Businesses often give much-needed support during times of crisis. In recent years, they've helped extensively with natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, as well as the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal.

Now there's another opportunity.

In the past couple of decades, the world has been racked with wars and other conflicts that have dislocated the lives of 60 million people, making them refugees. That's one in every 122 people on the planet who lack a home or home country, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). By some estimates, it's the largest displacement of people since World War II. Only a fraction will ever return to their native countries.

The biggest driver in this global displacement in recent years has been the civil war in Syria, UNHCR says. The war has upended the lives of 6.5 million people since 2011. But the humanitarian crisis is not limited to Syria. Many others are fleeing war-torn regions including Afghanistan and Iraq.

The impact of that displacement is now being felt in Europe, Turkey, and other parts of the Middle East as hundreds of thousands of people have streamed across borders in search of another home, in 2015 alone. Many wind up in camps or other temporary facilities, such as those operated in Jordan, as they await opportunities to resettle. But they may have to wait months or years before being granted asylum.

While governments struggle with the best way to accommodate the massive influx of displaced people, business owners are also pitching in. Many times, they'll lend their services in ways that complement government efforts, for instance, by offering educational opportunities, supplies, and even useful technology.

Here are five entrepreneurs doing their part to aid in the refugee crisis.

1. Chobani

The Norwich, New York, yogurt maker and Inc. 5000 company's founder and chief executive, Hamdi Ulukaya, has created a foundation called Tent, devoted to helping refugees from around the world. Since the spring, he's donated $2 million, much of which has gone toward direct relief for Syrian refugees, including water, blankets, and food. The foundation is part of the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world's wealthiest people to dedicate the majority of their wealth through philanthropy. Ulukaya, who was born in Turkey and immigrated to the U.S. in 1994, signed the pledge in May.

"I am publicly committing the majority of my personal wealth--along with everything else I can do--to help refugees and help bring an end to this humanitarian crisis," Ulukaya wrote in his letter when he signed the giving pledge. About 30 percent of Chobani's 2,000 workers in the U.S. are also resettled refugees.

2. Bright Funds 

Ty Walrod, co-founder and chief executive of Bright Funds, based in San Francisco, is helping people who want to give money to reputable charities assisting in the refugee crisis. The platform allows companies and individuals to set up giving campaigns, called "funds," benefitting charities that Bright Funds has already researched and vetted. Generally, the charities are in good standing with their donors and the Internal Revenue Service. Those include United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ShelterBox, and Mercy Corps, as well as the World Food Program. Tech company Delphix Data has set up the Delphix Mediterranean Refugee Crisis Fund. Other funds include the Syria Crisis Relief Fund, set up anonymously, and the Syria Relief Fund, set up by Bright Funds itself.

Since 2012, 30 companies and 30,000 individuals have established or given to 75 funds, including one to give relief to victims of Nepal's earthquake this spring. (The platform allows companies to match employee giving.) Bright Funds expects up to $100,000 in donations before the end of 2015 for Syrian and other refugees from the Middle East.

"With Syria there is an opportunity to make an impact right now, and to connect people with the best organizations doing the most effective work on the ground," Walrod says.

3. Endless 

The creator of a low-cost, Linux-based computer that retails for $169 has donated more than 400 computers to refugee centers in three camps in Jordan, including Zaatari, Azraq, and Red Crescent. When the company launched in 2014 in San Francisco, chief executive and founder Matt Dalio envisioned his product for the one billion consumers in emerging market economies whose price point is less than $200. But Dalio also saw that the computers could be useful in a refugee camp setting. The Endless computer can hook up to television screens, and it has an app-based interface similar to smartphone's, a setup that is more familiar to users in the developing world than Windows and iOS. The computers are also preloaded with a virtual library, including Wikipedia, Khan Academy curricula, and health and medical information, as well as recipes. That's particularly important for refugees living in camps without Internet access.

Endless, which is based in San Francisco, is distributing the computers through UNICEF, UNHCR, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Save the Children, which place them in their facilities. "There are thousands of people in the camps who are using these computers every single day as part of their daily routines," Dalio says.

4. University of the People

Founded in 2009 by online education entrepreneur Shai Reshef, the goal of the university is to provide a free online education in computer science and business administration for students in developing countries who can't afford to go to college. (While not required to pay anything, most students contribute up to $4,000 for their education by the time they receive their degrees. Any honorarium is waived for Syrian refugees.) The nonprofit social venture, which has its headquarters in Pasadena, California, is funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and companies including Microsoft and Asal Technologies. UoPeople currently enrolls 2,500 students from 170 countries.

Reshef says that in Syria alone, there are between 100,000 and 300,000 college aid students who have left off their studies as a result of displacement and the conflict, and this represents a terrible crisis for education, and the risk of creating an entire lost generation. The university has opened up space for the nearly 500 Syrian refugee students who have already signed up for free classes from Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.

"There are high school graduates who may never go back to Syria for school," Reshef says. "So the best solution is to study online." 

5. United Spirit of America 

Personal hygiene is critical for refugees and Juan Jose Agudelo, co-founder and chief executive of United Spirit, of Boynton Beach, Florida, has developed a line of toiletries that don't require water to use. Primarily targeted to the military and outdoors people, the products can also be useful in refugee camps, where water for things like bathing is in short supply. The kits include products such as disposable wipes, anti-fungal powder, washes, waterless shampoo, and sunscreen. The company is small, with nine employees and $1.2 million in sales, so it can't afford to give away as much of its product as it would like, Agudelo says, but it's come up with a plan.

The company has an arrangement to distribute its products to Syrian refugees through UNICEF, through customer donations. Customers purchase the products they'd like to give through a dedicated channel on United Spirit's website, and the company ships them to UNICEF. It offers a 30 percent discount on donation purchases, and also contributes 5 percent of those sales to UNICEF. Customers have donated about $8,000 so far toward the Syrian crisis in 2015. "Half of the refugees are kids, and kids get sick very fast if they aren't able to stay clean," Agudelo says. "After food and shelter, hygiene is the biggest thing that keeps them alive."

Published on: Oct 6, 2015