With the enormous number of conflicts all over the world, the situation for refugees is becoming increasingly serious. Many refugee camps cannot handle the rising numbers of people seeking shelter. As stated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 51.2 million forcibly displaced people, and 16.7 million refugees have had to leave their native countries. Therefore camps often struggle to provide humane conditions. Often even basic necessities like lighting and electricity cannot be provided in refugee camps, which can also make it very difficult to arrange social gatherings in which solutions to the current situation can be discussed. Furthermore, access to education for children is also limited. When days end at sunset, there is less time for them to study. Yet education is the major key to development. There is a need for social investment to provide an environment where refugees can find innovative solutions to their problems.
Many companies as well as governments are in a position to offer this social investment, which indeed can form part of CSR strategies in general and contribute to the development of a socially sustainable world. The partnership of the IKEA Foundation and the UNHCR is a good example of social investment as part of CSR. Until the end of March 2015, IKEA is conducting its 2nd annual social investment campaign, donating £1 for each light bulb sold. This money is used to install solar street lights and provide solar lanterns for refugees. The focus of this campaign is on camps in Jordan, Chad and the Sudan, where quality of life is seriously affected by the absence of light and electricity. People traumatized by the horrors of war are especially sensitive to the dark, and therefore providing light as part of a social investment strategy can create an environment that enables refugees to harness their creativity.
The initiative simultaneously reduces the risk of crime and sexual violence; unfortunately unlit streets are still a dangerous environment for women in all parts of the world, and stressful situations such as those in the camps increase the likelihood of violence. By installing solar street lights, refugee camps can become safer places. IKEA’s social investment scheme is thus also attempting to improve access to education for young women and girls, and in this way contributes to women’s empowerment. A society to which people can contribute regardless of their gender or sexual orientation fosters innovation and diversity, and these, it is recognized, are drivers of development. Therefore by enabling activities after sunset, this social investment initiative helps families to make a living. As the average time people have to spend in these camps is 17 years, making the experience as humane as possible is a positive social step and one seen by many to be obligatory. The IKEA Foundation is the largest private donor of the UNHCR.
Apart from donating money, IKEA also cooperates with the UNHCR to share its knowledge in logistics, packaging and design. This knowledge can be of great value for developing new refugee camps. The installation of renewable energy sources in the camps is also one of the elements of IKEA’s social investment. In general, IKEA tries to provide refugees with a more humane environment, thereby assisting them to develop ways to improve their current situation.
Author: Jan Kohler