How Airbnb Hosts are Opening Doors to Refugees & Relief Workers

This article first appeared on Refugees Deeply

Spain us tourism fine airbnb

A woman searches the Airbnb website in Madrid on November 24, 2016. AFP/JAVIER SORIANO

The day after President Donald Trump’s executive order in January suspending refugee resettlement and barring travel to the U.S. from seven countries, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told employees in an email that the company would provide free housing to refugees and anyone affected by the travel ban.

While the ban has since been revised and is now mired in legal challenges, the San Francisco-based home-sharing website has announced a goal to provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need, including refugees, disaster survivors and relief workers.

Airbnb’s work with refugees grew out of the Disaster Response Program launched in 2013 after New Yorkers used the platform to offer shelter to people displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Under the program, hosts offer free temporary accommodation for displaced people and Airbnb waives all booking fees. The company also donates travel credits to allow relief workers to book accommodation with Airbnb hosts.

As part of our interview series with private sector leaders engaging in the refugee crisis, Refugees Deeply spoke to Kellie Bentz, head of Global Disaster Response & Relief at Airbnb, about the company’s work with refugees to date.

Refugees Deeply: How did Airbnb’s work with refugees begin?

Kellie Bentz: In partnership with the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, we hosted a discussion in the summer of 2015 with about 20 to 30 companies, which was the beginning of our deeper dialogue with the U.N. and the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) about the global refugee crisis.

By September 2015, our community was consistently indicating that they wanted to take action on the crisis emerging in Europe. Then, in October 2015, we started working extensively with UNHCR, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps to provide housing credits to their relief workers on the front lines.

Our commitment to doing more and learning from our work with these terrific organizations led to our more recent commitment to house 100,000 displaced people and relief workers within the next five years.

Refugees Deeply: How did you decide what would be the most useful and efficient role for Airbnb to play?

Bentz: Our approach was developed to address both the global crisis and specific local challenges in places like Europe and the Middle East. We believe that our global community and our platform are a powerful combination to help raise awareness, raise much-needed financial resources and provide both online and offline solutions to specific obstacles faced by refugees and their families. UNHCR, Mercy Corps and the IRC continue to be our key nongovernmental partners in this important work. Their counsel and input have guided our work at every step of the way.

Refugees Deeply: What results have you seen from the company’s refugee programs to date, and what are your goals for the next year?

Bentz: We have provided over 3,000 nights of free housing to relief workers working in refugee camps in Kos, Lesvos, Ionniana, Athens, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We matched up to $1 million in contributions [in 2016] from our community to UNHCR to support their work with refugees.

During the 2016 holiday season, over 350 Airbnb hosts [in the U.S.] and resettled refugee families shared holiday meals to find common ground and to learn more about one another. Over the course of 2017, we will be expanding this initiative to Canada and Europe, enabling our community to offer warm meals and create new bonds with future citizens.

We supported a two-day hackathon to develop prototypes for open-source educational solutions for refugees. We also provided accommodation for the team of relief workers who helped produce After Spring, a documentary that tells the story of two Syrian families at the Zaatari refugee camp, and the aid workers fighting to keep the camp running.

Refugees Deeply: What have you learned about the risks and opportunities that companies are likely to face in addressing the refugee crisis?

Bentz: Belonging is core to our mission and we believe that everyone can be a part of the solution. This includes the private sector and government entities coming together to identify where we can all contribute and collaborate to create empathy driven impact.

Airbnb was one of the initial partners to sign on with the Tent Partnership at Davos in January 2016. We believe it is important to encourage as many private sector entities as possible to contribute to a part of the global refugee crisis solution in their own unique way. The partnership is a convener of both private sector and nonprofit partners in this space.

Refugees Deeply: How are you measuring the success of the company’s refugee programs?

Bentz: We have a goal to provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need. To help meet this goal, Airbnb will contribute $4 million over the course of four years to the IRC to support the most critical needs of displaced populations globally. We will measure our progress against this goal.

How charities win employees from the world’s top businesses


Business Man walking into horizon

While some secondees return to the corporate world, 70% on the ProInspire programme stayed at their chosen charity. (Photograph: Cultura Creative/Alamy)

Charity secondments have become a popular way for private-sector employees to share skills and explore interests with the safety net of a job to return to. But one US organisation hopes to take the secondment model a step further and nurture the next generation of charity leaders.


