Airbnb cash transfers to Ukrainians may help, but they disrupt charities

As we all witness the horrible crisis unfolding in Ukraine, many of us are wondering: what is the best way to send money to Ukrainians to do the most good?

The answer has become more complicated than ever.

The conflict in Ukraine has generated a new way of To transfer money to Ukrainians directly: Airbnb reservations by people who do not intend to use them. It’s a trend that “is going to be very disruptive for charities,” says Kate Bahen, chief executive of Charity Intelligence Canada (CIC), which measures the impact of charities.

In a Twitter post on March 11, 2022, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote that 434,000 nights have been booked so far on the platform, which equates to $15 million transferred to hosts in Ukraine – A quarter the amount donated to the Canadian Red Cross as of March 10, excluding amounts matched by the government.

About confidence and speed

Bahen says one of the benefits of giving funds directly to Ukrainians is that it allows them to use the funds as they see fit. ” Its a question of confidence. It is worthy; there are no strings attached,” she says.

And this isn’t the first time Canadian donations have gone straight into people’s bank accounts. During the 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, the Canadian Red Cross organized nearly $50 million in direct cash transfers for those fleeing their homes.

A giant fireball is seen as a wildfire tears through the forest near Fort McMurray in May 2016. The Red Cross has sent millions of dollars in direct cash transfers to those affected.

University of Guelph social scientist Ryan Briggs points to other strengths of the method: the speed of money transfer, the high credibility of the platform, and the fact that benefactors are emotionally rewarded for helping. specific people – “which many of us find very motivating”.

“100% efficient”

“You can call it 100% effective,” says Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peacea research organization based in Australia.

But despite its effectiveness, there is little research on using commercial services to deliver money transfers in this way, Briggs says.

Bahen says we can turn to organizations that have been directly transferring money to people in developing countries for years. Such an organization Givedirectlywrites that when receiving direct transfers, “people use the money in impactful and creative ways”.

Most of the research that GiveDirectly references focuses on longer-term initiatives in developing countries. A Analysis of multiple studies from 2017 showed that unconditional cash transfers “can improve some health outcomes”. A Literature review 2016 also found that cash transfers increased household spending, school attendance, and use of health facilities while reducing poverty and sexual abuse by a male partner.

But according to United Nations standards, Ukraine is considered highly developed and may not qualify to be grouped in the same category.

Questioning the impact of charities

Based on CIC’s work, Bahen believes that 40 percent Canadian charitable giving “doesn’t have a big impact” due to inefficient organizations and high overhead costs.

And there is little correlation between an organization’s impact and the dollars received. According to one list, Canada most influential charitiesas the Malaria Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Foodgrains Bankare not among those who receive the most donations.

doctor and educator in humanitarian intervention Kirsten Johnson says charities “too often end up deciding what people get and it’s not necessarily what they need”. She says they should be more responsible and reveal where the money is spent.

A woman in a handkerchief cleans broken glass surrounded by the shards of a broken window.
A woman cleans the stairs of broken glass in a building damaged by a bomb attack in kyiv on March 23.
(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Badly targeted Airbnb cash transfers?

While some charities have a liability problem, unused Airbnb bookings have the problem of being mistargeted, Briggs says. Killelea agrees: “It’s probably not going to the poorest people in Ukraine.

Moreover, to use the funds, says Bahen, recipients need functioning markets – something Ukraine maybe not right now. “Money will only help if there is something to buy”, writes Washington-based Anit Mukherjeepolicy researcher at the Center for Global Development.

Another concern is that platforms aimed at directly connecting donors to affected people are prone to cyber threats, fraud and embezzlement, an official with the US State Department’s humanitarian arm said.

For example, according to a recent media reportfunds may be inappropriately diverted to persons outside Ukraine who manage properties in Ukraine.


Briggs says if people just want to do the most good for every dollar spent, Airbnb’s idea “will never beat malaria bed net donations” or any leading development charity listed by GiveWella company that studies the impacts of charities and their profitability.

But Johnson says funding an acute disaster response requires a distinct approach, as more stakeholder coordination needs to occur. “It’s not development; it’s a war,” she says of Ukraine, “and health care interventions in emergencies save lives.”

Finally, according to Briggs, the most effective way to help may actually be for free: Canadians can to write letters to their MPs asking for help for Ukrainians seeking refuge in Canada.

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