The Syrian refugee crisis is both simple and complex. It's simple because a few million displaced people are suffering terribly and need the most basic kinds of help: food, water, shelter, and medical care. It's complex because it's unfolding in a dangerous, unstable part of the world that many funders would rather stay far away from. And it's not clear how or when this refugee crisis might ultimately end.
So it is that most top U.S foundations and corporate philanthropies haven't lifted a finger to address one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent decades. But there have been exceptions, as we've reported, and we love to spotlight those funders. Most recently, Western Union and UPS have stepped up efforts to help Syrian refugees.
At the end of last year, the Western Union Foundation made a $1.8 million commitment to support education initiatives around the world. The foundation recently made good a big portion of that commitment with a $600,000 grant to support UNICEFs ongoing work with Syrian refugees through the Western Union Education for Better Fund. Education for Better offers “...support to UNICEF programs that provide education for children in and around Syria whose schooling has been disrupted.”
The Education for Better Fund was launched a few years ago, by both Western Union and its philanthropic arm. The fund provides a one-to-one consumer donation match (up to $100,000) to support UNICEF education programs for Syrian children.
UPS looked to more immediate logistical needs of the region, providing more than $1 million of grant funding to UNICEF. UPS also delivered loads of material goods and in-kind support including the delivery of 20,000 winter clothing kits to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Iraq and 220,000 pounds of emergency aid to the region including health kits, education kits, water and sanitation supplies, and ready-to-use therapeutic food.
UNICEF is one of the world’s top relief agencies, but it's dependent on the largesse of outside donors. Last year, the organization sought out a little over $800 million for to support its ongoing operations in Syria and affected neighboring countries. Sadly, it has only received about 10 percent of that $800 million ask so far this year. So while Western Union’s $600,000 and UPS’s $1 million and in-kind assistance are no doubt greatly appreciated, the vast majority of funders continue to drop the ball in Syria.
Last October, we wondered if funders were going to pick up the pace of their collective funding toward the growing Syrian refugee crisis and we saw some pretty promising grants from top U.S. foundations like the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s $1.2 million and Open Society Foundations' $1 million in grants toward ongoing aid efforts in the region. But that initial promise, which we thought may turn into an increase in funding, has yet to ensue. In fact, the reverse seems to be occurring.
According to António Guterres, head of the United Nations refugee agency, “This is the worst humanitarian crisis of our era should be galvanizing a global outcry of support, but instead, help is dwindling.”
The crisis continues to grow, and with an estimated 14 million children impacted, you would think that human suffering on such a massive scale would be front and center for U.S. funders by now, like Ebola was last fall. Apparently not.