ProInspire facilitates year-long fellowships for private-sector professionals to work with nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington DC region. Since its launch in 2009, ProInspire says it has placed more than 120 fellows in 60 local and national organisations including Community Housing Partnership,Global Giving and Meals on Wheels America.


While some ProInspire fellows return to their job, more than 70% of fellows remain with their charity at the end of their placement – most for at least one year.

ProInspire founder Monisha Kapila (recently named by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as one of its 40 under 40 influential nonprofit innovators) set up the matching scheme in response to what she saw was a lack of opportunity for private-sector professionals to easily make the transition to a nonprofit career.

“A lot of people want to use their business skills for good, and nonprofits need commercial skills,” says Kapila. “We look at how to better connect this supply and demand.”
Fellows typically have between two and five years of business experience and come from a wide range of employers, including Accenture, Google, JP Morgan and Zenith Media.

Selecting the best

Applicants go through a competitive, competency-based selection process (less than 4% are accepted), then the charity interviews finalists to select their ideal secondee. Fellowship roles can include communications, fundraising, finance, project management and technology.

Business people at conference table, portrait. Job interview panel.
Applicants for the ProInspire fellowship go through a rigorous selection process before the charity chooses their ideal secondee. (Photograph: Phil Boorman/Getty Images)


Isayas Theodros, a 2013 ProInspire fellow, swapped his job as a senior auditor at Deloitte’s Costa Mesa offices in California for the role of portfolio manager at Washington-based Partners for the Common Good (PCG), a community development funding organisation. After two-and-half years in the private sector, he was looking for a sense of purpose in his work. The fellowship involved managing borrower-lender relations and loan portfolios.

“By far, the best part of my job was assisting real people who longed to make a tangible difference in their respective communities,” says Theodros.Inspired by the experience, he remained as portfolio manager with PCG for a further year.The nonprofit host covers the fellowship cost – currently $49,000 (£34,000) in the San Francisco Bay Area and $46,500 in Washington DC. The host also pays a $7,000 fee to ProInspire for fellowship training, coaching and mentoring.

Filling skills gaps

Neha Patel, associate director of strategic planning and analysis at FHI 360, a Washington-based health and education nonprofit, says secondments help to widen the recruitment pool: “Nonprofits do need the heart but we also need the business sense, the management approach and the expertise that comes from the private sector.”A recent survey of 300 heads of digital in UK charities found that 95% had no HR strategy for improving digital skills of their employees. So could investing in secondments now pay long-term dividends?
Skilling up the sector is the focus of UK-based On Purpose, which matches business professionals with charities, typically for two six-month placements. Hosts pay an annual salary of around £21,000 and a one-off fee to On Purpose of between £5,500 and £11,000, depending on size and legal structure.For a £1,000 (plus VAT) brokerage fee, the Whitehall and Industry Group’s Charity Next will place employees on the Civil Service’s fast stream graduate programme on year-long secondments with charities such as Leonard Cheshire and Place2Be.John Lewis Partnership employees can apply for a charity secondment of up to six months via the firm’s Golden Jubilee Trust.

Nurturing volunteering

While most secondees on these schemes will return to their previous jobs, many remain involved in the voluntary sector. Benet Northcote, director of corporate responsibility at John Lewis Partnership, says: “Seventy-five per cent of our secondees continue to volunteer for the [host] organisation, or another one.”

Elle Bradley-Cox spent four days a week over four months on secondment from her role as PR and marketing co-ordinator at John Lewis Sheffield to the learning disability charity Work Ltd. During her stint, which gained her a Business in the Community award, she developed a marketing strategy, PR plan and branding for the charity. “I also helped them launch their own social media presence which allowed the charity to better promote the great work they do,” says Bradley-Cox. “I was thrilled to be awarded the [BITC] award … not least because it helped to give the charity even greater exposure.”

Doing the funny business: why Red Nose Day USA paid off

RED NOSE DAY -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Seth Meyers onstage at NBC's

Red Nose Day host Seth Meyers onstage at the NBC telethon (Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

Launching a national fundraising event in a country of 320 million people and multiple time zones may seem like an ambitious gamble. But UK charity Comic Relief hopes the first Red Nose Day USA, which culminated on 21 May with a telethon raising over $21m (£13.6m), will prove to be worth the risk.

Red Nose Day USA builds on the success of its UK namesake which, since its launch in 1988, has raised more than £1bn to help 50 million people in the poorest communities at home and abroad.

