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Now is the Time for Compassionate Leadership

By Peter Laugharn, April 5, 2017

All around the world, people are struggling with forces beyond their control that are bringing about dramatic changes to their lives. More than ever, I believe that philanthropy can provide a practical, can-do, compassionate optimism to help tackle some of these global challenges.

Refugee children play in Domiz camp in northern Iraq, where the International Rescue Commitee provides vital education and protection services. Photo by Peter Biro, courtesy of International Rescue Committee.

Currently, the Syrian refugee crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis we face. In response to the overwhelming need, we have provided $5.3 million in grants over the past five years to address the situation close to the epicenter of the crisis. Today, we are pleased to announce $1 million in additional funding to two projects designed to provide relief for refugees: $500,000 to Save the Children for the education of the children of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and $500,000 to the International Rescue Committee for refugee resettlement assistance in the U.S.

In 2015, my predecessor, Steven M. Hilton, cautioned that the responsibility for the Syrian refugee crisis should be shared by us all—not only out of humanitarian compassion, but in the interest of global security. I applaud his prescient leadership on this issue and our team’s interventions so far. Our early funding supported projects delivering relief supplies and primary health care services through our partners, Luftfahrt ohne Grenzen and International Medical Corps. More recently, we have been addressing the issue of refugee livelihoods. In December, we awarded a grant to Mercy Corps to fund critical activities that support Syrian refugees to rebuild their lives.

However, the woeful lack of funding to the region poses long-term risks, particularly for children who have been disproportionately affected by the conflict in Syria and are at risk of becoming a “lost generation.” To address this critical issue, we have partnered with Theirworld on advocacy efforts aimed at providing universal formal education for refugee children in Turkey.

Throughout the duration of the Syrian conflict, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon have given the world a first-class example of compassion and resourcefulness by taking in the vast majority of refugees, despite struggles with their own economic, political and security concerns. For this, they deserve the world’s respect, and its financial and moral support.

In this spirit, the first part of our new funding will further our commitment to education interventions for children of refugees, this time in Lebanon, through a $500,000 grant to Save the Children.

Yet, this crisis is not a burden that Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon alone should bear. It is a global issue. In the Refugee Convention of 1951, ratified by 145 nation states, the international community enshrined the rights of refugees and our responsibility to provide them with sanctuary. In recent years, as a result of legislation such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the U.S. has been at the forefront of resettling refugees from around the world. We have provided civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights to these most vulnerable people. However, our resettlement agencies are now unable to meet an increasing demand for their services.

The second part of our new funding will therefore support the International Rescue Committee, recipient of our 1997 Hilton Humanitarian Prize, for their refugee resettlement assistance program here in the United States.

I believe this funding to some of the world’s most disadvantaged people would make our founder, Conrad N. Hilton, proud. After all, he was a stubborn optimist himself. Even in the depths of the Great Depression, when he had lost all but one of his hotels and was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, he kept alive his hopes and dreams. He built his iconic company by thinking big and thinking long, by attracting investors, and by bringing enthusiasm, decency, and faith to all of his business dealings. He also depended on the kindness of strangers—one of his bellboys loaned him money to stay afloat in desperate times. He never forgot that his employees and his guests were the source of his good fortune.

The first great American hotelier to expand around the globe, Conrad Hilton was a fervent believer in what he called world peace through international trade and travel—the company’s official motto under his leadership. “Each of our hotels,” he said, “is a ‘little America,’ not as a symbol of bristling power, but as a friendly center where men of many nations and of good will may speak the language of peace.”

Conrad Hilton was also a humanitarian. In his Last Will, he spoke of “a natural law, a Divine law, that obliges you and me to relieve the suffering, the distressed, and the destitute…The practice of charity will bind us – will bind all men in one great brotherhood.” When he passed away in 1979, he left virtually his entire estate to the foundation that bears his name, with a mission to improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged people throughout the world.

Today, we continue to be guided by his enthusiasm, his global view, and his sense of compassion. These values compelled us to support those people affected by the tragic conflict in Syria.

In the face of the world’s great challenges, we need to overcome our fears and work together with pragmatic optimism. Above all, we need to build bridges so that, in Conrad Hilton’s words, people “of many nations and of good will may speak the language of peace.”

Peter Laugharn Twitter

President and CEO

Peter Laugharn Twitter

President and CEO

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