Every person, family, and country affected by a crisis deserves our attention and support.
Ten years ago, I met a doctor I will never forget. He managed a small, cluttered medical clinic on a dirt road in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. I worked with communities there as part of a United Nations Peacekeeping mission. When a rebel group called M23 took over the Congolese city of Goma, they terrorized, killed, and raped innocent civilians. The doctor provided medical care to communities caught in the fighting between M23 and government forces. He did his work with a mix of sadness and determination.
Since I met the doctor, Congolese communities have continued to live through eruptions of violent attacks and human rights violations by various armed groups and by government forces. Recently, the M23 has resurfaced, bringing more fear and terror.
People in Congo are also facing one of the largest food crises in the world. The dire situation is considered Africa’s longest-running humanitarian conflict. But reliable and human-centered news about Congo doesn’t come easily. It never seems to make the nightly newscast—I have to search for it.
Charts tracking global media coverage show where our attention goes in times of crisis and conflict. Not accounting for natural disasters, if you look back at the past five years, you’ll see a steady line of news coverage. Through the flare-ups of the war in Yemen and the protests that became violent clashes in Ethiopia, there was minimal change. There was a temporary uptick during the Taliban’s attacks on security forces in Afghanistan. And then—a spike—Feb. 24, 2022.
Over the past five months, Russia’s war on Ukraine has been the subject of consistent coverage from every major news outlet. With critical implications for communities worldwide, people are watching and worrying.
For many in the Western world, the invasion shattered a sense of security. It’s leading to comparisons with World War II when the Soviet Union bombed cities and targeted civilians. In Europe, WWII took millions of lives, leveled towns, and destroyed the economy. The Cold War that followed added a threat of nuclear conflict by the Soviet Union—and current Russian leadership has renewed that threat.
Outraged and heartbroken, people are stepping up to help.
Just days after Russia’s war began, donations to GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund dramatically outpaced those to any disaster response fund we’d launched in our 20-year history. More than for Hurricane Maria, the Syria refugee crisis, or the 2015 Nepal earthquake. More than our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, even.
The global response has been the greatest I’ve seen in 15 years of serving people caught in wars and humanitarian crises.
My team at GlobalGiving was on the phone with our partners in Ukraine while the invasion was imminent and the fear palpable. And we’ve been making emergency grants to power their incredible response in Ukraine and neighboring countries since the war started.
We are also supporting these community leaders in the long term by awarding early recovery and reconstruction grants. One example is the Zagoriy Foundation. Their team is working to ensure that nonprofits in Ukraine can sustain their operations and continue delivering important social services.
I am overwhelmed by the reaction of everyday people and companies around the world to fuel this response. Their care and generosity fill me up.
And I hope to see it again.
Chasms in crisis response
While GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund has raised more than $48 million since its launch in early February, our Afghanistan Emergency Fund has raised about $1.5 million, despite being launched more than six months earlier. And despite the significant media coverage and prior international involvement in Afghanistan, the world turned away as the Taliban took control. Now, more than 24 million people there need humanitarian assistance.
I’m deeply grateful for the support I’ve witnessed for both crises. They include school children raising funds and companies investing in the incredible work GlobalGiving’s nonprofit partners are doing for families in need.
But with deepening humanitarian needs across these communities, I’m curious about the massive discrepancy. My team receives constant calls for support from Ukrainian and Afghan partners alike.
I think it’s a confluence of factors. Individuals, companies, and governments near and far feel the weight of Russia’s invasion. And the intended audiences of major news outlets likely find it easier to relate to the stories of Ukrainians affected by the war.
The fact is that cameras, headlines, and human stories draw our attention to or away from crises. That affects how we feel about them and what we do in response. The media has unquestionably influenced the outpouring of support for Ukraine.
I wish we got to hear and connect just as much with the stories of courageous families in parts of the Middle East and Africa where, in some cases, conflict has raged for years. News about an attack, invasion, or refugee crisis is covered differently in these regions. Often, it’s not considered news at all.
But the issue runs deeper than airtime or headlines.
Historic inequities and structural racism underpin all aspects of our society, including aid, and drive deep chasms in our response to people affected by crises around the world.
The perception that one refugee, one separated family, or one country upended by war is different from another permeates news coverage.
We’ve heard one mainstream news correspondent describe his shock at war breaking out in a “civilized” Ukrainian city and a former Ukrainian official link his emotion to the fact that blonde, blue-eyed people were being killed in the fighting. We’ve seen refugees of color turned away from borders, vilified, and held in long-term detention facilities while white refugees were prioritized and welcomed.
This media coverage and mindset skews the response of aid organizations and the philanthropic sector as a whole.
As Russia’s violent invasion continues, it is putting deadly pressure on other fragile communities that aren’t getting equal attention and causing extreme hunger and famine to worsen worldwide.
It’s all interconnected. We’re all interconnected.
Even before the current crisis in Ukraine, an estimated 274 million people around the world needed humanitarian assistance.
Twenty-seven million of them are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Twenty-five million of them are in Ethiopia.
Twenty-four million of them are in Afghanistan.
We should also be telling their stories and mobilizing resources to help meet their needs.
For GlobalGiving’s nonprofit partner Concern Organization for Women & Children, the eight-year war in Yemen isn’t holding the world’s attention, though it’s considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The “situation is a forgotten disaster,” the organization’s Program Manager Hanan Ebrahim wrote to me.
Just like people fleeing Ukraine or staying there amid the violence, families in Yemen need food, shelter, and security.
The same is true for people seeking refuge from the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. Or escaping Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Or fleeing from Venezuela.
As an organization with a global network and a mission to transform aid and philanthropy, GlobalGiving and our partners must provide a platform for them to tell their stories and bring resources to under-supported areas. We should lead a response that is rooted in and inspires equity.
Unrestricted, unwavering support
Despite being overlooked and underfunded, community-led organizations around the world remain committed to their missions in even the most challenging circumstances. AgroMwinda, a trusted local nonprofit organization working with farmers and agro-businesses, is steadily delivering humanitarian aid on the front lines of Congo’s enduring conflict. Like the doctor I met so long ago, they are a symbol of hope amid hardship that is difficult for most to imagine.
At GlobalGiving, we support the community leaders who are already responding to crises affecting their corner of the world. Thanks to the generosity of governments, companies, and individuals, we can offer our support—equitably and unconditionally.
We’re learning from our community of nonprofit leaders and working alongside them to push against the forces of racism and inequity. We’re striving to ensure our grantmaking is responsive to everyone affected by crises.
A war, a generation robbed of their childhood, a country’s people displaced and forced to flee—that affects us all. And we need to respond as a global community.
For the crises that continue and the ones to come, GlobalGiving has launched the Hope in Crisis Fund, which will work to ensure they’re never forgotten.
GlobalGiving is seeding the Hope in Crisis Fund with $500,000 to show our commitment to providing relief and hope to communities fighting to survive. We did something similar at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dozens of donors and companies joined and answered the call, raising enough money to help fund emergency responses of nearly 500 nonprofit organizations.
With unrestricted grants, local leaders can meet the critical needs of their neighbors. They understand the context. They know the politics and the nuances that will affect the people they serve.
After the journalists leave a crisis-affected region and the news reports move on to a different subject—or worse, if they never get there at all—humanitarian needs persist. The people in those communities still need support. Together, we can ensure they are seen, heard, and helped.
Offer your support through the Hope in Crisis Fund.
Featured Photo: East Africa Food Crisis by ActionAid USA