If a disaster, such as civil war or famine, appears imminent, the International Rescue Committee reaches out to its network of donors—including governments of the United States, Sweden, and Switzerland—who are able to write checks quickly. Security experts at the IRC monitor the region and decide when and how to send in an emergency response team.
After creating immediate shelters, IRC ground crews move quickly to provide water, sanitation, medical treatment, and nonfood items (like weather-related gear) to prevent the outbreak of disease.
At this stage, cash is king. The IRC provides refugees with enough money, either as donations or payment for work done, to help them purchase what they require most: food, clothing, and household supplies. "[Money] gives those affected by the crisis the decision-making power and dignity to choose what their family really needs and to shop as normal people," says director of emergency response Bob Kitchen.
The IRC begins working with refugees to establish a home away from home, building schools to provide children with a sense of
routine, aiding women with family planning, and meeting regularly with community leaders to figure out the refugees’ needs. "You need to build trust," says Kitchen. Which takes time. "We spend hours explaining who we are as an organization and what we’re there to do."
On average, people remain refugees for 17 years. Some stay and build lives as near as possible to their home countries. Others head to Europe or one of the IRC’s 29 resettlement cities in the United States, where they get jobs, learn the local language, and apply for social services. Last fall, the IRC launched a new website, refugeeinfo.eu, that educates refugees about their rights and explains how to apply for asylum in the European Union.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.