Naomi Steer, National Director of Australia for UNHCR, on how her organisation and Islamic Relief Australia are collaborating for impact

UNHCR collaboration

Syria. Delivering aid to in rural Aleppo.

COVID-19 has completely transformed our lives. Over the last 18 months we have seen significant economic, health and societal shocks around the world. 

While Australians have and continue to face significant disruption, unfortunately refugees around the world have felt the unprecedented effects of the pandemic tenfold. UNHCR’s Global Trends Report, released last month, found that there are 82.4 million people worldwide forcibly displaced from their homes, due to persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights abuses. 

Today, 1% of the world’s population is displaced, with twice as many people forcibly displaced, compared to just nine years ago. 

Unsurprisingly, these alarming figures have significantly and rapidly increased demand on the services of many not-for-profit organisations, which has led to a greater spirit of collaboration and partnership across the not-for-profit industry. 

What philanthropic collaboration will mean for the not-for-profit industry 

Collaborative philanthropy, which refers to when more than one organisation or not-for-profit works together for a social cause, has predominantly emerged in response to COVID-19. According to a report from The Partnering Initiative, this is being driven by the hope to create efficient change and deliver transformational impact. 

To understand some of the ways collaborative philanthropy is being pursued by organisations, The Partnering Initiative also identified four models in the not-for-profit industry that organisations are choosing to increase their impact: 

  • Trusted partner – moving beyond project funding to longer term financial solutions 
  • Connector – leveraging partner networks to collectively deliver more  
  • Supporter – using multi-stakeholder partnerships to support the organisation’s mission 
  • Systems Leader – engaging stakeholders directly to drive development of multi-stakeholder partnerships through leadership and direction of the initiative 

According to research from the Journal of Business Venturing, collaborative philanthropy has led to a greater impact than some other social innovation ventures. Intrinsic to this is the understanding that no goal can be achieved without all sectors of society playing their essential roles in the refugee crisis. 

In Australia, 65% of charities are considered ‘small’. However, through joint collaborations like these, charities can quickly increase their support for those who need it most. By harnessing the power of joining together and exploring the charitable practices of people all over the world, the possibilities of giving continue to grow and change people’s lives. 

Yemen. UNHCR aid convoys reach Mokha.

Collaboration in practice: Australia for UNHCR and Islamic Relief Australia 

In a move to provide fast help to those in need, Australia for UNHCR and Islamic Relief Australia have signed a memorandum of understanding that details a three-year joint commitment. 

This collaboration aims to maximise the impact of both charities and answer the needs of the growing number of displaced people around the world. In their first joint project both organisations will be working to assist with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 

After six years of conflict, more than 20 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance. An already dire situation with the threat of cholera, ongoing violence, and economic collapse has been further exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yemen is now in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen in four decades. 

Australia for UNHCR and Islamic Relief Australia’s collaboration will harness the compassion and generosity of Australian donors and the power of charitable practices that have for a long time, helped to assist the most vulnerable people worldwide. 

Unlocking the potential of diverse giving 

Despite the challenges of the last 18 months, Australia remains a nation of givers. A recent report from McCrindle on charitable giving trends in Australia showed that four out of fivAustralians are giving financially to charities and not-for-profits. 

Over one in eight (81%) had contributed a financial donation to a charity of their choice by the end of the year – a positive outcome given that charities around Australia had reported a 67% decrease in donations in March 2020, during the height of the pandemic. 

Whilst the ability to gather and fundraise dropped dramatically, online events and donations skyrocketed, with 62% of people contributing to important causes via these channels. 

One group in particular that contributed hugely to vulnerable people in 2020 and 2021 was people of Islamic faith, through their religious practice of Zakat.  

Charitable giving is an institution in Muslim communities. Through the practice of Zakat, adults contribute a fixed portion (2.5%) of their excess wealth to help the poor each year. 

This gives Zakat charities the ability to provide quick and essential assistance to those in need beyond traditional means of funding such as government grants, donations, or selling products or services. This makes Australia for UNHCR and Islamic Relief Australia’s efforts all the more efficient. 

The Islamic philanthropy sector is growing rapidly and increasing its funding to help refugees and displaced people. In 2019, UNHCR launched the Refugee Zakat Fund, which has already raised more than $90 million for refugees and displaced people. 

In the last year alone, Zakat funds to UNHCR have helped more than 1.6 million people across 10 countries. 

The way forward 

Collaborative philanthropy is an exciting way for philanthropists and organisations alike to combine forces in order to shape society for the better. It is a true example of the power of collective action and a model for how societal challenges will increasingly be tackled.  

The collaboration memorandum of understanding agreement between Australia for UNHCR and Islamic Relief Australia is set to provide much-needed assistance at a time when displacement is at an all-time high. By harnessing the power of faith giving practices such as Zakat, Australia for UNHCR and Islamic Relief Australia are leading the way in maximising charitable giving for a highly important cause. 

Naomi Steer has been the National Director of Australia for UNCHR since 2000.

Find out more about UNCHR’s fundraising programs 

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