In recent years, companies have increasingly started to change their approach to social issues. They are no longer focusing solely on the sale of their products and services but are increasingly trying to understand how they can support a cause, what kind of impact their approach can have in the social, economic and political fields, and how they can best express the values on which their sense of corporate social responsibility is based.
For several years now the media have highlighted examples of multinationals with an intercontinental reach supporting local good causes or adopting policies that limit the polluting impact of their production processes for goods and services on local areas and communities. This aim of not polluting local environments is increasingly central to the approach of new digital businesses, such as platforms for the travel industry or for the service sector. Corporate social responsibility doesn’t just involve paying due attention to environmental pollution issues but increasingly can be seen as a position taken by a business in the context of major geopolitical issues, especially in areas and moments of crisis.
Rental solutions with the offer of temporary, free, or discounted accommodation, or accommodation by donation
Airbnb, founded back in 2007, today has 4 million hosts worldwide who have welcomed 900 million guests of different nationalities, coming from almost every country on earth. In the summer of 2021, it announced on World Refugee Day, that it had created a $25 million Refugee Fund, a fundraising initiative to expand Airbnb.org‘s support for refugees and asylum seekers around the world, starting with programs run by non-profit partner organizations in the United States and Central and South America.
The hub of such activities is Airbnb.org – a non-profit organization dedicated to providing temporary stays for people in times of crisis around the world, which operates independently from the parent company, but leverages Airbnb technology, services, and other resources for free to fulfill its charitable purpose.
The ‘.org’ version of Airbnb began in 2012 when a host named Shell in New York opened her home to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Since then, the program has developed widely and now focuses on providing support, hospitality, and accommodation to displaced persons, humanitarian workers, refugees and asylum seekers. Airbnb.org is a separate and independent entity from the main Airbnb business, but Airbnb Inc does not charge service fees for stays supported by Airbnb.org on its platform.
Airbnb and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan
20,000 homes worldwide have been offered to Afghan refugees who have been forced to flee their homeland due to the humanitarian crisis
Brian Cheskey, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb said: “As tens of thousands of Afghan refugees resettle around the world, where they stay will be the first chapter in their new life. For these 20,000 refugees, our hope is that the Airbnb community will provide them not only with a safe place to rest and start afresh, but also with a warm and welcoming home.”
Emergency funds and support have also been allocated to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), HIAS and Church World Service to provide immediate temporary stays via the Airbnb platform for up to 1,000 arriving Afghan refugees.
David Milliband, President, and CEO of the International Rescue Committee said: “As the IRC helps welcome and resettle Afghans in the United States, affordable housing is both urgent and essential. We are grateful to our partners at Airbnb.org and Airbnb for once again offering their support and infrastructure, providing safe and welcoming places for individuals and families as they arrive in the United States and begin to rebuild their lives.”
Airbnb and the pandemic
The experience of welcoming people in difficulty was especially important during the Covid pandemic offering front-line workers such as doctors and nurses assistance as they commuted to and from their places of work.
In Italy the #Stateacasanostra (‘stayatourhouse’) initiative, hosts offered accommodation, free of charge for two months, to doctors and nurses, who were working on the front line to assist the sick and to help stem the spread of the virus. Since April 2020, the airbnb.it/medicieinfermieri initiative has allowed those who provide such services in their usual place of work to move out of the family home temporarily to protect their loved ones.
Airbnb and Ukraine
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has led to new challenges. Since February 28 2022, 100,000 people fleeing from Ukraine have been provided with free short term accommodation. The website reveals the following activity on Airbnb.org:
- More than 1,000 people have signed up every day to offer their homes to refugees fleeing Ukraine
- Since March 14, more than 36,800 hosts have signed up to offer their homes to refugees
- There were 22,300 new hosts registered in the two weeks from February 28 to March 14
France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Romania, and the UK are the most active and willing countries to offer support for Ukrainian refugees. Airbnb.org has also launched new collaborations and partnerships with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the German government to connect people fleeing Ukraine with free, short-term accommodation. It is working to establish further similar partnerships and is actively engaging with dozens of international and regional NGOs who are engaged on the ground.
Giacomo Trovato, Country Manager for Italy and South-East Europe at Airbnb said: “On February 28, our founders sent letters to leaders across Europe offering support in welcoming refugees within their borders. Through Airbnb’s non-profit organization, Airbnb.org, the platform will offer 100,000 free short-term accommodation solutions to refugees fleeing Ukraine.
“The countries we first targeted were Poland, Germany, Hungary and Romania but also Italy. Airbnb.org will work closely with governments to best support the specific needs of each country, including providing long-term accommodation where appropriate.
“These will be made possible by Airbnb, by donors to our nonprofit’s Refugee Fund, as well as the generosity of our hosts, and Airbnb.org will work directly with nonprofit organisations on the ground who are responsible for booking and coordinating stays for refugee guests, regardless of their nationality, race, ethnicity or gender”.
He added: “The initiative was an immediate success: since March 1, the day of the launch of the landing page for support for Ukraine on the Airbnb.org website, 1.2 million visitors have been registered globally. To lend a hand, you don’t need to already be an active signed-up host on Airbnb. Indeed 15,000 homes were made available specifically for this initiative just in the week from February 28 to March 6, and to date, 1500 accommodation offers have been made in Italy alone .
“In terms of donations, in just 48 hours, between March 4 and 5, Airbnb.org received $1.2 dollars coming from 14,000 donors in 72 countries.
“This isn’t the first time Airbnb has offered emergency housing to people in need. In the last 5 years, together with our partners, we have given hospitality to over 54,000 people left homeless. A concrete example of this commitment was the Afghan refugee crisis that began last year. To date, we have provided housing to more than 21,000 people for that emergency.
“Another recent example is the initiative to host doctors and nurses during the first lockdown in 2020: initially conceived as a plan to accommodate hospital staff needing temporary accommodation while working in a new city to deal with the Coronavirus emergency, it subsequently allowed medical staff while they were working to move temporarily out of their own homes to protect their loved ones. The initiative, which started in Italy, then became part of Airbnb Open Homes project and was expanded internationally based on the Italian pilot project, with the aim of hosting 100,000 professionals involved in dealing with the emergency.
“In terms of continuing support of the people of Ukraine, in the last two weeks, following the announcement by Airbnb of the zeroing of all commission for stays in Ukraine, there has been a spontaneous response from users on the platform. They have started to support local hosts by making reservations [which they obviously cannot use but which support the host family]. The platform has listings in all major cities across the country starting with Kiev, Odessa and Kharkiv, and to date, we have seen over 434,000 nights booked with approximately $15 million effectively ‘donated’ in bookings.
“We are grateful to our community for the generosity they show, by opening their homes to refugees or through donations to our non-profit organization, and we are proud to collaborate with different international organizations to address what is becoming one of the most serious humanitarian crises we have ever witnessed. We also ask those who have the opportunity and space to host an individual or a family to consider using our platform to offer temporary accommodation to those fleeing Ukraine”.
And so it is that the platform, opened in 2007 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, today continues to offer connected hospitality not only for tourist travel based on entertainment, relaxation and the discovery of new places and cultures, but also opens doors to people travelling for altogether different reasons … journeys forced on them by the hostile living conditions in their places of origin, offering an experience of comfort and hospitality in the most dramatic moments of their lives.
Since 2012, around 100,000 people have been housed in times of crisis.
Translated by Ronnie Convery
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