Global in scope and unprecedented in scale since World War II, the international refugee crisis is an important focus for Mercy Corps, one of Nau’s original Partners For Change and one of the leading organizations on the front lines of humanitarian response. To mark International Refugee Day on June 20th, we spoke with Mercy Corps’ Allison Morris, managing director of corporate engagement, who works with companies to reach beyond writing a check, and to engage customers and communities in creating meaningful change.
What is Mercy Corps?
Mercy Corps is a Global organization that both meets the urgent needs of today and supports goals towards a stronger tomorrow. What that means is that we provide humanitarian response in times of disaster and crisis, and at the same time we look towards lasting sustainable changes to really complex problems in the world. We work in more than forty countries around the world.
What does it mean to Mercy Corps to be one of Nau’s Partners For Change?
Well, Nau is Mercy Corps’ longest standing cause-marketing partner. I know Nau is celebrating their 10th anniversary this fall, and we’re celebrating that 10th anniversary right with them—we’ve been a Partner For Change since its inception.
More than $200,000 has been donated over the last decade from Nau and from Nau’s customers to support Mercy Corps’ work around the world. But it’s more than money—it’s about this really authentic alignment between our brands and our values. It really stems from that belief that companies can be a real force for good, not just by donating to organizations, but by thinking through how companies can make broad systemic changes.
What led you to join Mercy Corps?
Oh goodness. I’m going tell you my embarrassing, but true story: I was a fundraiser, working in a different area in the non-profit world, and I was getting kind of burnt out and jaded. My husband pointed out to me that when I had free time, I like to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Alias, and West Wing. I was obsessed with people who were able to change the world and make it better. So he said, “go and make the world better.”
I laughed and said, well, I don’t know how slay vampires. He said, “no, but you’re a fundraiser, that’s your super power, go save the world.” If you’ve watched Buffy, then you know in the final season, she realizes she can’t be the only one, that she needs to empower an entire generation of young women to go slay vampires. And that’s what really brought me into Mercy Corps: this mentality that it’s not enough for an aid organization to just go out there and just provide a handout.
When I go to the field and meet 120 young women who are learning to earn and manage livestock, so that they have the opportunity to make better nutritional choices for their families, delay marriage, change perceptions about girls and women’s ability to own property—I’m going, man, I’m not trying to save the world alone, I’m empowering all these young women to do this along with me.
Tuesday, June 20th is International Refugee Day. How do you think today’s global refuge crisis compares to other points in history?
This is the defining crisis of our generation. People will look back at governments, individuals, companies, and ask, “how did you respond to this?”
It is the largest refugee crisis since World War II. According to the UN, 65.3 million people are forcibly displaced globally. Of the 21.3 million refugees—those who cross an international border—half are children under the age of 18. And the average amount of time that a refugee spends away from home is 17 years. So you have to ask, how do you maintain a generation of people who are going to grow up as refugees? How do you maintain education? How do you maintain the opportunity for employment? How do you think about holistic wellbeing of their mental health and spirit?
Can you share a story of how Mercy Corps is addressing the crisis?
I was in Jordan in December of last year, in the Za’atari refugee camp, where we host child safe spaces. These are areas in the camp that are designated for adolescents and children only. It includes everything from a small soccer pitch and some gymnasium equipment, a computer room for kids to learn how to use computers, arts and crafts rooms, and classrooms for some more traditional classroom work. There, I met a girl named Azeh. She was 12 years old and had lived in the refugee camp for the last four years.
As we were speaking with her, the name Khawla kept coming up. Anything you asked her, Khawla was part of the answer. What do you want to be when you grow up? A teacher like Khawla. When you have questions and you don’t know where to turn, who do you go to? Khawla. When you need to feel safe, who do you go to? Khawla. Okay, who is this Khawla? Khawla was her life skills teacher at the refuge center.
The thing that really moved me was that Khawla is a Syrian refuge as well. She was a teacher before she left. The thing that I loved about it was that the role model Azeh was looking up to was a Syrian woman. For Khawla, we are giving her dignity and purpose and a paycheck and really reinforcing the idea of growing a stronger community at the same time that we’re supporting this little girl.
What one thing would you like to see people do to help address this crisis?
Well, it’s a two-part one thing.
The most important thing is for people to recognize this as a human crisis. When you hear numbers like 65 million people, and you hear countries like South Sudan and Jordan, it feels very distant. But people are people. It’s mothers who want their children to be safe and have a better future. It’s kids who want to play and blow off schoolwork. It’s people who are separated from family and can’t get ahold of them and are worried. You recognize that, there but for the grace of geography go I.
Beyond that, do whatever is in your scope to do, whether it’s making a donation to an organization like Mercy Corps, calling an elected representative to say please don’t cut foreign aid, volunteering. Do what’s possible for you to make the situation better.
How can people support your work?
The easiest way is going to MercyCorps.org/donate and making a contribution. Honestly, financial support for an organization like Mercy Corps is really the most vital resource for a crisis like this.
Nau donates 2% of all sales to our Partners For Change, including Mercy Corps. To learn more about Mercy Corps, or to make a donation to support their important work around the globe, visit mercycorps.org.