Day two of the 2016 Global Philanthropy Forum


Alecia Foster


Meeting the needs of the displaced – Thinking long term.

Deogratias ‘Deo’ Niyizonkiza was forced to flee Burundi in the early 1990s after war broke out between the Hutus and Tutsis. Many of the things he witnessed along the way were unspeakable. After spending time in a camp, he was relocated to the United States where things didn’t get any easier – he ended up homeless and plagued by feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Niyizonkiza’s luck changed, he said, when he met a few people who opened their hearts and their doors to him. Their willingness to help made all the difference in the world. He went on to attend Columbia University, Dartmouth and Harvard and now gives back to the people of Burundi through his organization, Village Health Works.

‘When people really get together to restore hope, you can bring someone back to life,’ he said.

But not all refugees are as lucky as Niyizonkiza – many never make it out of a camp, let alone are relocated to another country. In fact, the average number of years spent in a refugee camp is 20. In Kenya’s Dadaab camp, there are 10,000 children whose grandparents arrived as refugees, said Sasha Chanoff, founder and executive director for RefugePoint. ‘This is an unsustainable situation,’ he said.

Indeed, this longevity again highlighted the need for organizations to transition their thinking from emergency response to development and infiltrated several conversations on day two of the Global Philanthropy Forum’s annual conference.

Providing job skill training to refugees and displaced persons and helping them find work are two of the ways organizations are helping address some of the long-term needs. Organizations like ReBoot Kamp, for example are teaching coding and putting people to work. Others like Talent Beyond Borders are developing a program that would match skilled workers in the camps with job needs around the world.

But laws can often stand in the way to helping refugees and displaced persons find work and transition out of the camps. Emily Arnold-Fernandez, executive director of Asylum Access, has worked in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Ecuador and Tanzania to try and change that. The process has been long and slow, she said. The organization began working in Tanzania on changes since 2010 and Arnold-Fernandez expects that it will be another year or two before any change takes place. They have had success in places like Ecuador, however, where the organization helped 250,000 refugees gain asylum and work rights in 2008. Interestingly enough, she said, while the rest of the world slipped into a recession, Ecuador’s economy grew in the five years following that change.

More needs to be done, however. ‘We need domestic advocacy if these barriers are ever to come down,’ she said.  This is an area philanthropy can help in – funding organizations on the ground to advocate for these changes. Patient capital is key as these changes won’t happen overnight.

Alecia Foster is grants programs manager at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.


Tagged in: 2016 GPF Conference

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