Now for Some Good News on Refugees: Big Soros Money Is Starting to Flow to Help the Displaced

With the United States moving to ban refugees from around the world, efforts to help these people where they are will now become even more important. No philanthropist is doing more on this front than George Soros. 

Toward the end of last year, Soros declared that the world's “collective failure” to help the tens of millions of refugees worldwide had “contributed greatly to human misery and political instability.” The hedge fund billionaire committed $500 million in private investment capital to “invest in startups, established companies, social impact initiatives, and businesses founded by migrants and refugees themselves.” 

That's some serious money. And now we're starting to get a better sense of how it will be used. 

It was recently announced that Soros and MasterCard—the company, not the foundation—have plans to embark on a joint project called Human Ventures. Human Ventures is described as an organization that “could catalyze and accelerate economic and social development for vulnerable communities around the world, especially refugees.”

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

Soros is expected to invest up to $50 million in Humanity Ventures, which will operate as a separate entity from MasterCard or any of Soros’ for-profit and nonprofit ventures.

Currently in its exploratory stages, Humanity Ventures plans to combine existing global health and development solutions to expand access to healthcare and education, as well as to improve local economic development and entrepreneurship. An additional goal of the organization is to improve the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Humanity Ventures is a for-profit outfit that will pour those profits into expanding its programs and hopefully to stimulate additional investments from outside donors. Another goal for the joint venture is to serve as a new blueprint for the public sector, private sector and citizens to improve the quality of life for marginalized populations. “We also hope,” Soros said, “to establish standards of practice to ensure that investments are not exploitative of the vulnerable communities we intend to serve.”

When Soros announced his $500 million pledge, he said he hoped, among other things, that it would inspire other billionaires to assist refugees.

In fact, very few wealthy donors have stood up to help alleviate this displacement and human misery, which today has a scale not seen since World War II. (Although foundations on the case include the UPS, Western Union, Cisco, Gates, and IKEA foundations.)

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

Another name on the short list of donors helping refugees is Hamdi Ulukaya, the billionaire founder of Chobani yogurt. In 2014, Ulukaya pledged $2 million to the UNHCR and the IRC to aid Syrian refugees. He also said, in joining the Giving Pledge in 2015, that "I am publicly committing the majority of my personal wealth... to help refugees and help bring an end to this humanitarian crisis."

Individuals and funders in the refugee space punch well above their weight. Especially since international appeals still aren’t faring so well, despite overwhelming needs. 

Last week, U.N. agencies and NGO partners made another appeal for $4.6 billion in new funding—in addition to the $3.4 billion that is already required—to address the “growing needs of refugees from Syria,” their host communities, and neighboring countries.

Whether that appeal will be met remains to be seen. The U.N., along with over 240 partners just launched the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for 2017 and 2018, and hard data on funding has not yet come in.

So far, the international response to the refugee crisis remains the same as it ever was—weak. Going into 2017 with funding hangovers from previous years makes it all the more urgent for individuals and NGOs alike to step up and fill the gap.

Needless to say, it doesn't help matters to have the president of the United States calling refugees dangerous, and shutting the door on their faces.