Responding to White House Appeal, Tech Firms Aid Syrian Refugee Relief Effort

Wall Street Journal

When President Barack Obama said the U.S. had a moral obligation to help families forced from their homes, some technology companies responded, developing new ways Americans could send aid to Syrian refugees.

On Tuesday, Kickstarter and Instacart will roll out campaigns aimed at enabling Americans to donate directly to support refugees.

For the next week, customers who use Instacart’s online grocery-delivery service will have the option of buying food for refugee families when they check out. And Kickstarter will ask people to donate to the United Nations’ refugee agency to provide everything from fresh water to basic shelter for refugees.

Both companies developed the campaigns with encouragement from the White House, which sought to tap into the creative energy at startups to address this humanitarian issue. Mr. Obama has said he would ramp up his administration’s response to the migrant crisis, but he has added that citizens—as well as government—have a role to play.

Jason Goldman, the White House’s chief digital officer, said the president had sought to carve a path for millions of concerned Americans to help.

“We know that there are people all over the country who see what’s happening with this refugee crisis and want to know what they can do,” Mr. Goldman said in an interview. “One of the things we can do is convene people.”

The U.S. is the largest single donor to humanitarian relief efforts in Syria, contributing more than $4 billion since the civil war began in 2011, according to administration officials. Pressure has been building, though, for the U.S. to do more.

U.S. officials have announced plans to increase the number of refugees the country accepts from around the world to 100,000 annually, raising the cap from 70,000 now. The White House also has proposed admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. in the next year.

The president has faced criticism from all sides, with some human-rights advocates saying Mr. Obama hasn’t done enough and lawmakers dividing over the question of how, precisely, to address this issue. Some Republican lawmakers have said the crisis should be addressed in Syria, and others have pointed to cost and security concerns in arguing that the U.S. should not take the lead in accepting refugees.

Meantime, the migrant crisis has continued to grow, with more than 4 million Syrians fleeing the country during the last four years.

Mr. Goldman said he saw an opportunity to give people a concrete way to take action. During the last couple of weeks, he has approached multiple technology companies, asking them to propose their own solutions.

Yancey Strickler, the co-founder and chief executive of the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, said the immensity of the crisis compelled him to act.

“Considering the scale of the situation and the ask from the White House, we felt like we had a responsibility to step up,” he said. “We want to use these opportunities to do good if we can.”

Kickstarter recently reincorporated as a public benefit corporation, a move that Mr. Strickler said stemmed from his belief in civic responsibility and his willingness to commit resources to challenges such as the refugee crisis.

During the next week, those who want to help can choose from an array of options on Kickstarter’s website, ranging from a $15 donation that could buy a sleeping bag for a refugee to a $600 donation that could pay for a child’s education. The money will go directly to the U.N. refugee agency, and Kickstarter will donate its 5% fee to the effort.

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Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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