Co-workers from the IKEA store in Katowice, Poland recently assembled beds, sofas, tables and more so the 45 families arriving the next day from Ukraine could be as comfortable as possible despite winding up at an old porcelain factory.
The day before, the Giesche Foundation contacted the store asking for support. That night the delivery was made. “We had no doubts in supporting the initiative so that when the families arrived, they could receive the comprehensive help and support from psychologists, lawyers and translators,” says Magdalena Krokowska-Wicherek, Market Manager for the IKEA Katowice store.
In Poland, 2.1 million people have already crossed the border from Ukraine, and IKEA Poland has been providing support for children and women, says Agata Czachórska, Sustainability Manager for IKEA Poland. “This is significant for mothers, giving them time to contact family and plan their next steps while assuring them that their children are safe and taken care of,” she says.
IKEA South-East Europe is also at work, especially in Romania. That county has already received over a half a million forcibly displaced people. IKEA Romania is working together with the Danish Red Cross, by donating 23,000 products for shipment into Ukraine, where 6.5 million people are estimated to be displaced. “This is a fast-moving situation, and we’re currently speaking with the Danish Red Cross with the intention to increase in-kind donations to reach many more people in Ukraine,” says Aldo Lele, Sustainability manager for IKEA South-East Europe (Croatia/Romania/Slovenia/Serbia/Ukraine).
In the Czech Republic, the company is donating furniture and equipping apartments in assistance centers for forcibly displaced people in close collaboration with trusted partners. The focus there is also on women and children, making areas where they can rest, sleep or recover.
To complement the donation of products, co-workers have collected basic hygiene products like soap, shampoo, deodorant, and other toiletries for the people arriving, says Barbora Geršlová, Sustainability Manager for IKEA in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.
“Unfortunately, we believe this is just the beginning,” she says. In fact, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), says this is the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since WWII. It’s characterized by a high degree of family separation, with the forcibly displaced people being almost exclusively women and their children. Already, 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine.
A region-wide emergency community support effort
So far, Ingka Group has provided hundreds of thousands of products in in-kind donations, supporting the furnishing of over 500 accommodation units in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. This has been done in close collaboration with 39 trusted partners, including UNHCR, the Red Cross and local authorities. The products range from beds, mattresses, and pillows to tables, towels and toys. In addition, the company has also donated thousands of products to people displaced in Ukraine, including 3,000 mattresses.
“With a strong presence in these countries, we are in a unique position of responsibility to take meaningful action that enables partners to deliver impactful work,” says Mercedes Gutiérrez, head of social impact & community engagement, Ingka Group (IKEA Retail).
In total, Ingka Group has initially made 10 MEUR available in the markets through an emergency community support fund so they can respond with speed to the needs of local partners who are already working on the ground to support people fleeing the war. A large proportion will be in-kind donations of products, services and resources, and sometimes financial donations.
Gutiérrez says Ingka Group can make sure it is making a positive impact by working together with trusted partners, as well as governments and municipalities, who have experience and capabilities to deliver emergency support for people affected by conflict. “We know that the best way to make a positive impact for people is to ask our partners what they need, and not make assumption or take actions without getting their input,” she says.
She emphasizes that Ingka Group’s approach always starts with the receiver perspective – not the donor perspective. “When an emergency situation occurs, it is critical to map the needs of the local neighbourhoods and communities based on the information provided by those who are leading the emergency relief and/or supporting the most vulnerable people impacted,” Gutiérrez says.
Broader refugee support across Europe
Other Ingka Group countries are now preparing for how they will support forcibly displaced people from Ukraine since many countries will soon start receiving them.
In 2019, Ingka Group committed to improve the skills of 2,500 refugees to gain employment inside or outside the business in 30 countries by 2022. “The learnings we’ve taken from working for the past six years with refugee integration together with local NGO experts in 24 countries is now helping us to act with speed,” she says.
Ingka Group is now looking at other ways it can ramp up this support in light of the war in Ukraine. “Building on our existing work to support refugees, we believe we can make a big difference in this next phase,” says Gutiérrez.