Sheryl Fofaria: A warm welcome to Philanthropy Bites, where you get to deep dive into the lives of inspiring and visionary leaders - all of whom are working to change minds and move money to address some of the most critical issues of our time.
I’m Sheryl Fofaria from J.P. Morgan’s Philanthropy Centre and this podcast is brought to you by us, and the Marshall Institute at the London School of Economics, whose Director, Professor Stephan Chambers, is our host.
Our guest today is David Miliband, who is a former UK Foreign Secretary and now the International Rescue Committee’s President & CEO, having himself come from a refugee family. Over to Stephan and David for more…
Stephan Chambers: A very warm welcome to David Miliband, who joins us from New York. Welcome, David. I'd like to start if I may, just by talking a little bit about the two halves of your career, the politics and diplomacy and foreign relations, and now the International Rescue Committee, and what bridges there are, what differences there are, what things you can carry over from one to the other, and which things you definitely can't.
David Miliband: Thanks, Stephan. Good to be with you. I sometimes think about the two halves, as you put it, and generally like to think of it as two ends of the telescope. If you're in government or politics, you can see the big picture, but it's easy to forget or lose sight of the individual stories. If you're running an NGO, you're focused on the individual stories and the danger is that you lose sight of the big picture. And so in both parts of my career, I've tried to hold onto both the macro and the micro, the big picture and the individual stories. And certainly in my role at the International Rescue Committee, I try to remain rooted in the lives of the people that we're trying to help. We're an organization that helps people whose lives are shattered by conflict and disaster, survive, recover, and gain control of their lives. We're not a general anti-poverty agency. We help people who are thrust into vulnerability and danger as a result of political failure.
I was just meeting last week at a government facility in Virginia, some of the 70,000 Afghans who are on their way to being resettled across the United States and those individual stories that the person who's left their brother and mother and father in Kabul, the person whose siblings are still in Mazar-i-Sharif. Those are very important individual stories, but they have to be related to a bigger picture, a bigger picture of a global system that is undermanaged, a bigger picture of global political tension that is making a eunuch of the UN Security Council, a global picture that is increasingly affected by the climate crisis. And I always think it's important to join the personal and the historical in that sense.
Just for the avoidance of doubt, I'm under no illusions that if you're in government, you have much more power than if you were running an NGO, but the power that you have in government is mediated or is limited by the fact that you have to get a huge number of people to agree before you can do anything. In an NGO, you've got less power, but more, if you like, entrepreneurial flexibility. And certainly, my experience at the International Rescue Committee, which is now an organization that has grown from being more or less $430 million organization seven or eight years ago to being a billion-dollar organization now with about 30,000 staff and 200 field sites around the world, my experience is that there is a flexibility and an entrepreneurialism in the charitable sector.
Stephan Chambers: I wonder if you could parse for the listeners this whole question of migration and displacement and refugees because very often, we talk about people as though they are one kind of displaced person, when of course, there are different kinds of displaced people. And just to sketch the scale of displacement and what that means in people's lives.
David Miliband: Good. Well, I'm happy to do that. And I think you're absolutely right. It's important to try and be precise because there are more people on the move than at any time in human history. But the majority of them, probably three quarters, are on the move for economic reasons predominantly, rather than political reasons. And the focus of the International Rescue Committee dating back to our foundation by Einstein in the 1930s, our focus is on people who are forced to move, not people who choose to move. The phrase forced displacement is actually used in the academic literature (it's a bit of a mouthful) but a refugee is someone for whom it's not safe to go home to their own country. They're someone who cross a border as a result of fear or persecution or conflict. And there are about 35 million people who've crossed borders out of fear of danger, of conflict at the moment. And there's about 45 million people who are what are called internally displaced. In other words, they're homeless in their own country, again for political reasons, but they haven't yet crossed the border. And so in total, about 80, 82, 84 million people around the world (that's more than 1% of the world's population for the first time since World War II) are forcibly displaced. In other words, they are homeless as a result of political meltdown in their own town or community or country. These are people who predominantly in the case of refugees are sheltered in poor countries, not in rich countries, because most refugees go next door rather than go to Europe or America. About 85% of the world's refugees are in poor countries, poor or lower middle income countries. So Bangladesh, Ethiopia, refugees from Eritrea, South Sudanese refugees going to Uganda, and obviously Syria, the world's biggest refugee crisis, Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, obviously a lower middle income country.
Europe and the US have relatively small numbers of refugees. If you talk to people in Africa or Asia about European or American discussion of a refugee "crisis". They say, "Well, if you want to see a crisis, come and see what we're dealing with," compared to the numbers in America or in Europe.
