Over the years, I have seen extraordinary compassion and generosity from Australian women towards refugees. When I founded Australia for UNHCR to support the humanitarian operations of the United Nations Refugee Agency over twenty years ago, it was my goal to help the United Nations address the greatest humanitarian issue of our time – the worldwide displacement of refugees and their families.
Since then, I am proud that so many Australians have stepped up and generously donated their time, expertise and money to help support refugees around the world.
Now, we find ourselves at a critical crossroads. A pandemic has swept the world, worsening already-difficult situations for refugee women and their families. I say ‘refugee women’ in particular, because displacement is a gendered issue; women and children make up 80% of the refugee population worldwide.
Today there are so many examples of women rising, taking leadership, speaking out against injustice and inspiring us all. But women and girls are still the majority of victims of conflict and war. How do we join together to make sure all women wherever they are, can take their destiny into their own hands?
This is the challenge I am throwing out to all women ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8 and especially to those who have the capacity and opportunity to bring about positive change. In previous decades, I have seen more and more talented and smart women progressing in remarkable careers, and now it’s time for a new generation of female philanthropists to rise.
And as Melinda Gates said – “Philanthropy is not about the money. It’s about using whatever resources you have at your fingertips and applying them to improving the world.”
It’s important to acknowledge that you’re never too young to become a humanitarian and philanthropist. The generations of women coming up now, from young Millennials to Gen Z, have grown up in a digital world, and are constantly connected to stories of women around the globe. They are deeply conscious of their global surroundings, and want to do more to help – but with information overload compounded by a 24-hour news cycle of stories it can be hard to see where to focus.
It’s easy to feel that there’s too much out there to know where to begin making a difference; International Women’s Day is an ideal moment for young emerging female leaders to consider where they’d like to make their first start in philanthropy.
For anyone wondering where to dive in, I have the following advice:
First, choose a cause that is genuinely close to your heart and your interests. Many of our most avid supporters at Australia for UNHCR are former refugees themselves – like supermodel Adut Akech, who will be appearing at our International Women’s Day event ‘Empowering, inspiring, uplifting’ to support Syrian refugee women in Jordan. Adut became a refugee as a child in South Sudan, before coming to Australia and then rising the top of the fashion world; now, she’s focused on helping others.
While it’s a testament to our work that refugees like Adut want to support UNHCR so strongly – be assured you don’t have to be a supermodel to help. Most of our philanthropist supporters are not refugees –but they are people with a global view who are deeply compassionate towards people who have lost their homes and their right to live peacefully within their country of birth.
Second, research your cause or charity to ensure it is accountable and that its programs are impactful and sustainable and that you can be engaged in the way you want to be. Our philanthropist supporters want to be connected to the refugees we support through regular communication, field missions and stories and updates about the impact of their giving.
Third, if you can, consider making a longer-term commitment with your charity of choice – it really is a game-changer for charities, helping us to build stable, far-reaching projects that change many lives over many years.
For instance, the women of our Leading Women Fund are an incredible force for change – by making an annual commitment to projects that empower women, our Fund donors are directly building a brighter future with the refugee women the Fund supports, steadily improving their education and employment prospects and helping them realise their potential.
To sum up: whichever cause our new generation of female philanthropists choose – whether it’s supporting refugees, or cleaning the oceans and saving the rainforests, or housing and feeding families in need, or something else entirely – the most important thing is to understand that it’s never too early to take your first steps into philanthropy and turn your own success into real, tangible support to make the world a better place.
Naomi Steer is the founder and National Director of Australia for UNHCR.