Companies can help themselves while helping refugees

Companies can help refugees“If given the necessary energy, private organizations around the world can make a huge difference in helping the refugee crisis.” These words came from CEO Steve Kaufer during an interview that aired earlier today on American business channel CNBC.

According to Kaufer, TripAdvisor has donated $14 million so far to provide food, shelter and resettlement support to refugees. The company launched a fundraising campaign in September 2015 that matches employee donations 2 to 1. Additionally, TripAdvisor employees can take up to five days off to volunteer in support of refugees. Company employees have travelled to Paris “to the local shelters helping to teach job training skills, building up resumes, offering computers that we’re not using in order to help the folks that are already in France get resettled in a better way,” said Kaufer.

In all likelihood, TripAdvisor will gain a PR dividend from its support to refugee assistance efforts. The CEO’s interview on CNBC is one example of the PR dividend, but there is more to this. As an online travel company, TripAdvisor’s clientele is better-travelled, more cosmopolitan and globally-minded than the average consumer. A message of supporting fellow humans through a difficult time will likely resonate with this client-base and improve loyalty. Furthermore, refugee populations themselves tend to be highly mobile and will probably use air travel or hotels at some point. Perhaps some of them will remember TripAdvisor’s kindness when they book their next flights to see displaced relatives and friends in other countries.

Google is another Silicon Valley company that has gotten involved in refugee relief efforts. The company has donated over $16 million so far. About two thirds of these funds went to support conventional humanitarian assistance activities. However, the remaining third, about $5.3 million, was used to finance the distribution of 25,000 Chromebook laptops to nonprofits working with Syrian refugees in Europe. The company hopes these laptops will facilitate access to education and linguistic training for the recent arrivals, which will ensure a smoother transition into their new lives.

Google’s initiative to distribute the laptops moves the company’s refugee relief efforts beyond pure philanthropy or marketing. It effectively aligns refugee assistance with the company’s core business objectives. There is no doubt that refugee lives will improve as a result of having access to the digital world through donated Chromebooks, but we should keep in mind another crucial fact. Facilitating refugees’ access to the web exposes them to Google products and services, which opens up the possibility of monetizing this market segment as it grows in wealth and influence.

The German initiative //Refugees on Rails takes this concept even a little further by building its entire business model around refugees. //RoR works with interested German organizations to allocate donated laptops to refugees and provide them with training and technical assistance in computer programming. Through this initiative, //RoR not only assists in forming linkages between refugees and German organizations and volunteers, but it also hopes to provide the German labor market with much-needed skilled programmers. Apparently, Germany has 43,000 vacancies in IT. While //RoR seems to operate on a philanthropic, nonprofit model at the moment, one could imagine this organization evolving into a social impact business which generates profits from supplying German companies with skilled programmers.

These are some examples of how companies and organizations can combine refugee assistance with core business objectives. In a previous article, I urged my readers to think of win-win scenarios that benefit displaced communities and the corporations.  I am sure there are many more examples, and I hope you’ll join me as I continue to highlight these stories. If you know of any examples in your local community, ping me and I will gladly highlight them.

Thoughts? Please share in the comments section below or email me at

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