One other point that might be useful context for your listeners is that the image of a refugee is someone in a refugee camp. And obviously, in Einstein's day, most refugees were in refugee camps. Actually today, most refugees are in urban areas. Urbanization is a process that affects forcibly displaced people, not just the rest of us. About 60% of refugees are in urban areas, not in camps. About of that 35 million people who have crossed borders as a result of political conflict and failure, only 5 million, maybe 6 million are in refugee camps. So that's an important part of thinking through what's the changed role of an organization like mine, who is trying to help people not just survive, but thrive.
The modern displacement experience is much, much longer. We're looking at intergenerational refugee flows.
And so if you go to a large refugee camp (and I had this experience myself in Dadaab - it used to be the world's largest refugee camp in Eastern Kenya) I asked a young woman there whether she thought she'd ever go home to Somalia. She said, "What do you mean go home? I was born here." And so the length of displacement is also important as one thinks about what's the role of an organization like mine. Just saying what keeping people alive is the job, that's too minimalistic. If you're talking about 10, 15, 20 years, if we're talking about multiple generations, education, employment, sustainable solutions are based on more than simply keeping people alive until they go home because in the end, very few people go home.
Stephan Chambers: Empathy or concern are relatively easy to generate, but real solutions are obviously extremely difficult to generate. And if we have in our mind someone several countries away in a camp, who's only just arrived, we may be, as it were, misrepresenting the nature of the question.
Now that you've sketched what the world looks like from that displacement perspective to the ways people might be thinking about addressing some of these questions. You talked a minute ago about how flexible and entrepreneurial your own organization can be and I know you have some quite interesting examples of how corporate philanthropy has stepped up. And I wonder if you might talk about that?
David Miliband: Yeah. I mean, I think it's important to preface any discussion of solutions by saying the real solution has got to be political, not just humanitarian. I mean, the real "solution" to a refugee crisis is you have to deal with the origins of it. The fact that refugees and displaced people come from political failure and diplomatic failure, I think is important. Notwithstanding that, I think that the definition of "solutions" from a humanitarian point of view has changed partly because of the urban displacement issue, partly because of the length of displacement.
From the corporate side, there's a couple of points that I think are important. First of all, governments have a tendency to be risk-averse and the worry of a minister is always that something goes wrong. And we're proud of trying things that might go wrong, because if you don't try anything that might go wrong, you'll never find anything that goes right.
So when it came to developing our online support system for information provision for refugees (it's called Signpost in English, it's called CuentaNos in Spanish, there's an Arabic version of it) we'd like to roll it out more broadly. We went to the corporate sector to say, "Look, we know that refugees arriving in Greece in 2015, the first thing they do is they take out their mobile phone, and then what they get on there when they switch it on, is it's all in Greek. Well, that's no good if you're from Syria." So we went to the tech sector, we went to people in the travel industry actually, and we said, "Look. We need to, first of all, have a billboard so that refugees can get information. We also need an information exchange so that refugees can tell each other who to trust, who not to trust. We also need eventually to be able to give real-time support to people who are on the run."
David Miliband: And as it happens, just the day before this podcast, I was on a call with our team in Latin America in the Northern Central America where we have this online support system. If you're a woman on the run in Northern El Salvador with a kid who's running away from gangs, you can type in, "Hey, this is where I am. Where can I go?" and we can get you real-time answers. That's been developed with the corporate sector. So we need to go from innovation to scaling. And whenever people come to me and say, "Well, can I invest in some new ideas?" I say, "Well, yeah, but there are some innovations that haven't yet been scaled." But nonetheless, one part of the corporate added value is on the risk taking.
The second is on speed. The Afghan crisis shows this, but so do the crises in Ethiopia and Yemen where we're working, it can take time for a government system to get itself mobilized, but problems don't wait. We need to deploy. We need to deploy fast. So there's speed that I think is an important part of the corporate offer.
David Miliband: There's also skills. We've got pro bono legal advice that comes in because people are trying to get citizenship. I always say to corporates, "Look. Of course, we want your money." But the other thing is we want a 360 degree relationship where your people can be seconded into us, where your skills can be of use, where we can offer a real meeting of minds and sharing of ideas. And I think that's important as well because, often with the government sector, our relationship is we're delivering a contract, they have certain inputs they want to see ticked off. We're trying to say to our corporate partners, "Think over a longer term." "Let's think about your assets in the round and think about the problems we're solving in the round and see what we can do together."
