UNICEF: Five ways that business can support children in Ukraine

In any humanitarian crisis, children suffer first and suffer most. The war in Ukraine has rapidly become a child protection crisis, with the shocking number of at least 112 child casualties that continues to grow, attacks on schools and hospitals, children forced into underground shelters and subway stations and no place for a child to live their lives.

More than half of Ukraine’s children are now displaced within the country itself or have fled to neighbouring countries. War and mass displacement continues to harm families’ livelihoods and economic opportunities, leaving many without sufficient income to meet their basic needs and unable to provide adequate support for their children.

It is estimated that at the height of the refugee crisis, some 75,000 children were becoming refugees every day – that’s one almost every single second. There are now more than 4 million refugees, 90 per cent of them women and children. All are at significant risk of violence, abuse, sexual exploitation and trafficking, especially those who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families, says Carla Haddad Mardini, Director of Private Fundraising and Partnerships Division, UNICEF.

Ukraine refugee crisis ‘largest since WWII’

They also face trauma and are in urgent need of psychosocial support and access to temporary learning, as well as recreational and early childhood development activities. All are deserving of safety, stability and protection services.

  • The war in Ukraine has led to more than half of the country’s children being displaced or fleeing to neighbouring countries
  • UNICEF has launched a $276 million appeal to support refugees in Ukraine and another $73 million for programmes abroad
  • The UN organization advises five practical ways that companies can step up to help displaced children and their families.

Amid a refugee crisis that’s larger in size and scale than any we’ve known in Europe since World War II, UNICEF and our partners are urgently scaling up our operations in Ukraine to meet the most pressing humanitarian needs.

These include providing access to water, sanitation, nutrition, education, health, protection and more, and we are appealing for $276 million — for programmes inside Ukraine and an additional $73 million for critical programmes in hosting countries. This humanitarian appeal is likely to increase significantly soon.

Blue Dots support hubs for Ukraine war refugees

UNICEF has dispatched 107 trucks carrying 1,198 tons of emergency supplies to support children and families in Ukraine, and will continue to increase supplies as the conflict continues. In partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, local authorities and local non-governmental organizations, UNICEF has established Blue Dots – support hubs in refugee-host countries to provide a safe space and vital services for refugee children and their families, including protection, counselling and play.

The Blue Dots have become a recognizable modality of emergency assistance and sit under the umbrella of a joint Agenda for Action between UNICEF and UNHCR that targets the key support required from hosting countries to fully protect children fleeing Ukraine.

Around the world, both public and private sector are stepping up to support in incredible ways. To answer the question, we so gratefully continue to be asked, here are five ways that CEOs can help ensure their companies can pitch in purposefully.

1. Use influence to advocate for vulnerable children and families

Nearly all (90 per cent) of those fleeing Ukraine are women and children, some of whom are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families. Companies and business leaders can use their influence, reach, networks and capabilities to raise awareness of the escalating needs facing children and families who are fleeing the war and for them to get critical services and supplies in refugee-hosting countries.

Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith shared a public statement outlining the actions his company is taking during the war. Other C-suite leaders including from AppleGoogle, and Unilever have also put out public communication about how their companies are responding to the escalating emergency.

A child displaced by war plays table football at a humanitarian aid headquarters in Perechyn, Ukraine.
Image: Reuters/Serhii Hudak

Technological and digital media companies, in particular, can support by sharing key information to help protect at-risk Ukrainian women and children from being abused, exploited and trafficked. For example, UNICEF and Meta are working closely to ensure that critical information is available for Ukrainians along with ad credits to support fundraising and advocacy messages in top global markets, Ukraine and neighbouring countries such as Poland and Romania.

2. Provide financial support to meet refugees’ most critical needs

Providing financial support is the most effective way for business to enable the rapid provision of life-saving products and services for refugees. As a humanitarian organization established in the aftermath of WWII, we are always ready to scale up and deliver supplies and surge staff where needed, and this support is critical to ensuring for having teams of specialized staff on the ground and equipped to respond immediately when an emergency occurs. In many cases, grants are the fastest way to accelerate emergency efforts.

The business community has responded at an unprecedented speed and volume. Pandora was the first company to make a financial donation to us followed by many others including the likes of the Lego Foundation and ING. We are grateful to partners who have provided financial resources that has enabled UNICEF to quickly scale up our emergency response in Ukraine and neighbouring countries like Poland, Romania and Moldova.

3. Mobilize customers and engage staff to support those fleeing Ukraine

Beyond direct and lifesaving grants, businesses have been activating their ecosystems in new and innovative ways and at a scale we have never seen before. Across the world there have been customer round-ups, appeals or employee campaigns. In this manner, the reach of the private sector has been demonstrated in powerful ways.

Apple launched a global appeal for the children of Ukraine, with the potential to engage millions of individuals through its apps and website. And building on contributions from Google.org and Google employees, Google announced matching $5 million in public donations up to $10 million, to UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UNHCR to support relief efforts. Meanwhile, Epic Games said it would commit all proceeds from their Fortnite game for two weeks, to support humanitarian relief for Ukraine. This activation raised $140 million and is being distributed between UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, Direct Relief and World Central Kitchen.

4. Provide direct support to staff and their families in conflicted areas and nearby countries

Businesses with a presence or supply chain partners in the conflict affected areas can provide direct support for their employees, for example, by continuing to pay salaries so that employees and their children do not become vulnerable, or by offering mental health and psychosocial support resources. There are also millions of people internally displaced within Ukraine who have lost their jobs but are not in direct conflict areas and are able to work. Contributions to creating jobs, such as remote working opportunities, for the people in Ukraine is also urgently needed.

Companies doing business in refugee-hosting countries can also take direct action to support wider initiatives and advocacy with governments to avoid discrimination and ensure access to working permits and rights to stay for refugee families. This includes providing access to decent work (particularly to parents and caregivers) and supporting access to quality healthcare, childcare, education and housing, while also ensuring the safeguarding and well-being of refugee children. When hiring young refugees of legal working age, prevent exploitation and offer skills development, including professional training to help them enter local job markets.

5. Be prepared for the mid to long-term impact of the war in Ukraine

Even if the war were to stop immediately, its devastating impact will last for years and the need for support will require joining forces across the public and private sectors. The role of the private sector to bring solutions at scale will be more needed than ever.

Author: Simon Weedy

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