On November 7, UCSB Arts & Lectures donors gathered at the magnificent Montecito estate of Pete and Jillian Muller for an enjoyable dinner and enlightening discussion with International Rescue Committee (IRC) President David Miliband.
During an extended reception, top level donors mingled poolside with Miliband while partaking in gourmet passed nibbles and beverages. Guests then were seated in comfy furniture in the house, where the hosts, legendary hedge fund manager Pete Muller and IRC boardmember Jillian Muller, welcomed them. Pete shared how his mom’s family fled Europe in the 1920s and his Dad fled in the 1940s. He reflected on how we are all connected in this world and thus how important it is to take care of those who are displaced.
Miliband began by explaining why he took the helm of the IRC five years ago. First, he sees the challenges the IRC faces — how to get medical aid into Syria against the will of the government, how to extend education to girls in Afghanistan against the will of the Taliban, how to tackle sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, how to ensure that refugees coming to the U.S. lead successful lives — as some of the most difficult and important questions in global public policy. Second, he sees the IRC as a sleeping giant, not really visible. And third, the fact that both his parents were refugees fleeing the Nazis in Europe gives him a personal connection to the IRC’s mission.
Miliband posited that the biggest problem is that most people think that the refugee crisis is not solvable, but he maintains that we can make a big difference. Miliband pointed first to sobering statistics: There are 28 million refugees and asylum seekers and another 40 million people internally displaced, which amounts to about one in 110 people on the planet and is the biggest number since World War II. Syrians are the largest component at six million.
Miliband explained that the situation is a crisis not just because of the number of refugees, but also because the countries refugees end up in are some of the poorest countries in the world. The United States has only two percent of the world’s refugees, Europe has eight percent. Poor, low, and middle income countries take in 88 percent of refugees.
As a striking example of what is wrong with humanitarian aid, Miliband pointed to the fact that half of the world’s displaced people are youth, but only two percent of world humanitarian aid goes to education. Another startling fact: the average length of displacement is 17 years.
According to Miliband, the IRC is trying to reinvent what humanitarian aid means by helping people not just survive, but thrive. It therefore puts an emphasis on economic assistance and education, with a particular emphasis on women and girls because they are often the drivers of change in their communities.
He cautioned that we now face a double emergency: “There are more people in more need than at any time since World War II but the governments that have traditionally helped them are in a headlong retreat from some of the most basic values that have underpinned the global humanitarian system. When governments are in retreat, NGOs and corporates must step in.” Miliband explained that the IRC is trying to develop a West Coast network of ideas, advocacy, and financial support to assist with its mission.
He argues that “rescue” now refers not only to refugees but also to the values that have been the defining feature of Western democracies over the past 70 years — we need to rescue our own values.
The IRC has 12,000 employees and 15,000 volunteers in 40 countries and last year reached 27 million people. Government funding makes up about 78 percent of its $760 million budget. While Miliband expressed gratitude for government funding, he lamented that governments are focused on the short-term, with attention swerving from one crisis to the next. To make a sustained difference, the aid needs to continue for a longer period and be multidimensional. He termed private donations the IRC’s risk capital — what allows it to remain longer and work on outcomes.
The IRC helps refugees with emergency aid such as health care and clean water as well as economic support, education, and job skills training. It is one of nine organizations resettling refugees in this country and does advocacy work worldwide. Miliband, a former British Foreign Secretary, has been lauded for expanding the IRC’s ability to rapidly respond to humanitarian crises and meet the needs of record numbers of refugees. Among the IRC’s many accomplishments last year were helping nearly 23 million people access primary health care and helping 10,655 refugees and special immigrant visa recipients resettle in the U.S.
Miliband is also the author of the book Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time, which shows what can be done by governments and individual citizens. In 2016, Miliband was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine.
Miliband had a packed itinerary for his day in Santa Barbara, meeting first with nonprofit leaders, then dinner with donors, followed by a public lecture at UCSB Campbell Hall. The Mullers sponsored both the dinner and public lecture.
Arts & Lectures also recently hosted, as part of its Thematic Learning Initiative, two films on the refugee crisis, This is Home by Alexandra Shiva, which was followed by a discussion with IRC Los Angeles Executive Director Martin Zogg, and Human Flow by Ai Weiwei. Both events were free and open to the public.
Major donors are critical to Arts & Lectures as ticket sales and support from UCSB covers less than half of A&L’s costs. Contributions make possible the performances and its community outreach and education. About half of all visiting artists and lecturers engage in some form of outreach or educational activity.
For more info about Arts & Lectures, go to artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.
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By Gail Arnold