Jet skis as a form of philanthropy?

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in the beginning of year 2016, there was a shortage of $3.5 billion in funding available for the provision of even basic services for refugees. The Syrian refugee crisis, in particular, stayed at the center of many conferences and conversations this year. One prominent theme at the Global Philanthropy Forum 2016 was the challenge of providing jobs and economic opportunities for refugees, which prevents refugees from achieving self-sufficiency and stability. The problem is compounded when the move is cross-country and a result of war. The newly migrated population often finds itself in a poorly resourced community with no schools, no colleges, and no jobs. How do you then enable the host country help these refugees rebuild their lives? 
 
Government and businesses alike have a key role to play here particularly given the enormity and scope of this challenge. Needless to say, like any other underserved population, refugees do not need just short-term interventions. We need to think about what will enable them to rebuild their countries. Two of the most obvious answers are access to quality education (can this be done better? At a larger scale through online universities?) and employment training and job opportunities. 
 
The recently held 5th Global GRI Conference  echoed the same thoughts. Economic security for all is the pathway to rehabilitation and stability. Among many sweeping ideas focused on creating educational and work opportunities for migrants was reassessing what we ask of future employees and how we measure it. University of the People  founder Shai Reshef argued that instead of vague requirements like ‘number of years of work experience’ or ‘college/graduate degree’, employers should ask for specific skills and proficiency levels. This is something particularly relevant in the case of cross-border immigration where the university or even the degree from the country of origin may not be familiar to the host country. In many instances individuals are not able to finish college before they are forced to flee, but may still have the necessary employment skills. For example, social scientists Betts and Collier have put forth a proposal that would allow Syrian refugees to work in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Jordan, helping them rebuild their lives while supporting the economy of the host country. 
 
We saw some commitment closer home when the White House announced a new initiative called the Partnership for Refugees, which aims to have the private sector get directly involved in providing resources for refugees in the United States. Education, infrastructure, access to the Internet and jobs are key focus areas for this collaboration. In response to the White House’s call to action, over 50 companies, including Chipotle, Starwood Hotels, Microsoft, and Chobani, have committed to address the global refugee crisis through actions including access to online certification courses, scholarships, technology solutions, housing, cash and technology donations.  
 
Another theme heard repeatedly this year, including at the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) and the Social Innovation Summit, is that philanthropy needs to be willing to take more risks. Today we are facing the biggest natural and man-made crises and the solutions do not seem obvious. It will take innovation and commitment to address these mammoth problems; and innovation involves taking risks and failing. Amy Rao, board member of the Human Rights Watch and CEO & Founder of Integrated Archive Systems, present at the GPF, narrated her experience of having to make a quick decision on whether she could help fund $12,000 to bring two jet skis needed to rescue refugees sailing on over-crowded boats from Syria to Greece. This was unconventional and risky, but it ended up saving the lives of thousands of refugees. Just as failure and risk-taking are accepted in the world of business, philanthropists need to be more comfortable with exploring unconventional solutions to challenging issues. 
 
Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz’s foundation Good Ventures talks openly about its thinking process and the risks it is willing to take in the search for effective models of philanthropy and to find intervention models that work. The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, too, has shared about its success and failures with different interventions. 
 
The writing on the wall is clear; businesses and government have a big role in shaping the future of over 100 million refugees around the world. Let’s make sure that as community organizations we are willing to experiment with new ideas, and as investors we are more open-minded to supporting these creative solutions. 
 
"Some look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that are not and ask why not?"
— Robert Kennedy
 
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