At Causecast, we are frequently collaborating with corporate social responsibility leaders on how to build memorable, impactful philanthropy opportunities into their employee benefit programs. I’ve heard countless wonderful ideas for 2016, but there’s one workplace volunteering activity that I’m most excited to watch flourish in the new year: refugee kitting events.
The 5-year civil war and subsequent mass exodus of Syrians from their home into Europe and North America has claimed more than 200,000 lives and driven out 4.3 million people- the equivalent of the entire state of Kentucky. Another estimated 6.5 million civilians are currently displaced within Syria, and very few international organizations operate within its borders.
While our leaders on Capitol Hill argue relentlessly over policies that will determine which survivors can enter our country, we can all agree on one thing: these people need our help in any capacity in which we can supply it, and they need it now.
Companies across America aren’t waiting for an executive order to take action. They’ve realized their moral obligation to use their plentiful resources to help refugees, and they’re partnering with International Medical Corps to carry out their good intentions.
International Medical Corps (IMC) is a global humanitarian nonprofit that trains locals to be their own first responders to natural disasters, conflicts and disease outbreaks by creating self-reliant, self-sustaining medical services and infrastructure in places that had previously been lacking such resources. I like to think of them as the Kiva of disaster response.
As one of the only American nonprofits operating in Syria, IMC is one of the most qualified organizations to design a domestic volunteering program that will directly sustain the lives and dignity of Syrian refugees. So in 2015, as the effects of the crisis surmounted, IMC piloted a volunteer program that called companies to gather and assemble hygiene kits within their own respective offices. The kits consisted of items including tooth brushes, combs, Band Aids, feminine hygiene products, and hand towels that the companies bought in bulk. All finished kits were sent to the IMC warehouse in Kansas City and then distributed to refugees around the world.
TOMS Shoes was one of the first companies to host an IMC kitting event last summer in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20th. Within a few hours, the Los Angeles-based company had assembled more than 700 hygiene kits to donate to Somali refugees in Ethiopia. In doing so, TOMS demonstrated a commitment to social good that transcended their famous “One For One” model and inspired employees and companies to follow suit.
So why am I so excited about this activity more than all of the other fantastic ideas I’ve heard? One reason is because it has the potential to be a hybrid of workplace giving and volunteering, making it that much more engaging.
With shipping costs included, each kit costs $6-7 dollars. It’s not always easy for companies, particularly early-stage startups, to squeeze this into their budget. But by incentivizing employees to crowdfund among their peers, friends and families, companies achieve four things:
- Ensures high participation levels at the event — By getting the kitting event on the calendar early and giving employees something to raise money for in the meantime, your team will feel more personally invested in the activity and actually show up on the volunteer day. By integrating a crowdfunding component, your company prevents it from turning into a vague volunteer opportunity employees will likely let shrivel up in the deep depths of the cluttered inboxes. Of course, this isn’t always the case- some companies do have the budget to make hundreds of volunteer kits! But boosting the impact by incorporating crowdfunding couldn’t hurt…
- Allows room for healthy workplace competition — Some companies with small kitting event budgets this year are setting up competitions between internal departments to see which one can raise the most money for the supplies. The winners are awarded with things like extra time off, pizza parties, and more. Competition in the workplace is always good when collaboration is the common denominator!
- Generates positive buzz in the community — The number one reason people give to a cause is because someone asked them to. By giving your employees something meaningful to share with their networks, you’re giving them a platform to talk about how purpose-driven their company is — ultimately helping your recruitment, retention and branding efforts.
- Makes a true impact — The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the most complex, pressing problems facing our global community today. By partnering with a nonprofit that is saving lives in the actual trenches of this conflict, companies are doing more than just making a statement about their commitment to leverage business to drive positive, social change- they’re acting on their intention.
Aside from the obvious benefits I’ve laid out, I’m excited to see this program take off in the new year because, frankly, IMC is absolutely, positively fantastic…and I have proof:
- They’re established — They’ve been saving lives for 32 years. Most recently they were recognized as one of the most influential forces in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa and the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.
- Their donors make a huge impact — Each dollar that is donated to IMC is matched with $30 from outside grants. So if you give $34 dollars to IMC (the cost of one of your habitual Sunday brunches), you’re actually giving $1000 dollars!
- They’re backed by some pretty awesome people — If you need further proof, check out the impressive list of First Responders here.
It’s these innovative, cross-sector ideas such as kitting events that allow organizations like IMC to continue to do their job in the face of uncertainty and political inaction. Startups in particular tend to consist of the intelligent, tenacious individuals who are well-equipped to lead this sort of charge. There’s no time to waste when it comes to laying the groundwork for a brighter future for these survivors and their children, so let’s do what we do best as a startup community: make good things happen.
Audrey Zigmond is a proud "San Francitizen" with a love for all things social enterprise, female empowerment, oceans and Brazilian studies. As the Marketing Manager at Causecast, Audrey works to share the stories of companies and nonprofits who have joined forces in innovative ways to create irresistible workplaces and happy, healthy communities. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.