The biennial Red Nose Day UK fundraiser encourages people to “do something funny for money” in their school, community or workplace. It concludes with a live TV show and telethon on BBC1, which in March 2015 raised over £78m and attracted 8.5 million viewers.

Around 3.2 million viewers watched the inaugural Red Nose Day USA’s slick, three-hour broadcast from New York featuring live comedy sketches, musical performances and pre-recorded acts.

The US show also included pre-recorded celebrity reports from the field (Jack Black in Uganda and Michelle Rodriguez in Peru) and household name hosts (Seth Meyers, David Duchovny and Jane Krakowski) to urge viewers to donate during the show.

Twelve non-profit organisations in the US and worldwide will benefit from the first Red Nose Day USA, from Boys & Girls Clubs of America to international vaccination organisation, Gavi.

Red Nose Day USA is run by Comic Relief Inc as an independent sister organisation of Comic Relief UK – the charity set up in 1985 by screenwriter Richard Curtis in response to famine in Ethiopia.

Comic Relief innovation director, Amanda Horton-Mastin says the idea of a US Red Nose Day had been percolating for some time: “We share the same language, the US is an amazingly generous population and we have a lot of shared comedy.”

Campaign challenges

Given the scale of the US, it was essential to have an effective network partner so the team was delighted to secure NBC, which worked with its affiliates to promote the event locally. “With the BBC and two or three media partners you can reach everyone in the UK,” Horton-Mastin explained. “The fragmentation of the media [in the US] is a massive challenge.”

Another challenge was building brand awareness in a country where red noses mean Rudolph, not raising money: “Nobody knew us – we were starting from zero awareness.”

Walgreens – the pharmacy chain with 8,232 outlets across the US – was chosen as exclusive retailer of the campaign’s trademark red noses and other select products from vendor partners such as Mars, Kraft and Coca-Cola. Sales of these items, combined with fundraising by Walgreens’ employees and customers, raised over $8m while embedding the campaign at community level.

Bringing a new fundraising brand to market within just a few months meant that social media was a crucial element of the campaign. NBC created a dedicated app which enabled users to add a red nose image to a new or existing photo, then share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Building on this, Red Nose Day USA partner M&M’s asked people to make someone laugh then share their story with the hashtag #MakeMLaugh, in return for a $1 M&M’s donation to Red Nose Day. The campaign hit its $250,000 target and raised $1.25m from M&M’s.

Additionally, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $25 for each photo posted on Twitter or Instagram by 1 June with the hashtag #RedNose25, up to a total $1m.

RED NOSE DAY -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Gwyneth Paltrow onstage at NBC's

Gwyneth Paltrow makes an entrance at the Red Nose Day telethon (Photo: David Giesbrecht/NBC)

Content is king

Creating a rich source of newsworthy content that could go viral was another priority. “Content is king so we wanted to make the entertainment really strong,” Horton-Mastin added.

Telethon night highlights included a Game of Thrones mock musical by Coldplay that has attracted over 7m hits on YouTube, The Voice winner Sawyer Fredericks’ rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine and an acoustic duet by Ed Sheeran and Kermit the Frog of the Muppet Movie song, Rainbow Connection.

The strategy appears to have paid off. According to Nielsen’s Twitter TV ratings – which map the social conversation around a telecast three hours before and after the event – four million people across the US saw 149,000 Red Nose Day tweets, making it the third most social TV event of the week, behind only the NBA Draft Lottery and David Letterman’s final Late Show.

Other countries including Iceland, Finland, Germany and South Africa have hosted their own events based on Red Nose Day or Sport Relief, usually run under licence from Comic Relief. In Australia, a Red Nose Day has existed since 1987 as the main annual fundraiser for SIDS and Kids, a national charity supporting families affected by infant death. Horton-Mastin said Comic Relief will continue to look at opportunities to expand the brand where there is a giving culture and a TV culture.

In the meantime, Horton-Mastin hopes Red Nose Day USA will become an annual event: “We’ve been very optimistic and have huge aspirations, because our mission is about driving positive change using the power of entertainment.”

Brands continue to target fast food marketing at kids

child eating beefburger

Each year, the world’s food and beverage companies spend billions on marketing and advertising their products to children and teenagers. The overwhelming majority of these products are high in calories, added sugar, saturated fat and sodium – fast food, fizzy drinks, sweets and chocolate to name just a few. Ask your child to recall a food advert and chances are that it won’t be one for apples or broccoli.

