Why philanthropy should respond now to the Venezuela refugee crisis

The Story of the Next Decade: 

Why philanthropy should respond now to the Venezuela refugee crisis

By: Caroline Kronley, The Tinker Foundation

As 2019 comes to a close, my inbox and Twitter feed are overflowing with think pieces on the major events and trends of the past decade. In Latin America one of the biggest stories of the 2010s will no doubt continue to dominate the headlines for the next ten years: By 2020, at least five million Venezuelans will have left their country in response to its complex humanitarian crisis

While we hear less about it in the United States, the scale of Venezuelan forced migration is astonishing – more than 14% of the country’s population has left (according to the Organization of American States). Meanwhile, the response from international donors has not kept pace with need, making this what the Brookings Institution has called the most underfunded refugee crisis in modern times. At the Tinker Foundation, which I lead, we have decided to treat the Venezuela refugee crisis as a top priority. Below I share the reasons why, along with some ideas for how foundations and individuals – including those that don’t already give in Latin America – can take action.

Reasons to Engage
  1. The scale of Venezuelan forced migration – and the suffering that has provoked it – is unlike anything we have seen in recent history. People on the move frequently face uncertain futures and threats to their wellbeing. Those leaving Venezuela now do so because they have already suffered from food, water, and medicine shortages, violence, and political repression. We have a humanitarian obligation to act. 
  2. Latin American countries need support to build their institutional resilience and keep their borders relatively open. In the midst of an unprecedented situation, many countries have responded with a relatively welcoming stance backed by novel policy approaches. Brazil has just moved to recognize thousands of Venezuelans as refugees. Colombia, which has received the most Venezuelans, is working to meet the real needs of this population while also recognizing the potential opportunity it represents if integrated effectively. In parallel, we should support civil society organizations that hold their governments accountable for protecting the rights of displaced people under existing legal frameworks and agreements. 
  3. Rebuilding Venezuela in the future will require nourishing the talent and potential of the diaspora today. One concrete action we can take now is supporting Venezuelans in the diaspora to stabilize their lives, regularize their status, and invest in the next generation. Other refugee crises have seen a “lost generation” of children who have foregone access to education. Governments and civil society in the region are working to avoid a similar tragedy in our hemisphere, and need far more funding to do so. 


Getting Started

What concrete steps can concerned funders take? 

    • Find your focus. The scale of the refugee crisis means there are opportunities for funders to directly support vulnerable communities aligned with their priorities: school-age children; LGBTQ+ populations; indigenous communities; people facing specific health conditions such as HIV/AIDs and diabetes. Organizations like Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) can help make connections to vetted nonprofits serving these populations. Funders can also support more systemic work on advocacy and longer-term policy solutions
    • Invest in local civil society. At Tinker, we are convinced that local civil society – which responded to this crisis before anyone else, and will remain focused on it long after others – deserves greater visibility and support. For that reason, we’re partnering with HIP on the #VenezuelansMovingFwd crowdfunding campaign, which funds local nonprofits in countries like Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. Notably, many of these organizations count Venezuelans among their leaders and staff. 
    • Support Venezuelans in the U.S. While the United States has received far fewer Venezuelans than neighboring countries, Venezuelans now top the list of those applying for asylum in this country: more than 30,000 in 2018 alone. U.S. funders looking to engage closer to home can support organizations that serve growing Venezuelan communities in Florida, New York, and elsewhere, including with legal services for asylum claims. Some of these organizations are participating in #VenezuelansMovingFwd

Private foundations have an advantage in our giving: the ability to focus not just on the issues that matter today, but also on those on the horizon. The Venezuelan refugee crisis is “both / and”: a huge issue facing the Americas now, and one that will continue to be significant ten and perhaps even twenty years from now as people leave Venezuela, resettle, and integrate into host communities over the long term. The investments we make now – in supporting the wellbeing and potential of the most vulnerable in the diaspora, and in strengthening the capacity of governments and civil society to respond in humane and sustainable ways – will matter a great deal when we look back in a few years and ask ourselves: What did we do when faced with the largest refugee crisis our hemisphere has ever seen?