“The business of business is business.” Milton Friedman’s credo sees social problems as the problems of society—and business separate from society.
But business does not just benefit society. It depends on it. And in today’s global village, when the globe is more interconnected than ever before, that applies on a global scale. So, when governments are in retreat from big global problems, business has the responsibility to step up, not just as a matter of charity but out of self-interest.
Humanitarian crisis provides a classic case study. There are 70.8 million people (refugees and internally displaced people) who are displaced by conflict and crisis—a record high. Not only are more people displaced than ever before, they’re displaced for longer periods of time: Nearly 80% of refugees are now in protracted situations.
At this critical moment, when governments are needed to double their efforts and response, they are actively stepping back. Humanitarian crisis is the product of political failure. But untended crises lead to more political instability, so business has self-interest in stepping up. For example, over half of refugees are under the age of 18. They are future consumers, talent, business owners, change-makers. Crisis and conflict are preventing them from attending school, entering the workforce, building new markets, and reaching their full potential.
We also know that employees and consumers expect CEOs and companies to champion positive social change. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, “76% of people agree that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.” The findings note that this expectation also translates to employees and prospective talent, with 67% of employees expecting future employers to actively join them in advocating for social issues. Companies that do build stronger trust with their employees are rewarded with greater commitment (83%), advocacy (78%), and loyalty (74%).
NGOs need to be ready to step up with business, and NGOs understand that emergency work is not just short-term. When the International Rescue Committee (IRC)—where I am president and CEO—responds to a crisis, the immediate priority is to save people’s lives, but we also know that we need to help our clients build sustainable futures. The emergencies in Syria or the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are not short-term. We cannot tackle them with short-term grants. We need long-term partnerships. And business can help.
We think about business as a potential 360-degree partner. Financial support is very welcome—but sustainable impact depends on more. When I am talking to businesses about how they can help rise to the challenge of the refugee crisis, I talk about four contributions.
Do the day job
Encourage refugees to apply for jobs in industrialized countries like the U.S. and Germany, and maintain your investments in developing countries like Ethiopia coping with refugee crisis. A great example is Intel, which implemented a program with the IRC to train refugees in Germany in the skills needed to secure entry-level jobs in programming, data entry, and other IT skills.
Lend us your skills
Combining the specific knowledge and resources of a company with the technical and programming expertise of an NGO can lead to innovative programs with sustainable economic outcomes that otherwise would not be possible without a partnership. Law services, technology, marketing, strategy—business knows its business and we can benefit.
Use your voice
Politics responds to forces of division and isolation, but it also responds to voices of inclusion and humanity. When business looks like it is selfish, it adds to the problem. When it speaks up for globalization that is inclusive and responsible, it is part of the solution.
Make long-term commitments
Multiyear financial commitment helps NGOs build up the capacity for long-term impact and innovation. While short-term humanitarian programming provides basic needs, the private sector can play an integral role in helping refugees rebuild their lives in the long-term. Through economic programming such as job training, workforce development, and grants to support new businesses, the private sector can help build the workforce of tomorrow. We can get to the people around the Earth’s “last miles.” But we need to find new ways to support people there. Business can help.
NGOs and the private sector have a lot to learn from and offer one another. Humanitarian NGOs like the IRC understand working in crisis settings and developing and implementing evidence-based programs that deliver results in some of the most fragile contexts on earth. The private sector understands long-term investment, creating markets, and working quickly to address changes and challenges. By collaborating with one another and sharing our respective insights, we can create partnerships that deliver real impact for the world’s most vulnerable and create stronger communities for us all.
By working with NGOs, businesses have an opportunity to make a real impact on a crisis that’s in need of solutions at a time when governments are abdicating their responsibility. Commit your funds, resources, and expertise to creating a more stable world for us all. It’s a smart investment, and together we can create long-lasting solutions.