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Philanthropists Dig Deep, Use ‘Laser Focus’ for Relief Efforts in Ukraine

As the escalating war tears through Ukraine, philanthropic forces from all corners including individuals, family foundations, and companies have mobilized and are serving food, aiding children, and helping in other diverse humanitarian endeavors.

On Feb. 25, a day after Russia began its invasion, the Spanish-American chef, restaurateur, and philanthropist Jose Andres, announced on social media that his global humanitarian organization World Central Kitchen had already begun feeding fleeing refugees on the Ukraine-Poland border. 

“Like you, I am distraught watching Ukraine under attack. We must come together as a force for good!” tweeted Andres, who last year won a US$100 million Jeff Bezos grant for his humanitarian work. “In addition to your donations… I am committing support from the Bezos award to Ukraine.”

Tapping into that financial resource is a necessity, since the reality is that humanitarianism requires coordination, concentration—and cash. That’s especially the case in the Ukraine, where the crisis is evolving daily.

“Our teams are laser-focused on our relief response as we work around the clock to get nourishing meals to vulnerable communities,” says Lisa Abrego, World Central Kitchen director of communications strategy. “WCK began serving hot, nourishing meals within hours of the initial invasion and are now set up at eight border crossings with Poland.”

Abrego adds that the organization is establishing meal distribution points across six countries, including Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and, soon, Slovakia. They’re also supporting individuals still in Ukraine, she says, “by partnering with local restaurants to provide meals in five cities and two border crossings.”

On Wednesday, plush toy manufacturer and philanthropist Ty Warner, CEO of Ty Inc., pledged that 100% of profits from sales of Beanie Babies in March will be donated to Save the Children Fund to provide emergency aid to those in crisis zones. 

"The events unfolding in Ukraine are deeply troubling. I can only imagine what children there must be going through,” said Warner, who has donated more than US$300 million to various charities, in the announcement for the latest gift. “I feel an obligation to help.”

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation on Wednesday announced that US$1 million in emergency grants will go to longtime partners who are on the front lines assisting refugees, many of whom are Jewish.

The foundation awarded US$500,000 to the International Rescue Committee, US$250,000 to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and US$250,000 to the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“The Foundation is proud to have a legacy of promptly responding to emergencies with grant funding,” says Rachel Garbow Monroe, president and CEO of the Weinberg Foundation, whose headquarters is in Baltimore.

“The Foundation is especially grateful to the nonprofit professionals working with and helping the citizens of Ukraine, not only in Ukraine, but also nearby in Poland, Moldova, Romania, and other locations,” she says. “These professionals are doing life-saving work, while at the same time potentially putting their own lives in harm’s way.”

Phillips, an art auction house with headquarters in London, New York, and Hong Kong, announced this week  it would donate all of the buyer’s premium and vendor’s commission from its London sale on March 3 to the Ukraine Red Cross Society.

The US$7.7 million gift is to support the organization’s “lifesaving mission,” Phillips CEO Stephen Brooks said in an announcement.

Genesis Philanthropy Group announced on Monday it would give US$10 million in emergency assistance to Jews impacted by the war in Ukraine. GPG is a global family of foundations, co-founded by Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan. The money will be divided for efforts targeted toward evacuation and food efforts and to supporting urgent humanitarian efforts.

Other high-profile companies have announced funds to help Ukraine, including Visa, GE, Amazon, B Strong, and Pandora. 

The charitable arm of the cryptocurrency trading platform Binance this week announced a US$10 million commitment to organizations doing humanitarian work in Ukraine. Unicef, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, iSans, and People in Need will receive the grants.

“The speed at which the conflict is escalating is deeply troubling so we knew we had to act quickly to do all we can to help ease the suffering of the Ukrainian people,” says Helen Hai, head of Binance Charity. 

“Binance is apolitical and this is far beyond a political issue, as we face what’s quickly becoming one of Europe’s worst humanitarian crises since the Second World War,” she added. “Philanthropy has always been at the heart of Binance.”

An evolving crisis needs an evolving network of giving. “Philanthropy has an critical role to play, especially at the onset of a crisis like this,” says John Kluge, founder and managing director of the Refugee Investment Network, adding that “in a response context, this means supporting organizations on the frontlines, ideally local organizations as much as possible, as well as the UN’s US$1.7 billion emergency response appeal.”

“As we know from many other displacement contexts, philanthropy should also be thinking about longer term needs as neighboring countries welcome the now over one million people fleeing Russia’s barbaric invasion,” Kluge says. 

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