US fast food restaurants alone spent $4.6bn on advertising to children and teens in 2012. According to Fast Food Facts 2013, children under six saw almost three adverts for fast foods every day, while 12-17-year-olds saw almost five adverts a day.

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of kids’ meals at fast-food restaurants increased by 54%. But the percentage of items that qualified as healthy – less than 1% – remained stagnant.

Report lead author Jennifer Harris, director of marketing at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, is concerned that many companies are shifting their focus to increase reach into markets not currently covered by the current system of voluntary self regulation.

“A lot of companies have switched their marketing target to the 12-14 [age] group. This is a really vulnerable time for kids; they are seeing more media and making more decisions on their own,” Harris says.

Around one in three children in the US – and in the UK – is overweight or obese. A study published this month by Roberto De Vogli of UC Davis in California found that fast food purchases were independent predictors of increases in the average body mass index (BMI) in the US and 24 other wealthy nations between 1999 to 2008.

So what is business doing?

Encouraging food and drink companies to rethink their messages is the aim of the first White House convening on food marketing to children. Launching the meeting last September, US First Lady Michelle Obama called on the private sector to “move faster” to market responsibly to children.

In January 2014, Subway became the first quick service chain to join Partnership for a Healthy America, a campaign endorsed by Obama to bring together business, non-profits and health advisers to tackle childhood obesity. A three-year commitment worth $41m will see it market healthier options and promote fruit and veg consumption.

Disney has pledged that by 2015, all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on Disney-owned media channels, online destinations and theme parks will be required to meet nutritional guidelines that align with federal standards to promote fruit and vegetables and limit calories, sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.

Earlier this year, Lidl became the first supermarket group in the UK to remove unhealthy products from all tills across its stores, with no seasonal exceptions for Christmas or Easter confectionery. Lidl is replacing these products with healthier options including fresh and dried fruits, nuts and bottled water.

Should regulation be playing a bigger role?

In the UK, regulation exists to prevent adverts for unhealthy foods from being broadcast during or around programmes specifically made for children. But the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) argues that the popularity of family entertainment shows like The X-Factor means later bedtimes for many children – and advertisers are taking advantage by promoting unhealthy foods at these times.

In a joint campaign with the British Heart Foundation, the CFC will next month call for a 9pm watershed for fast food and drinks ads and clearer definition of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods, to close existing loopholes.

But the ISBA, which represents British advertisers, argues that the causal link between the ads that viewers watch, and the food choices they make, is “nominal”, and ad prohibitions are currently viewed at the “silver bullet” for tackling a complex public health issue.

Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs says: “Encouraging people to change their lifestyle rather than slapping bans on ads is what will make a difference.

“There are plenty of good examples of big brands changing their messages to ensure they stay relevant to their consumers but support the overall message for a healthier lifestyle. Coca-Cola, for instance, only advertises its low calorie or sugar-free products.”

The UC Davis study suggests that if governments take action to control food industries, they can help prevent obesity and its serious health consequences, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This echoes calls in the UK and US for more robust, government-led regulation of the industry, rather than voluntary self-regulation.

In the UK, the CFC hopes the government’s food promotion pledge – expected late spring as part of its public health responsibility deal – will target point-of-sale, product packaging, digital marketing and in-school promotion.

Beyond the supermarket

The CFC’s Junk Free Checkouts campaign, launched last September, challenged supermarkets to act on consumer concerns about “pester power” and remove unhealthy snacks from checkouts and queuing areas. Shoppers were urged to hand in pass or fail cards to store managers, and name and shame supermarkets via a dedicated website.

Malcolm Clark, CFC co-ordinator, says: “The government’s responsibility pledge covers supermarkets, but WH Smith and Boots have chocolate at the checkout, so the question will be whether they engage with the other companies.”

Dr Emma Boyland, a psychologist at the University of Liverpool who specialises in the effects of food marketing on children’s diets, says the next challenge is to tackle promotion to children via advergaming and social media.

“The cross-border nature of this [area] means that government can only tackle A little progress has been made with TV but advertising has moved to the Internet.. and into another sphere.”

How can companies engage with children and young people?

Originally published in The Guardian

Almost one third of the world’s population – over 2.2 billion – is under 18 so it is inevitable that business has an impact on their daily lives. Today’schildren and young people are tomorrow’s consumers, employees and community members. Together, these facts make a compelling case for business to give their young stakeholders a voice in how they operate and strategise.

