Are We Finally Making Significant Progress in the Global Refugee Crisis?

The short answer to the question is "no", the world is not really making significant progress in helping any large share of the 65 million people who are now displaced globally. But compared to when we first started covering this issue, the good news is coming at a faster clip and it often involves philanthropy. 

While the crisis has been marked broken promises, multi-billion dollar funding shortfalls thanks to unmet commitments by national governments, and general handwringing by the global community, lately more private funders have been stepping up to help in a big way.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, for example, has been a long-time supporter of ongoing global disasters. Although this is a very Greek-centric funder, it’s dialed into the refugee crisis not only on how it has impacted its home country, but the world as well. This is made crystal clear by the foundation’s recent big give to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Last month, Niarchos awarded IRC a $15 million grant over five years to support the humanitarian organization’s ongoing emergency response and relief efforts. Half of the funding will also go to back IRCs infrastructure programs. According to the press release, this is the largest grant it has received for such programs.

Related: A Funder Answering the Distress Call on Humanitarian Disasters Large and Small

The grant will reportedly “transform the IRCs organizational infrastructure systems and provide the critical resources needed to sustain the organization’s lifesaving emergency response work globally.” David Miliband, president and CEO of IRC also made an important point regarding the grant in that it will allow it to continue its global efforts “when the world’s attention has moved on to the next crisis.” Unfortunately, when it comes to global refugees, the world’s attention span has been pretty short and funding has been woefully scarce.

But, as I said, there are some big players stepping up in a major way here. Just one day after a high-level UN summit meeting on refugees was concluded in New York earlier this fall, billionaire George Soros penned on op-ed for the Wall Street Journal to talk about why he decided to invest $500 million in migrants, writing that while governments must take on a leading role in effectively addressing the crisis, “harnessing the power of the private sector is also critical.”

Related: With a Monster Pledge, a Glimpse of a New Direction for Soros

Soros is taking the much needed long view approach. The plan for his half-billion dollar investment is to have his team work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the IRC to first create the guiding principles of how his investments will be made. For now, Soros and company are focusing on pouring money into “startups, established companies, social impact initiatives, and business,” founded by refugees and migrants. Those investments will be owned by Soros’ Open Society Foundations and all profits will be reinvested into the foundations’ programs. A key goal here is to help inspire others in the private sector to become more involved in addressing the global refugee crisis. As we've reported, the role of corporate funders has been notable in the response to the refugee crisis. Most notable among them have been the philanthropic arms of UPS, Western Union, Cisco, Google, Vodafone, and IKEA. 

There are others, too. In response to the White House’s Call to Action on the global refugee crisis, more than 50 companies have committed to “investing, donating, or raising more than $650 million” for the Partnership for Refugees. Some highlights include Accenture’s $3 million in financial and in-kind support; Alight Fund’s pledge to raise some $100 million in microloan capital; and Goldman Sachs’ $7.5 million donation to help deliver critical aid including food, shelter, medical care, and children’s access to education.

Related: Will a World Summit Strike that Match that Lights the Humanitarian Funding Fire?

Although the Partnership for Refugees was established by the Department of State and USA for UNHCR and is supported by USAID, the Department of Homeland Security, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Commerce, it does not remain under government control. The Tent Foundation took control of the partnership’s operations and management on November 1 of this year.

Tent was established by Chobani Yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya—who had pledged $2 million to the UNHCR and the IRC to help bring aid to Syrian refugees—to “improve the lives and livelihoods of the 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced around the globe.”

Giving control of the Partnership for Refugees to Tent is a solid choice. This group also operates the Tent Alliance, a platform for the private sector to come together to help end the refugee crisis.