Since Russia invaded Ukraine, over 4 million Ukrainians have fled their country in the largest mass-European exodus since World War II. Inside the country, as many as 6.5 million are internally displaced. The United Nations estimates that a minimum of $100 billion worth of infrastructure – buildings, roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, and more – have been destroyed.
After years of developing remote technology and literacy, companies are in a unique position to help, even if they are not on the ground in Ukraine. We brought together experts from The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Twilio, Airbnb.org, and Unity to discuss how they are responding to the crisis.
This is an ongoing issue that continues to unfold at a rapid pace. Come to the Community Social Forum to discuss company relief efforts in real time.
Watch the webinar or read the recap below to learn more about…
Ukraine on the Ground: Insight from the Norwegian Refugee Council
We had the opportunity to hear from Sean Nicholson, the Executive Director of External Relations at The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), on the current crisis. This perspective is particularly valuable as the NRC is one of the leading organizations dedicated to rapid assistance for refugees, displaced people, and anyone who is forced to flee their home. Committed to rapid response, the NRC's global provider of expertise, NORCAP, includes 1,000 experts from all over the world who can be deployed within 72 hours. Currently working across 35 countries, NRC specializes in food security, education, shelter, legal assistance, camp management, as well as water and sanitation. One of the many ways that NRC faces these challenges is by partnering with corporations, such as Twilio, Cisco, and WhatsApp, to create technical solutions designed for specific circumstances.
During our session, Nicholson shared additional insights into how companies can evaluate and support the Ukrainian crisis specifically. Here are some quick takeaways:
Needs Change Quickly by Area and Over Time
The situation on the ground is changing quickly. Nicholson reported that this crisis is the fastest and most digitally driven displacement they've seen as an organization.
For example, the first wave of displaced people consisted of younger and more wealthy women and children. Currently, there are more older populations fleeing. Each of these groups has different needs and concerns.
Organizations can give or support nonprofits that help people in the Ukraine directly or those in neighboring countries such as Poland or Romania that receive an influx of fleeing people. For example, the NRC recently opened a housing center in Warsaw that can house 2,000+ people a night.
Short-Term and Long-Term Perspective
Nicholson divides relief strategy into two periods: the immediate short term and the strategy over the next three years.
In the short term, providing refugees with housing, sustenance, and cash is crucial. However, other services – such as translation, legal services, psychological health, and technological access – are also in high demand. Infrastructure will be a key concern over the coming years.
Economic repercussions for other countries should also not be ignored. For example, Nicholson shared that many parts of North Africa, a region currently experiencing severe drought and famine, rely on Ukraine and Russia for a vast majority of their wheat supplies. Neighboring countries, such as Moldova, Romania, and Poland are also facing capacity issues as housing, food, and oil prices rise dramatically.
Case Studies: What's Currently Working
Companies and organizations are in a unique position to assist in this humanitarian crisis. After the global COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, businesses have more digital assets and remote capabilities than ever before. Here's how Twilio, Airbnb.org, and Unity are using the power of their products and networks for good:
The Biggest Takeaway: Partnerships Amplify Impact
One of the most significant takeaways from this webinar is something that we call "the power of we." When companies leverage the power of multiple relationships — their ecosystems, their employees, their partners, their executive teams — that's when the most impact is achieved. Nicholson put it best:
"Ask yourself: who can you partner with? Going in for yourself is nice, but going in for a plan with a group of people that has a sort of systems-thinking impact will be far more valuable."
- Sean Nicholson, Executive Director of External Relationships, Norwegian Resource Center
Each of these companies leverages the power of their industry partners, employees, customers, and more to deliver the maximum impact for nonprofits.
Ecosystem Partnerships: Twilio Taps WhatsApp for Real-Time Needs Assessment & Mapping
Twilio, an API provider for communication systems such as SMS, voice, email, and video, has a long history of supporting people in crisis. But the unique needs in Ukraine required them to expand their existing product in an entirely different way.
The NRC needed to communicate with people directly on the ground to assess their most pressing needs. Since most Ukrainians use WhatsApp to communicate, Twilio needed to create a solution that was built into the already-existing platforms. As Devin Brooks, Program Manager of Crisis Response at Twilio, explains:
Twilio's solution? Work with WhatsApp to expand the product to serve the community's most pressing needs.
This partnership allowed Twilio to build a product where refugees could send a WhatsApp message to the NRC requesting food, shelter, supplies, and more.
Twilio then used their matchmaking skills to connect the NRC to Zing and Red Rose. Collectively, these organizations helped develop a real-time "heat map" that displayed what needs were most pressing where. This technology takes the NRC's needs assessment capabilities to the next level so that they can provide the most relevant assets to the right places at the right times.
Customer Partnerships: Airbnb.org Harnesses Their Product and Grassroots Community Efforts
Like Twilio, Airbnb.org has provided disaster relief for years. Their first efforts to host displaced people came from a host request to open her home for free to victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It was a very grassroots response; employees hacked together a quick solution that eventually developed into a full-fledged program.
The Airbnb nonprofit has since funded housing during national disasters and other displacement events, including for tens of thousands of COVID-19 first responders. Today, Airbnb.org has committed to funding temporary housing for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Over 40,000 new hosts have signed up for Airbnb just to provide housing for the Ukraine housing crisis.
On the product side, another grassroots program is emerging. Renters on the Airbnb.com website, separate from Airbnb.org, started booking empty listings in the hardest hit areas of the Ukraine as a way to donate directly to those who lost their homes.
Internal & Employee Partnerships: Unity Looks Inward to Support the Ukraine
Unity, a technology that empowers people to create 2-D or 3-D video games across platforms, has a strong company and community presence in the Ukraine. So when the company developed its crisis response strategy, they considered all parties, including employees.
Unity's first priority was employee safety and they have worked to provide emergency visas and housing to their colleagues based in Ukraine. In addition, the company also provided a way for employees not in harm's way to support their peers: they launched a matching gift program where each employee's donation was matched 3X (2X by the company and another 1X personally from CEO John Riccitiello).
Unity then turned its eyes to the wider Ukrainian developer and gamer community. In addition to product donations, the company launched a fast-track application for future employees to help secure an income. Since the United Nations estimates that up to 90% of the Ukrainian population could face extreme economic vulnerability after the violence ceases, these opportunities could be invaluable to the community.
Tell Us About You
How is your company thinking about the Ukrainian or similar humanitarian crises? What ways could you leverage your wider network for good? Any case studies or resources that we should know about? Come to the Community Social Forum to share your thoughts and chat with the speakers!