the coming year.

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

So what’s does all of this mean?

Boiled down, I think there are two major takeaway’s here. First, more donors are definitely paying attention to the Syrian refugees crisis, as we've been hoping they would. This isn’t the only ongoing crisis taking place in the world, but it is arguably the largest. Syria by the way, received nearly one-third of total humanitarian aid funding in 2015.

Second, the humanitarian aid ecosystem is fractured and the old model doesn’t completely fit into today’s landscape. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s completely broken. Events like the World Humanitarian Summit and deep data dives like the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report are helping to highlight the need for an evolution in international humanitarian aid.

Related: Follow Up: Where the World Humanitarian Summit Shined and Where it Came Up Short

These events and reports aren’t magic bullets, but at the very least, they are highlighting what’s working and what’s not. And all this talk and all these numbers may not mean much in terms of immediately alleviating the suffering of the 65 million people around the world displaced by conflict or addressing the estimated $14.3 trillion (2014) in global economic loss due to conflict and violence—but it’s a start.