But when is it appropriate for business to actively involve children? And how can they harness young people’s views in a meaningful way that protects their rights whilst allowing them to fully participate in business decisions?

From their current influence on decision making to their future purchasing power, children represent a powerful force in the marketplace. Emma Rea is the founder of brand and innovation consultancy Number 71, which works with UK businesses including Pizza Express and Byron. She says children’s “largely unfettered imaginations” offer business unique insights and perspectives.

“Because they are not bound by the constraints of corporate life, and have no knowledge of company structures, awareness of production capabilities and the like, children and young people are able to see opportunity where adults see issues, see solutions where we see problems and, crucially, make connections that we would never have thought possible.”

Rea believes there is a strong business case for involving children’s voices in the design of new buildings and services: “Whether it is a school building, a public transport ticket machine or a new snack food, organisations should consult children on what they would like and listen to their views before making final decisions. The end results are far more likely to be readily taken up and enjoyed by children.”

In addition to inviting children and parents to help enhance its store design and customer experience, toy manufacturer Lego offers young people a chance to have a say in product design. Launched in 2008,Lego CUUSOO (Japanese for ‘wish’) is an online crowdsourcing project that invites users to submit and vote for ideas for new Lego sets. If an idea gets 10,000 votes, Lego will review it for possible production. If the idea gets the green light, its creators get a 1% share of the product’s net sales. Creators must be 18 so they are eligible to enter a formal contract if successful, however bids can be supported by children age 13 and over.

While true ‘co-creation’ product initiatives like this one are still relatively rare, involving children and young people in strategic planning has become more commonplace. B&Q launched its first Youth Board in 2011 following a nationwide search for nine young people to rethink and redesign the company’s business model for the future. As part of its work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on sustainability, the company wanted recruits to reassess its business in the light of future challenges such as the rising costs of materials and energy, and growing population.

During the year-long project, members aged 16 to 19 were mentored by their counterparts on the B&Q board. Their recommendations include more targeted marketing campaigns via social media to reach younger generations, and developing closed loop brands, products and services that will add value now and in the future.

Plan International USA has child advisory groups in its 50 programme countries and youth advisory boards in its fundraising offices. The child poverty NGO has just appointed its first youth trustee – 22-year-old Marisa Haire – who has been involved with Plan since she was 13, when she helped to launch the YUGA nationwide network of young people who take action on global issues.

President and CEO, Tessie San Martin, says young people become involved with Plan via clearly defined routes: “They learn the issues, engage with Plan in youth-friendly ways, and over time gain an understanding of the organisation. By engaging youth at different levels within the organisation, we’ve created a model that supports sustainable engagement.”

Plan also engages children and young people through youth media clubs, where participants conduct research about a rights issue, partner with a local radio station or TV station, interview members of the community, and design educational radio and TV programmes.

San Martin has seen these projects at work in Ecuador. “The children and youth in very poor and drug-ridden neighbourhoods put together some incredibly well-done and impactful docu-dramas around very tough themes like drug abuse, crime, and sex trafficking,” she says.

“Adult community leaders found that such actions were far more effective than anything they could have designed to disseminate important public health and education messages that actually impact attitudes and behaviours,” she adds.

Organisations should see participation by children as a strategic asset and not a “tick-the-box” exercise, says San Martin. Another challenge is having the right systems in place to support such engagement, such as training or mentoring for staff working with young people. Clear evaluation and measurement guidelines are also essential, to give all involved the chance to identify on a regular basis what is and is not working.

San Martin stresses that it is “crucial” that organisations establish and adhere to policies around child and youth protection, participation, and ethics. The UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out a framework for how business should protect the rights of stakeholders, including children, in its operations.

The Children’s Rights and Business Principles, developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, builds on this by setting out the actions that business can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights.

Denise Kleinrichert, associate professor, management/ethics at theCenter for Ethical and Sustainable Business at San Francisco State University, believes organisations need to ensure that there is “informed consent” when working with children.

“I think it is ethical to include children’s voices but you have got to have protection,” she says. “If you are approaching children in social media environments designed for and by children, there are still privacy issues that can result in harm.

“And are children fully informed? Do they understand what they are being asked to do?”

Rea agrees that organisations should be sensitive around age and privacy issues, but adds: “As soon as children can offer a point of view or preference for things, then we should take their views on board. This is not just an altruistic vision, but a pragmatic one.”