Stephan Chambers: So go back, David, to the not-invented-here problem, which I think you meant really when you were talking about state solutions as opposed to private sector solutions. But one of the commonest critiques of philanthropy is that philanthropists, whether they are firms or individuals or foundations, want to build their own solution. Are you saying, just for the complete avoidance of doubt, are you saying that there are ways of addressing problems that are best-in-class, in this case about displacement, that should always be the first port of call for someone wishing to engage with a problem?
David Miliband: Well, the short answer to that is yes. If you come to me and you say, "Look, I've got $1 million," or even if I've got $5 million and I wanted to have most impact, I won't say to you, "Let's design a whole new boutique program." I'll say to you... I could say to you, "Here are five different programs. I've got an education program in Bangladesh that I'm ready to scale up. I've got this Signpost program in Central America that I want to make as a genuine regional solution. I've got amazing work with women survivors of domestic violence but I can't get funding to roll it out and I need to be able to that. I've got employment and business startup programs that we know how to make work in humanitarian settings and the innovation has been done, but it's too boutique, I want to roll it out."
David Miliband: So I think if you come to me and you say, "I've got a $100 million," as the MacArthur Foundation did. And they didn't come to me. They came to an open competition. There were thousands of applicants. We applied with the Sesame Workshop with a program to tackle trauma toxic stress among 3-8 year olds.
David Miliband: Now they had $100 million on the table, and it's worth innovating for $100 million. And so you had two great organizations, IRC and Sesame Workshop. We came together with an evidence-based solution for how to help 3-8 year olds in the Middle East, whether they be in Syria or Jordan or Lebanon or Iraq, really try to come to terms with the trauma they'd been through, which could help them for the rest of their lives. Now, that's an innovation worth doing because you can really then set best practice, set a gold standard, roll it out elsewhere.
But I want to be honest with you. The issue of the tendency to be attracted by novelty rather than scaling an impact is a problem in the government sector, but it's also a problem in the corporate sector as well. And we've got to be honest about that. We've set ourselves out to be hardheaded humanitarians. I mean, big-hearted, but hardheaded in the sense of, "We'll tell you where we can have most impact." Any of your listeners can go onto the internet and type in “IRC outcomes and evidence framework”. And they'll see a map of the outcomes we're trying to pursue, what we know about best practice, also what we don't know. And what you'll see is exactly what our country directors see when they're figuring out what are the right solutions, whether it be in El Salvador or in Somalia or in Lebanon.
Stephan Chambers: I couldn't agree more. And it's a recurring theme in Philanthropy Bites, and in our work in philanthropy generally, this notion that many very honorably motivated people's first instinct is to come up with a novel solution. And their second instinct is to figure out whether that solution works. And then their third instinct is to figure out who else is doing work that is already proven to be good. And it would be very nice, I think, if we could somehow reverse that triad and make it the other way around.
So I try to ask everyone this. I assume that I followed everything you've said, and I am deeply moved by childhood malnutrition. Okay. But I'm a private actor, but listening to you has made me want to allocate 90% of my net assets to somehow leaning into that question. What do I do? And you're not allowed to say, as it were, support IRC.
David Miliband: If you're an individual who cares about malnutrition, you need to join with others to make a difference. What the International Rescue Committee has done with private funds, we've developed through our health and research and innovation teams a combined protocol for severe and acute malnutrition which can be used not by doctors and nurses, but by care workers and parents in the community to diagnose severe acute or moderate acute malnutrition, and treat it. So there is actually a solution. And we're running randomized control trials in Kenya, Mali, and South Sudan. We're showing how these community health workers can make a difference. We're desperate to bring more people into that drive because the world spends $280 million a year on trying to treat acute malnutrition, but 80% of people are not being helped by it.
David Miliband: So in that example, your motivated individual does need to come to the IRC website or send me an email and join our train on that. More broadly, I think that... I mean, the Pope said in 2014 that he went to Lampedusa where Syrians were arriving and he said, "The world is suffering the globalization of indifference," which is a brilliant phrase. I mean, it's really superb. And I said in my TED Talk... I don't know if you're allowed to argue with the Pope, but I don't think indifference is quite the right word. I think people know more about suffering that's going on around the world, but they don't know how to make a difference. And so it's not indifference, but it's not knowing how to make a difference. That is where joining with others is important. And remember, crowdfunding and crowd organizing is much easier than it was 20 years ago. Let's state the obvious. But voice is important. If you're an employer, making a difference through your employment practices and helping people who've been displaced (in this case, what we're talking about) giving them a chance. But I think it's a time for people to stand up, really, because the forces of impunity are on the march and those of us who've had the benefits of living in free societies need to defend them.
