Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general, says the global refugee crisis is “one of the defining challenges of the 21st century, but the response of the international community has been a shameful failure.” We at IP have also been pretty critical of philanthropy's failure to confront this human misery of epic dimensions. While the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) spotlights refugee issues through its annual World Refugee Day Campaign, this year a $3.5 billion funding shortfall remains.
Even with all of the facts and figures readily available, many funders continue to turn a blind eye to the plight of global refugees. However, just as we’ve been critical of organizations ignoring the crisis, we’ve also been quick to highlight those that are paying attention. A big funder in this space is the Ikea Foundation.
Over the past few years, the Ikea Foundation has been ramping up its funding in a big way. Just last year, the foundation increased its giving by 21 percent to total around $140 million. That money was awarded to organizations working in Ikea’s four priority areas of disaster response and relief, empowering women and girls, fighting against child labor and for children’s rights, and helping refugee children and their families.
Refugees are a major point of funding interest for the foundation, which has made substantial donations to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and other refugee organizations. These donations include $95 million to provide shelter, care and education for refugee children and their families in Ethiopia, Sudan and Bangladesh, and around $70 million to help the UNHCR assist 120,000 Somali refugees who had recently arrived at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.
With that kind of money flying out the door, you might think that the Ikea Foundation would put its refugee funding on the shelf for a bit. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The UNHCR recently received a nearly $42 million grant from the Ikea Foundation to support the organization’s refugee work in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. The biggest portion of the grant, a little over $36 million, will support refugee programs in Ethiopia, including help for host communities. Ethiopia has been flooded with refugees from South Sudan since fighting began in that country in late 2013. The remaining funds will support refugee programs in Burkina Faso’s Sahel Region.
The Ikea grant addresses the immediate needs of refugee populations, including the funding of clean and renewable energy sources for lighting and cooking. However, the major focus of the grant money will be on supporting the future needs of the refugee populations, including job training, agricultural development and small businesses.
Salil Shetty refers to the flow of displaced human beings as “the worst refugee crisis of our era.” And in Syria alone, where the crisis is perhaps the worst, international NGO Mercy Corps referred to the Syrian civil war as “the worst humanitarian disaster of our time,” with the UN predicting that by the end of this year, the number of Syrian refugees alone may reach 4.27 million.
A key thing to remember about the Ikea Foundation is that its giving is tied to the company’s profits. Ikea, the company, is committed to giving away at least 3 percent of its profits annually. And those profits—which reached record numbers in 2013—have been on a slow and steady rise over the past couple of years. That uptick in the company's fortunes, and its giving, could hardly be more timely, given the steady growth in the refugee crisis over recent years.