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Innovative private sector partnership establishes the Ascend Initiative

Radcliffe Foundation, IKEA Foundation, Libra Group and The Coca-Cola Company Announce €4 million in Seed Funding to Address Critical Needs of Refugees, and Disadvantaged Greeks

By: EBR - Posted: Thursday, June 08, 2017

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“Ascend is an innovative, strategic, private-sector initiative.  The partners are committed to finding entrepreneurial solutions to address a crisis that is too big for governments and international non-governmental organizations to deal with on their own,” commented Jimmy Athanasopoulos, Head of Social Responsibility, the Libra Group.
“Ascend is an innovative, strategic, private-sector initiative. The partners are committed to finding entrepreneurial solutions to address a crisis that is too big for governments and international non-governmental organizations to deal with on their own,” commented Jimmy Athanasopoulos, Head of Social Responsibility, the Libra Group.

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Ascend, a new philanthropic initiative, was announced yesterday at the Concordia Europe Summit in Athens. Initial funding commitments include provision of humane shelter for displaced people with a focus on unaccompanied minors, community programming including provision of food, medical care, psycho-social services, and vocational training for refugees and Greeks struggling with the ongoing economic crisis.

“There are over 65 million displaced people in the world today,” said Frank Giustra, founder of the Radcliffe Foundation, “more than at any time since the Second World War. This is an urgent humanitarian crisis with implications that stretch far into the future.” 

“Ascend is an innovative, strategic, private-sector initiative.  The partners are committed to finding entrepreneurial solutions to address a crisis that is too big for governments and international non-governmental organizations to deal with on their own,” commented Jimmy Athanasopoulos, Head of Social Responsibility, the Libra Group. 

Even before the start of the Concordia Europe Summit, Ascend had launched a portfolio of aid activities. These include support for programs targeted at unaccompanied children.  The recently formed HOME Project provides secure housing, education and social inclusion for refugees, in particular vulnerable unaccompanied children. 

“Taking care of unaccompanied minors and families is an emergency within an emergency, and the Safe Houses operated by Arsis Greece, provide shelter, psychological and legal support and education for refugee minors who have been out of school for far too long. We are profoundly proud to be part of this collective action in support of a significant cause,” said Nikos Koumettis, President of The Coca Cola Company Central & Eastern Europe.

At the IKEA Foundation, “we believe that all children should have the right to a safe place they can call home and this is why we are co-founding the Ascend initiative,” said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation.  “Setting up as many safe heavens as possible for unaccompanied refugee children in Greece is a major priority. We believe that the private sector, along with the government and the UN, must play their role in supporting these vulnerable children, help them reunite with next of kin and build a future for themselves,” Heggenes added.

Giustra, who gained first-hand knowledge of the Syrian refugee crisis when he visited the Greek island of Lesbos in late 2015, says the Ascend Initiative focuses on supporting high-impact local organizations and incubating innovative, replicable, scalable projects with the potential for sustainable impact. 

Innovative partnerships are already emerging between Ascend partners. Airbnb, the leading housing platform and Solidarity Now, the pioneering Greek NGO, have joined forces to provide accommodation for refugees and other vulnerable populations. The partnership belongs to Airbnb's global philanthropic initiative to match populations in need to volunteer hosts.  “When you combine the private sector’s entrepreneurial approach and ability to move quickly with the on-the-ground expertise of local civil-service organizations,” said Giustra, “you get partnerships with the potential for pattern-breaking social change. That’s what’s needed, and that’s what Ascend has already begun to deliver.”

Other partners of Ascend include Open Society Foundation, Microsoft, Western Union and NextFab Foundation.  Ascend provides these organizations a platform to create strategic partnerships based on their core competencies and philanthropic focus areas, whether they be innovative shelter models, community-based programming to support social cohesion, or livelihood and job creation initiatives.  Ascend invites other private sector actors to join us.

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