UNHCR and Kickstarter could be the “A-Team” for refugee aid

UNHCR kickstarter

A special Kickstarter campaign invites you to aid the ballooning Middle Eastern refugee crisis, with all proceeds going directly to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The one-week fundraiser was launched on Tuesday in response to a question posed by President Barack Obama: could crowdfunding incite Americans to get more involved in refugee relief?  White House staffers raised the concept to Kickstarter CEO, Yancey Strickler, who told the Guardian, “I immediately said yes.”

“This is not something we’ve ever done before. We’ve always focused strictly on creative projects,” Strickler said, “But in this instance, it’s a call from the White House. And feeling, like a lot of people, overwhelmed by the immensity of this situation, we felt compelled to act, and if our product could provide any path forward for the people, we should do that.”

UNHCR kickstarter campaign for refugeesCrowdfunding websites have helped boost development of creative eco-solutions including soccer balls that convert kinetic energy into electricity, unusual water conservation products such as “Drop A Brick”, and documentary filmmaking to raise awareness of critical environmental issues.  Kickstarter’s foray into humanitarian aid could transform charitable giving. At least the project is raising awareness.

In addition to raising money (as of this posting, they raised more than $760,000 USD), the partnership with UNHCR will also direct-deliver aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees making their way into Europe from Syria and in intermediary refugee camps. Donations will go towards life-saving equipment including tents; emergency rescue kits of water, food and warm clothing; sleeping bags, thermal mattresses and sleeping mats; and foster care and counselling.

This isn’t typical Kickstarter. Any amount of donation is accepted. They’ve waived their all-or-nothing funding policy wherein only projects that meet stated fundraising targets get to keep the money raised. There are no enticing rewards for donors (at least, not tangible ones), and the company is donating 100% of their usual fee to the aid effort.  All donations are USA tax-deductible.

For months, we’ve all watched waves of refugees, driven from home by violence and war. They travel on foot and through open water in unsafe boats carrying tiny children and whatever they can fit into backpacks, seeking safety in whichever foreign land that will accept them. An estimated half a million Syrian asylum seekers have arrived in Europe so far in 2015, and 800,000 or more will arrive by year’s end – most of whom are children. Conflict has displaced an estimated 11.6 million people in the past five years. This crisis is evolving and is undeniably urgent.

UNHCR is responsible to give aid and shelter, reunite families, and support people as they struggle to build new lives. The agency is chronically overburdened and underfunded. The agency is almost entirely funded by direct, voluntary contributions – the bulk of it from donor nations. Non-governmental organizations and private sector corporations, trusts, and foundations also contribute. A small annual subsidy from the United Nations goes towards administrative costs. But it’s not enough.

The United States government has spent $4 BIL on security, fresh water and food for Syrian refugees living in camps outside the country. Click here to read more and donate. Watch to see what regular people can do.

Image from UNHCR/A.McConnell

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