How to support those affected by conflict in Ukraine
I’m sure many of you are seeing your newsfeeds full of discussion about what is happening in Ukraine, and how best to help. That desire to help is a basic human instinct, and the reason why many of our current humanitarian organisations were formed, but alone it is not enough. We need to do good, well. Indeed, misguided help in times of conflict can actually do harm. (If you want to know more, look at Mary Anderson’s work or this is a good starting point.
Generally, if you want to donate it is much better to give money than stuff. This is a nice explanation or #CashNotStuff. Donated items are often not suitable for the climate or culture where they are sent. Many are in poor condition, or just not what is needed. Disaster affected communities find themselves having to deal with a second problem – a pile of unwanted stuff. There are lots of examples, such as winter coats and miniskirts sent to Tsunami affected communities in 2004, some of which were then eaten by livestock who became ill, all of which had to be disposed of somehow. This article has more examples.
If you do have stuff in good condition which you don’t want, and someone else might, consider giving it to a charity shop run by an organisation which works in Ukraine, such as the Red Cross. Or sell it on Ebay and donate the profits. If there are diaspora groups or people working with refugees in your area, they might be grateful for some items, but do check what they need.
When it comes to donating money, if you already have a connection with an international organisation working in Ukraine, consider donating to them. If you are based in the UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee is a good place to donate, as it brings together the main UK based organisations working on a response. These organisations are bound by recognised codes and standards. Or look to donating to organisations working with refugees in places like Poland and Hungary. There are a few suggestions in the articles here and here aimed at supporters in the USA.
Beware of doing things like booking an Airbnb apartment in Kyiv. This is unlikely to target your money to where it is most needed, and in the worst cases might actually be giving your money to people who will use it to fuel the conflict (doing harm.) Whilst a human connection makes us all feel good, your money can actually do more good elsewhere.
One argument I often hear about larger charities is that they spend a lot of money on admin. That is true to some extent – bigger you are, the more staff you need, which means more computers, desks, wages etc. But administration spend is more than this. Some of the so-called admin spend is spent on coordination and collaboration – activities which reduce overlaps and gaps, reducing waste and ensuring more people are reached. Some admin spend goes on monitoring and evaluation – to ensure we are responding in the best possible way, and learning what works, both right now and in the longer term. Some goes on the control and compliance measures need to reduce the risk of fraud or abuse. In business you need to spend money to make money, in humanitarian response you need to spend money to make bigger impact.
If you choose not to donate money, you can still help in other ways. You can write to your MP so they know which actions they will have your support for. Displaced people will probably need support once the headlines start to disappear, so ensure that your MP remembers the need in the weeks and months to come. Or consider volunteering with those refugees who end up in your country. If you have space, you can even offer them a spare room. Organisations in your locality will work on this, for example Positive Action in Housing in the UK .