The Business Case For Supporting Refugees

March 3, 2017

The International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian organization, is on the front lines of refugee resettlement assistance, and has seen an “unprecedented” response in the wake of the executive orders on immigration, according to Danielle Silber, associate director of corporate alliances and member of our New York GOOD Lab community.

IRC has hundreds of corporate partners, she says, and over 100 of them have been actively responding to the executive order — either by donating money or by making public statements of support. “We're seeing donations from companies that we've been talking to for seven years,” she says, “from foundations that we've been talking to for 10 years, and haven’t made a grant. And now they're donating.”

GOOD assisted the IRC by turning digital advertising units into donation units for IRC and will be running 2MM impressions of free ads for International Rescue Committee's first-ever campaign for refugees inside America. “GOOD exists to help individuals and organizations learn and act on issues that matter, and America's tradition of welcoming immigrants certainly matters deeply to all of us,” says Grant Garrison, managing director at GOOD. “Organizations like IRC need all the resources they can get to staff up for the long battles ahead, and GOOD is proud to be a platform for courageous organizations like IRC to connect with values-driven millennials through storytelling and action.”

We sat down with Silber to talk more about why corporations should get involved with refugee advocacy and emergency response efforts.

GOOD: In the wake of the executive order limiting immigration and refugee resettlement, what’s the response been like from major companies?

Danielle Silber: We're lucky that we have a broad base of corporate support already, by the sheer nature that a lot of companies are interested in emergency response globally, and then increasingly a lot of companies hire refugees domestically in the U.S.. And that companies value diversity and inclusion, and refugee and immigrant communities are, of course, a big part of that. We're often times the go-to thought leader in this space. We have a nice cohort of companies that we've been building partnerships with on the thought leadership side, so in addition to their philanthropic support, we're also in lockstep with them in terms of wanting to advise on — through their business practices and through our programmatic practices — the world we all want to be a part of. So in the wake of the executive order, we had a ton of our existing partners turn to us and say, ‘What can we do?’

GOOD: What is the most common way for businesses to support what you do?

DS: Three ways. One is donating outright. The second is inviting their customers, employees or audience base to help raise awareness and support. And the third is making a public statement condemning the executive order as being reckless, anti-American, and also being against international commerce and what's in the best interest for our economy.

TripAdvisor is an incredible example of a company whose leadership is doing all three, they have given us a grant from their foundation to address the global refugee crisis, they’ve engaged their entire staff and CRM, and have acted as a thought leader in the media and across the travel and tech sectors.

GOOD: Why are businesses interested in getting involved with IRC and these efforts? Is it because they are looking to be more socially conscious?

DS: I think it's multifold. On the first front, companies are employing Muslims. They're employing immigrants. They're employing refugees. So the first pillar is that it's just the reality of the makeup of any good employer to have diversity in its staff. If they want to protect their own employees and to promote talent attraction and retention, then they need to take a stand on being pro-immigration and pro-freedom and pro-facts. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft all have many refugee employees.

And the other piece is — especially as we're seeing within the travel sector, with the tech community — it's protecting the future of commerce. The days of isolationism are gone. If we don't encourage global communication, global travel, global exchange of knowledge, we're cutting ourselves off at the knees, from a private sector perspective.  People see themselves as global citizens and humanitarians, and they want to know that their company is invested in making the world a better place, and is not tone deaf to what's going on around the world.

GOOD: Are some companies reluctant to get involved in a political cause like this?

DS: Absolutely. Knowing that this is a new administration, and one that has been reactionary at times, a lot of companies are reluctant— and it's fair, right? The airlines have already seen a significant drop in their stocks. Not because they've stuck their neck out, but because the executive order is making travel more difficult. So from that standpoint, a lot of companies are worried about what type of economic hit they could take if the president targets them. And they have to, right? Because they are huge employers — I'm sympathetic to that.

That being said, with all of those companies who have talked to us we’re having conversations like, ‘"Ok, well how can we support your employee base?’ Even if you can't publicly make a statement, your employees care about this. ‘How can we work with you to equip your employees with real information, to help us get out the facts about refugees and security,and in doing so - be better allies to refugees amongst the employee base?’ And be leaders in their own social networks and social circles, so that our approach is not partisan, we’re just saying, ‘Look, there's a lot of misinformation out there and we have to counteract it. What are the facts?’ And if we know the facts, then we can resume the previous status quo of global commerce and welcoming refugees, because that's a practice that has always benefitted the U.S.

GOOD: Why is it helpful to point out that some of the refugees that have come to the country, like Albert Einstein and Andrew Grove, the founder of Intel, have gone on to great things?

DS: I think it's helpful just to destigmatize, and for people to remember that every human being has something to bring to the table, and there's a historic precedent for refugees coming to this country and contributing to their new communities. A significant percentage of new businesses started in the U.S. are by immigrants. Of Fortune 500 top companies - over 40% were started by immigrants or first generation Americans.  Acknowledging this - IRC has an economic empowerment micro-enterprise program helping newly arrived refugee entrepreneurs to start businesses. Part of it is reminding people, on the one hand, refugees don't pose a security threat. We know they are the most vetted population coming into the U.S. So first is establishing and debunking the myth around refugees being conflated with terrorists. And then, reminding folks that refugees actually bring clear value to the American table.

GOOD: Is it a challenge to ensure that people and corporations stay involved, long after this particular crisis or any crisis leaves the headlines?

DS: Absolutely. I don't know if I'd say it's as much of a challenge as I'd say it's a critical and integral part of our methodology of building partnerships. We see our corporate partners, and any of our individual partners, as members of the IRC family. And we're not partnering just for this one moment, but really looking at: what is a longterm relationship, and what is a long-term movement?  There are so many different ways that a company or a foundation or an individual can contribute to our work — volunteering, helping to spread facts, sharing an infographic on social media, employing refugees or giving cash support. All of those things are critical to our work, and all of those things are important in terms of creating a world in which we want to see people flourish.