Break it Down: How Charities Approach the Insurmountable

1 July 2016 | By Cause4 staff

The Cause4 office is often a forum for lively debate: from football results to politics, we can always find some topical issue to challenge each other on. However, as our recent Brexit blog showed, the team is unanimous on the unequivocally negative effects of Brexit on the UK charity sector.

It’s so easy to dwell, in difficult times, on the negatives. The current news cycle has seen bad news item after bad news item: without wanting to be melodramatic, it feels like the sky is falling down. If you’re an optimist, your immediate response may be to try and find a silver lining (and, if you are so disposed, I’d recommend this great article). Positive thinking is a powerful thing, however unless it is coupled with action, it cannot affect real change – especially when the world is reaching breaking point.

Thomas Jefferson said that “action will delineate and define you”, but when we’re faced with global economic downturn, a society that is more divided than we could ever have realised and the abject suffering and pain of the millions of refugees seeking better lives around the world, it can be difficult to know where to start. How can we make everything better?

The short answer is that we can’t. The long answer is that we can try.

Something that has become clear as the implications of Brexit unfold is that immigration is an issue concerning almost everyone; whether you believe that there should or shouldn’t be a cap on free movement, or because you’re concerned by the vitriolic, xenophobic outpourings of some who do. The problem is complex – and the challenges are wide ranging.

When David Cameron referred to refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean as a ‘swarm’ in July last year, his remarks were rightly seized upon for their uncompassionate reinforcing of negative and divisive stereotyping of refugees. However, they also spoke of the difficulty we have with processing the fact that large numbers of people are also distinct individuals with their own histories, potential, and significant problems.

The UNCHR currently reports that 65.3 million people have been forced from their homes worldwide; 10 million people are currently stateless and 34,000 people are being displaced every day. This is human displacement on an epic scale with almost inconceivable numbers of people affected; but something that has become clear in many responses to the crisis is the importance of breaking it down.

Things as seemingly insignificant as the shift from using the word ‘migrant’ to the word ‘refugee’ in the media have made it clear that the changes making a difference to the responses to the refugee crisis are, for the most part, incremental. This is also reflected in charities’ messaging, with increasing numbers of charities seeking to tell the stories of individuals to humanise the crisis: approaches have included using VR headsets to allow prospective donors to stand in the shoes of individual refugees, or War Child UK’s ‘Duty of Care’ advert, which uses the appearance of a first-person shooter to demonstrate the realities of war, which we who are broadly unaffected by it often forget in the name of entertainment.

Additionally, the work of charities often focuses on tackling smaller parts of the whole problem. Katherina M. Rosqueta, at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy in Pennsylvania states that “to help the greatest number of refugees, you need first to understand where those refugees are located, and second, to support the organizations addressing refugee needs on the ground.” There are a number of charities which respond to these kinds of solvable problems; a single organisation may not be able to provide housing and food and political stability for every refugee, but can provide phone credit, information on how to enter Europe, and Air BnB-style lodging apps for some of those seeking shelter.

We’re currently faced with many problems that seem insurmountable. This doesn’t mean that we should sit back and watch as things get worse. Those of us working in the charity sector should seek to find the spaces where we can meet some need, facilitate even small changes, incremental differences that will collectively affect ideological and physical change on a bigger scale. Drops of water will wear the stone away.

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