June 20, 2021

Celebrating World Refugee Day by Placing Power and Resources in the Hands of Refugees

To celebrate World Refugee Day, ICONIQ Impact shares the story behind the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award and how it's helping shift power and resources back into the hands of refugees.

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Last month, ICONIQ Impact—ICONIQ Capital’s collaborative philanthropy platform—and our partners at Lever for Change announced the recipients of the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award, a grant competition to uncover and fund innovative, scalable solutions supporting the wellbeing of refugees.

Namesake sponsors, philanthropists Chris Larsen and Lyna Lam, contributed an initial $10 million to the award and were quickly joined by the Sea Grape foundation, which contributed an additional $2 million. When the competition surfaced five compelling finalist solutions, each demonstrating the ability to provide sustainable, meaningful impact for refugees, we called upon philanthropists in the ICONIQ network to scale support for each high-impact solution.

Through peer-to-peer fundraising efforts, ICONIQ Impact and the award’s sponsors mobilized an additional $12.25 million in funding from several generous donors in the ICONIQ community, bringing the award’s total to $24.25 million—more than double the initial size.

This additional funding enabled the five award finalists to walk away with some level of funding, allowing them to collectively reach over one million refugees across the world, and highlighting the power of collaborative giving.

The award’s primary recipient, the Resourcing Refugee Leadership Initiative (RRLI), received $10 million from Chris Larsen and Lyna Lam. RRLI is a global, six-organization-strong coalition driven by the importance of transferring ownership and resources to refugee-led organizations (RLOs). The coalition, convened by Asylum Access, brings together five RLOs: Basmeh & Zeitooneh (B&Z) in Lebanon, St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) in Egypt, Refugees & Asylum seekers Information Centre (RAIC) in Indonesia, Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) in Uganda, and RefugiadosUnidos in Colombia. RRLI gives power back to refugees by equipping RLOs with the funding, access, and support they need to scale. They’re working to build inclusive and representative systems, built by people with firsthand knowledge of what’s it’s like to be a refugee.

Organizations like RRLI are at the forefront of humanitarian response efforts, operating in environments deemed too dangerous or remote for traditional aid organizations and providing support and essential services for the world’s most vulnerable refugee communities. These organizations are largely ignored by the formal aid system, yet they play an indispensable role in plugging the service delivery gaps that exist across the humanitarian sector.

COVID-19 sparked an increased interest in RLOs, which spearheaded refugee support at a time when international aid organizations limited their on-the-ground services. RRLI and similar grassroots organizations have begun receiving the recognition they deserve and funding they so desperately need, but not at the pace required to adequately address the current refugee crisis.

According to UNHCR’s latest report, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is at an historic high of nearly 80 million. At the same time, the $30 billion that cycles through the humanitarian system each year is largely directed towards national and international aid organizations—only 0.05% goes toward RLOs.

At ICONIQ Impact, we understand the value in supporting organizations that are overlooked and underfunded. We also know that changing the funding landscape requires a set of bold first-movers ready to be nimble, take risks, and provide catalytic capital for promising solutions. The Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award is a game-changer for RRLI, and it is our hope that it will help transform the humanitarian system by putting power and resources back in the hands of refugees themselves.

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