Since February 24, 2022, Ukraine and its people have been rocked by unimaginable loss and devastation.
Their pain and suffering unfolded on the world stage, and people across the globe asked how they could help. Businesses were no exception.
Corporate generosity flowed from nearly every sector with many companies even engaging their internal and external stakeholders to raise funds. Epic Games raised $144 million by donating two weeks’ worth of proceeds from its hit video game Fortnite. Riot Games raised over $5.4 million through its player community, which went directly to humanitarian efforts in Eastern Europe. Matching employee donations, Salesforce has deployed over $4 million to help with emergency relief in the region. The ballet flat company, Tieks, which I am proud to call a client, auctioned off limited-edition shoes to its dedicated fan base with 100% of proceeds going to World Central Kitchen, raising more than $87,000.
Some businesses offered much-needed in-kind support. Capri Holdings Limited, the umbrella company for brands including Michael Kors, donated more than $1 million worth of coats, sweaters, and shoes to Ukrainian refugees. FedEx committed more than $1.5 million in shipping value to nonprofit partners transporting critical supplies.
Others used their business acumen. Airbnb committed to providing free and safe lodging for over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Amazon not only donated $10 million to local NGOs, but also launched two humanitarian aid hubs in Slovakia and Poland, which supported the delivery of more than 1 million clothing items, first-aid products, food items, hygiene products, and medical supplies.
Finally, some businesses chose to activate by not doing business with Russia. Oracle ceased services there. Ikea temporarily closed its Russian stores. KPMG, PwC, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte all pulled out of Russia.
The number of businesses stepping up is meaningful—LinkedIn has a list it regularly updates, which you can check out. But the question remains, is this level of engagement sustainable? Just over two months in, we are already seeing companies close out some of these initial emergency efforts.
It’s impossible to sustain “emergency giving” levels indefinitely. At the beginning of the invasion, my social impact firm Ethos Giving published a set of recommendations breaking down how companies might engage. At the center of this strategy was one main principle: Think long term and allocate resources accordingly.
As of May 2022, more than 4 million people have fled Ukraine—a number that the United Nations Refugee Agency projects could reach up to 6.7 million. This displacement has a reverberating effect that could ultimately affect an estimated 18 million people worldwide.
The same generosity of spirit we saw in February can absolutely translate into more sustainable support.
Focus on What You Know Best for Sustainable Relief
While donations to key NGOs doing the work are always welcome, for companies looking to engage, my recommendation is always to focus on what you know—it will ultimately result in your ability to stay the course and offer longer-term support.
Here’s a few thought starters.
- Are you a food, fashion, or hospitality company? Stick with emergency relief (for now). Millions of people need the basic necessities. Providing food and clothing is still critical at this point, and your company has an outsized ability to help in this area.
- Is your business dedicated to mental health? Particularly for children, the psychological trauma of this violence will require long-term support. If this is your organization’s purpose, lending this valuable expertise or funding others in your field who are able to do so will be truly impactful.
- Are you in education, especially EdTech? Create resources, ideally in Ukrainian, that can help children and families get back to some semblance of normalcy with age-appropriate learning and games.
- Do you have access to housing at scale? Are you a home furnishings company? Whether in Europe or around the globe, millions of people need places to call home. Ensuring that these spaces are clean, affordable, and welcoming will be a critical effort.
- Can you provide support for refugees resettling into new communities? Think about engaging with organizations like Tent Partnership for Refugees, a global network that provides on-ramps to local hiring for refugees and Welcome.Us, a national hub that supports employment and resettlement.
Finally, while this is some way off, it’s important to appreciate that many Ukrainians will wish to return and help rebuild their home. When it is safe to do so, setting up business pipelines and even satellite offices in the region may be one of the most important things that any company can do to help support the Ukrainian people.
In the first two months of this conflict, the dozens of examples of admirable corporate engagement were heartening. If companies can sustain this work, it will be nothing short of heroic.
Emily Kane Miller is founder and CEO of Ethos Giving, a social impact services firm, and Ethos Tracking, an online data management tool that allows businesses, nonprofits, and foundations to more effectively track their impact. She also serves as a scholar in residence at The Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.