The ongoing refugee crisis represents an unprecedented challenge. In 2015 alone, more than a million migrants and refugees made the journey into Europe, across land and sea, all in search of a better future. According to the UN, a further one million are expected to make the same journey in 2016.
Doctors of the World UK, the healthcare charity I work for, has been on the frontline of delivering medical aid to refugees across the region. We are part of the international Médecins du Monde network, which works in Calais, across Greece and the Balkans, and in all the major destination countries for refugees. But what role has business played?
It is true that unrestricted financial donations are the best way for a charity to receive support, allowing for flexibility and speed when directing funds to where the need is greatest. But in the past year we have also benefited from a variety of creative and impactful non-financial support for our refugee aid programme from business.
Business delivering vital support
A leading European supermarket chain recently donated and shipped over 5,000 items of brand-new winter clothing with a value of £21,500 to our relief programme in Greece. For those arriving in Lesbos on flimsy boats, soaked to the bone, with no shelter and facing a harsh winter these clothes are vital.
This month, a major London transport company donated six powerful generators that had been replaced by newer models to groups helping refugees in Calais. Doctors of the World will use two to power a new permanent structure for healthcare consultations, while the remaining four will support projects by other community groups, including a children’s centre and an internet hub.
Support from business has also come in less traditional forms. ‘We Are Impero’, a creative digital agency, donated their time and talents to develop an interactive ‘Refugees Welcome’ map at the height of the #RefugeesWelcome trend. The map, which plotted supportive refugee crisis tweets on a map of Europe, was fantastic content for us to share with our supporters. It also received coverage in publications in the technology sector that would not normally cover our work.
As well as raising awareness, web technology can also have very practical benefits for refugees and over the next few weeks Doctors of the World will be launching a new web-application called ClinicFinder, developed pro-bono by the CEO of ReliefWatch, which will help refugees find the nearest free to access, non-governmental healthcare provider wherever they are in Europe.
Not just moral sense, but business sense
It’s clear that becoming part of the effort to relieve the suffering of refugees does not make just moral sense, but business sense. Indeed, where DHL UK is offering cheaper shipping rates to refugee organisations, this is also new business for them. Where Cisco (through NetHope) is installing Wi-Fi in refugee camps, their employees are learning new skills in new, often difficult environments.
Some companies I’ve spoken to are concerned about the potential negative public perception of helping refugees and migrants. However, what we have experienced as charity working on the frontline of the crisis should dispel any of these concerns.
We could not have predicted the incredible outpouring of support from the UK general public over the past 12-months and, unsurprisingly, last year was our most successful year ever for public donations. The recent Guardian Christmas Refugee Appeal, of which we were one of six refugee charity beneficiaries, raised a record-breaking £2.5m from reader donations. Grassroots volunteer groups have raised millions between them from their local communities to aid their own independent efforts.
For me, there is no debate. This is the challenge of our times and companies, just as the general public have shown, have a key role to play.
Companies must now think about how they will use their skills, knowledge and influence to look back on 2016 and remember what they did to relieve the suffering of those who simply want a life free of conflict, crisis and persecution for their families.