How Vancouver International Airport lent a helping hand during the Ukrainian refugee crisis

'We know it's the right thing to do,' says YVR's VP of people & brand

How Vancouver International Airport lent a helping hand during the Ukrainian refugee crisis

When the Russia-Ukraine war first displaced many Ukrainians, Canada opened its doors to those seeking refuge from the conflict – and one employer in particular saw this as an opportunity to do something positive for those in need.

The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) managed to rally employees, customers and surrounding businesses to help address food insecurity and a refugee crisis.

“We know it's the right thing to do to support a community that need an extra helping hand,” says Richard Beed (pictured left), VP of people & brand at YVR, in talking with Canadian HR Reporter.

“We saw families and kids coming off the plane where the kids are grumpy as kids can be after a flight. But they're just hungry, they didn't get a chance to eat something.”

Donations raised, food hampers filled

In response, the employer provided essential goods and care items collection for Ukrainian refugees as they arrived at YVR airport.
YVR also set up a pop-up grocery market that raised over $26,000 in donations and filled 1,264 hampers. These hampers fed 7,500 British Columbians.

“We know our employees and our partners want us to do the right thing, and [they] get a lot of satisfaction from doing the right thing,” says Beed.

YVR was assisted by Benevity, which provides charitable donation-management, volunteer-management and grant-management platforms.

“When I think about some of my colleagues in HR or colleagues in other sectors, they talk a lot about ‘Yeah, I want to do the right thing,’ but they don't know how to do the right thing,” says Beed.

“Your heart can be willing in the sense of wanting to do the right thing. But when you're partnering with somebody that's saying, ‘Have you tried this?’ or ‘Have you tried this?’ or ‘How do we use the platform to communicate and accelerate that message out there?’ you get to… make a difference.”

Benevity provided advice and best practices to YVR, and did complete program reviews and helped the airport “consider what tactics they could take to increase participation,” says Janeen Speer (right), chief people officer at Benevity.

Previously, HRD spoke to an expert for advice on how to support employees amid the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Airport workers willing to help Ukrainians

Airport workers themselves have had a lot of struggles in the past years, but that doesn’t mean they are not willing to help out in times of need, says Beed.

“Even when it's a tough time like that, people still want to do the right thing,” he says, citing the struggles of airport workers especially during the pandemic.

These workers simply have the “passion” to do good, he says.

"Most people want to feel a sense of belonging within an organization that is aligned to their purpose. So even when it's tough, when you're doing the right thing and you can see you're impacting something else from a positive point of view, that is super important.”

Many workers struggle to find employers that match their values, according to a previous report.

Best practices for employers

So how can employers make a positive change in the community, whether related to the Ukrainian crisis or otherwise? Just take that first step, says Beed.

“You've got to take that step forward. Otherwise, you just come up with reasons why you can't do it.”

He also suggests the companies listen to their employees when it comes to programs that affect the community.

Speer also tells employers to “tap into your people and their passions”.

“People want to do good things in the world, and people are even more motivated. But [if your initiative is] something that is a passion of theirs, that connects to them personally.”

Employers should also give workers a chance to choose which causes they want to support, such as animal shelters or homelessness, said Speer.

“There's lots of different ways that you can do good in the world and give back, and creating that opportunity to connect people's passions to that need is what creates the highest levels of engagement.”

Community giving helps with worker attraction and retention, according to a previous survey.

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