Sam WattsThink Philanthropically

The invasion of Ukraine, the destruction of many of its residential areas, and the displacement of million of its citizens raises a number of very important questions around our North American philanthropic reflexes. The automatic response on the part of many Canadians has been to offer to help.  Many of us have participated in fundraisers or made donations in support of those in need in Ukraine.

The devastating impact of war on the innocent and vulnerable is undeniable. For concerned citizens in Montreal it can be challenging to know what to do. How can we assist people in need right away? What organizations can act quickly? Also, perhaps more importantly, how can we prepare for a number of future contingencies and establish functional frameworks that will allow us to provide long term assistance to the people of Ukraine?

The need for immediate help for people who have been displaced from their places of residences is the most immediate concern. We know that countries like Poland have already taken in millions of refugees and that they will need ongoing help from North American governments and non-profit agencies. Providing the basics of food, shelter and medical care for hundreds of thousands of people can become an overwhelming responsibility. Agile non-profit organizations are already in place in a variety of locations. The non-profit sector can usually move more quickly, and many are experienced providers of health and medical assistance.  Some are well accustomed to establishing operations in war zones or places that are dealing with outbreaks of disease. Concerned Montrealers can donate funds to these organizations. A very good place to donate is the Canada-Ukraine Foundation’s humanitarian appeal because they are well positioned to allocate resources quickly to address emerging needs.

This raises a question that we often hear in times of crisis. What about donating clothing? We need to appreciate that donating items or supplies presents a number of logistical challenges centered around transportation and distribution. It is one thing to help your immediate neighbour with a gift of clothing should they experience a flood or fire. It is quite another to try to ship boxes of clothing overseas and ensure that they arrive in the right place and meet a real need.

More critically, we need to recognize that emergency needs usually transition into ongoing needs. The effects of war are long-lasting. Ukraine will continue to need humanitarian assistance long after war disappears from the headlines. There are other places in the world that continue to suffer but we don’t read about them in the news every day. Places like Darfur, Syria and Afghanistan leap to mind. There is a human tendency to focus on things that are “top of mind”. The news lately has largely focused on Ukraine – not on the dozens of other areas in the world that are in need of longer term help.

Here is a suggestion to consider. Let’s start looking at needs with a longer-term perspective. For example, Montrealers can support our local Ukrainian community as they prepare to welcome thousands of refugees in the next few months. Let’s avoid random acts of charity by working in close coordination with the organizations that are getting ready to do the heavy lifting on the ground here in the city. Canada has a reputation of being a welcoming place. We already know that Quebec needs more immigrants in order to ensure that our economy will continue to prosper. Furthermore, people who elect to come to Montreal are often well educated and resourceful. They add richness and energy to the city and our charitable investment in welcoming them will pay dividends for years to come.

Sam Watts is the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission  He is also the author of Good Work…Done Better

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