Stephan Chambers: I nearly always ask this too, in Philanthropy Bites, and particularly of you I think. So the climate crisis looks likely dramatically to increase the displacement of people. It is already. And it looks set to increase that to potentially really, really startling numbers. So I wonder whether you think that the work of the IRC, and by extension, the work of philanthropists and scholars and so on has necessarily to be climate work or whether you think that that's too big a statement?
David Miliband: No. I do agree with that, and I don't just say that. We've changed our constitution to reflect the climate crisis in our mission because the climate crisis is a conflict multiplier and by being a conflict multiplier, it's a forced displacement multiplier. And so I think that the climate world, the climate crisis world and the humanitarian world haven't yet joined. And one of the things we're trying to do is do that. We've got some work going on about how to promote climate resilience in fragile states or conflict-affected states. We'd like to do more of that programming. But there's hardly a sphere of national or international life that isn't climate-affected. And we are secondarily affected. I think most of the people who are displaced by climate change will actually be internally displaced i.e. within their own countries rather than refugees who cross borders. I mean, if you think about Bangladesh, people will be moving north in Bangladesh rather than immediately moving to India.
There's no question that resource stress, especially water resource stress, is a conflict multiplier. Land use is a conflict driver. And the climate crisis is part of it. And our clients are living with it twice over. They're living with it, with what's happening around them, in the Sahel or elsewhere, and they are living with it in the second sense that they are in systems that are very vulnerable to the changes in climate.
Stephan Chambers: David, my last question is perhaps a strange question, but it occurs to me interviewing people who do important work, that the reason the work is important is because it addresses a particular threat or a kind of crisis or a completely unjust equilibrium. And it's very rare that I interview people and ask them for the upside story, the good news story, because their lives are committed to addressing things which are clearly not happy stories. But I wonder if the example of displacement and of climate suggest that we need to get better at telling positive stories too and whether that is part of your work or not?
David Miliband: Well, I mean, if we only tell negative stories, then we'll all get unbelievably depressed and give up. So that, I think, is not good. Equally, I don't like happy talk. I mean, you learn in politics or in diplomacy, happy talk, that tells you everything's good when it's not, is a problem. I mean, it's a problem in business as well. But I think you never want to be an organization where people don't tell you the facts. Now, having said that, I think that one of the most rejuvenating aspects of my job is that every client I talk to has a trauma story, but a lot of clients are still able to have hope and courage and commitment and resilience. And so you should take strength from that.
And we've got to do a much better story, I think, of helping our clients tell their stories. That's what's inspiring, not listening to my speeches, but listening to the story of the baker from Damascus who's now relocated to Silver Spring, Maryland, and is able to rebuild his and his family's life. The story of the South Sudanese refugee woman who lost her sister in an unspeakable attack, but whose child has graduated from Kampala University and wants to go back to work on public health in South Sudan, those are the human stories of renewal. I don't like this sort of, "Are you an optimist? Are you a pessimist?" I mean, there's real life, and real life has trauma and tragedy, crime and tragedy, but real life also has resilience and renewal. And that's what I try to hold on to.
Stephan Chambers: David, thank you so much. Thank you for that note of renewal. You and IRC do incredibly important work. And we're enormously grateful to have heard you on Philanthropy Bites. Thank you.
Sheryl Fofaria: I love that optimistic note of finding pathways towards resilience and renewal amidst the important work IRC does for people whose lives are shattered by conflict and disaster. Join us next time to hear from Richard Curtis, who is the mastermind behind Black Adder, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary and many more. And whose advocacy and impact through Comic Relief and Make Poverty History have been nothing short of phenomenal.
"We're proud of trying things that might go wrong because, if you don't try anything that might go wrong, you'll never find anything that goes right.”
Rt Hon David Miliband
President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee
David Miliband is the President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. He oversees the agency’s relief and development operations in over 30 countries, its refugee resettlement and assistance programs throughout the United States and the IRC’s advocacy efforts in Washington and other capitals on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people.
David has had a distinguished political career in the United Kingdom. From 2007 to 2010, he served as the youngest Foreign Secretary in three decades, driving advancements in human rights and representing the United Kingdom throughout the world. His accomplishments have earned him a reputation, in former President Bill Clinton's words, as "one of the ablest, most creative public servants of our time.” In 2016 David was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine and in 2018 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
David is also the author of the book, Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time. As the son of refugees, David brings a personal commitment to the IRC's work and to the premise of the book: that we can rescue the dignity and hopes of refugees and displaced people. And if we help them, in the process we will rescue our own values.