When David Miliband was appointed chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, one of the largest global charities handling the refugee crisis, it came as a shock to some fellow politicians in his native Britain, who had no doubt expected him to continue a two-decade long trajectory in national politics. Miliband had spent most of his career up to that point as part of the UK Labour party, variously serving as foreign secretary; Tony Blair’s head of policy; and environment secretary, where he made tackling climate change a particular priority. In 2013, he made a much-publicized bid for leadership—but was beaten for the job by his brother, Ed. Following this surprise defeat, Miliband left both British politics and the UK, and moved to New York to head the NGO.
At the request of physicist, and refugee, Albert Einstein, 51 Americans came together to form the IRC in 1933. Among them were educators, historians, theologians and human rights leaders. In the decades since, the organization often known simply as Rescue has provided emergency aid and longer-term assistance to refugees and those displaced by political or natural disaster in around 40 countries the world over. In the six years since Miliband took the position, the organization has seldom had more work to do. The European migrant crisis is as daunting and unsolvable as ever; in the meantime, Ebola, the Syrian civil war, and conflicts the world over have required careful diplomacy and action.
Quartz interviewed Miliband weeks before the UN reported a record-breaking 71 million refugees displaced worldwide. (In a later statement, Miliband described the situation as the result of “a clear international failure to tackle the defining political and humanitarian crisis of our time.”) He told us why philanthropists need to be prepared to take on risk, what government inaction means for philanthropy, and why we all have a responsibility to think globally when it comes to charitable giving.