Maximising Impact: How Unrestricted Funding Enabled a Quick and Adaptive Response to a Refugee Health Emergency


Elyas Tampubolon


2 minutes read

Four months after the World Health Organisation declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments, institutions and organisations around the world are in the process of reviewing their response measures to see how they have stacked up. For frontline organisations like the International Rescue Committee which provides aid to thousands of refugees along the Myanmar – Thailand border, the health crisis became a new obstacle in an already challenging environment. By August 2022, there were more than 6,500 confirmed COVID cases and 43 deaths in nine refugee camps in the area, and strict lockdowns and the resulting loss of income for many refugees fuelled tension and stress in the community.

Reflecting on its experience, IRC shared that it had to be agile and adaptable in responding to the rapidly changing health situation with limited resources, alongside dealing with language barriers, cultural tensions, and security threats. Becoming a recipient of AVPN’s Healthcare Philanthropic Pooled Fund played a significant part in enabling them to rise to the challenge. 

 “The flexibility of the funding, not just allowed agility, but also allowed the team to maintain that relevance of response throughout the period, given the changing circumstances. So that was definitely most impactful. ”  – Rachel Goh, Associate Director of IRC

The funding gave IRC the freedom to tap into their local expertise and decide how best to respond to the needs of the moment. Not only was the team able to address the community’s specific health needs, they were also able to build suitable infrastructure, train and support their staff, expand their services and improve their communication strategy. 

Unlike traditional funding, flexible funding is not tied to a specific project or outcome, allowing the implementing organisation to decide how best to use the funds. It lacks the stringent reporting requirements that often accompany grants, and poses less of an administrative burden, freeing up time for organisations to focus on strengthening  solutions. For IRC this meant channelling capital towards vaccinations for refugees when they became available, upgrading health facilities to accommodate more beds, training staff in timely mobile data collection to help minimise the spread of COVID-19, and improving communications to dispel myths around the safety of vaccines and promote uptake.

In addition to taking care of the community, the flexible funding helped IRC to support the welfare of their own staff and volunteers, ensuring that they could sustain their efforts. Having the capacity to adapt and scale interventions meant that IRC was able to effectively provide health services to over 6,000 patients and vaccinations to 30,000 refugees, a lifeline for a community that has limited rights and access to public health and other social services.


The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic well being, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC works in more than 40 countries and in 28 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. IRC is also a grantee of the AVPN’s Healthcare Philanthropic Pooled Fund

This article is part of an ongoing AVPN initiative on Trust-based Philanthropy were we share our learnings, develop insights with our partners, and lead the conversation about this essential and evolving approach to giving in Asia. To learn more and get connected please click here


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Elyas Tampubolon

Manager, Capital Mobilisation

Elyas is a product manager in the capital mobilization team. In his role, Elyas manages the deal share platforms and supports funders to effectively deploy their capital into appropriate impact organizations. Prior to joining AVPN, Elyas has been working with the foreign mission of the Indonesian government in promoting diplomatic relations and cultural exchange and with the German Development Cooperation as a communication advisor in localizing SDGs through faith-based organizations in Indonesia. Elyas holds a master’s degree in International Development from the University of Manchester. He has a high interest in issues related to gender equality and empowerment and children well being and education.

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