On the last day of January, Murat Sahin, UNICEF’s representative to Ukraine, gave a briefing to its offices around the world including in Dublin. Sahin is a 22-year veteran with UNICEF who has been based in Ukraine since August 2021 after previously being its head of office in Kosovo. “Murat set out three scenarios,” Owen Buckley, UNICEF Ireland’s corporate partnerships manager, recalled. “There was status quo, escalation, and then essentially the situation we are in right now.” The crisis UNICEF has responded to since February 24, 2022 has impacted 7.5 million children in Ukraine, with more than 1 million refugees fleeing the country. Buckley said UNICEF in Ireland had been inundated with offers of support from Irish businesses and representative groups. 

“The overall response has been really strong,” he said. “Everyone is looking for different ways to offer support. It is really a moment.” Buckley said UNICEF’s priority at the moment was to raise cash rather than appeal for contributions in kind because of the scale and speed at which the crisis was growing. Buckley said UNICEF was working with every size of business from SMEs to large corporations. “We have a longstanding partnership with Primark for example,” he said. 

“It is a global partnership with a focus on education and water hygiene and sanitation, but they are making an additional contribution to Ukraine.” This contribution is for £250,000. 

The Musgrave Group, meanwhile, has said it will immediately donate €250,000 to the Irish Red Cross and UNICEF, as well as running an in-store campaign for shoppers. Bank of Ireland is giving €100,000 to UNICEF, while Permanent TSB has also said it will give €250,000 to the Irish Red Cross and Unicef. Glanbia has committed €30,000 to support UNICEF’s work in the region of Ukraine.

“Aer Lingus has been a partner of UNICEF for over 20 years,” Buckley added. Like many companies, they were extremely adversely affected by the pandemic but they too are activating an emergency fundraising appeal to customers.

Kingspan, he said, was also supporting UNICEF in re-activating the ‘Blue Dot’ safe spaces that provide crucial support to families on the move. With the significant risk of separation of children from their families, the Blue Dots provide critical support to identify unaccompanied and separated children and focus on family reunification and protection.

“As a materials manufacturer, the idea of helping to build structures that will help people on the move, refugees moving into Moldova or Poland is something they want to support,” he said. Cartoon Saloon in Kilkenny and pharmacy group McCauley were two other supporters, he said. “We would hope to have another six corporate supporters coming on this week,” Buckley added. 

Buckley said that UNICEF was not just looking for support from large companies, but also from mid-sized and smaller firms. He said there was an “amplification” effect as corporate supporters donated to UNICEF, which encouraged other firms to do likewise.

“There is nothing like the impact of hearing that somebody else in your business network is supporting UNICEF.”

Owen Buckley

“The decision to support UNICEF by businesses not just in Ireland but globally has been incredibly fast-acting,” he said. “Businesses make decisions at different rates, but one of the things that help them make decisions is seeing somebody else has already done so and leant their credibility to it,” he said.

“UNICEF is a UN agency, and the world’s largest children’s organisation with the highest levels of transparency and reporting standards,” he said. “But at the same time in terms of brand recognition, there is nothing like the impact of hearing that somebody else in your business network is supporting UNICEF.”

Buckley said: “For UNICEF to respond to the scale of the crisis in Ukraine we need as much support as we can get.”

“Businesses do call in through our front desk,” he said. “But they can also contact me directly [email protected]. I can help them in terms of CSR (corporate social responsibility) or ESG (environmental, social and governance) reporting or, if they are businesses of a certain scale, we have the ability to help them set up global giving pages.” 

Since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, UNICEF has worked to fulfil the fundamental commitments for children in a humanitarian context, including access to education, psychosocial support, water and sanitation, mine risk education, maternal and child health and HIV and AIDS services.

UNICEF works closely with its partners on the ground to ensure better outcomes for children in the areas of health, education, social policy, child protection and water.

Buckley said UNICEF would take the lead on things like education, as well as aspects of health like vaccinating children.

“Of serious concern is the outbreak of polio in eastern Ukraine which is pretty stark as it is one of just four countries in the world seeing that. When children and people are on the move there is a real need for immunity and an even greater need for routine immunisations for children.”

“This is life-saving support for children and their families not just with safe water, hygiene and healthcare but also psycho-social support”.

Irish business, he said, had an important role to play in the time ahead. “We can see how hard companies like Musgrave are working. The same with Marks & Spencer. Everybody is flat out trying to help. People want to participate in any way they can, and our job as UNICEF is to be stewards of all that goodwill.”  

To support UNICEF either as a company or as an individual find out more here.