May 07, 2018 3 min read

It’s a tough time for refugees. For more than 30 years, the US has accepted about 95,000 refugees a year. This year, the Trump Administration is on track to admit about 20,000, missing its own low target. Refugees are net contributors to the US government budget (not counting the productivity driven by refugee innovators like Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Intel co-founder Andrew Grove). And most importantly, we should stand ready to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people escaping conflict and crisis.

 “The minute a refugee has a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee,” Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani has said when talking about Tent, the foundation he created to mobilize businesses to respond to the global refugee crisis.

While many think of refugees as temporarily needing basic food and shelter in camps, the truth is that the majority of refugees are living in cities in lower-income countries like Jordan and Uganda, and are displaced for a decade or more. They need economic opportunities to provide for themselves and their families. For the 2 percent of refugees who are resettled permanently to countries like the US and Canada, the desire to work and contribute to their new country of citizenship is equally strong.

Ulukaya, who grew up on a sheep, goat, and dairy farm in Turkey and immigrated to the US nearly 25 years ago, understands the struggle and promise of achieving self-reliance and success in a new country. In 2010, after contacting a local refugee resettlement center, he started hiring refugees at the Chobani plant in upstate New York. He offered to provide translators and transportation, and later started hiring refugees at his Idaho plant as well. Chobani -- best known for popularizing Greek yogurt in the US -- employs more than 300 refugees, and 30% of the company’s 2,000 employees are immigrants. Ulukaya also signed the Giving Pledge, committing the majority of his wealth to help the world’s 22.5 million refugees. 

As a prominent CEO and philanthropist, Ulukaya is helping to lead the movement to do good through business. Beyond giving money to charities, Ulukaya supports approaches that generate sustainable benefits for refugees by increasing their economic opportunities. In addition to hiring refugees directly, companies can purchase from small businesses that are owned by or employ refugees. Investors can look for promising refugee entrepreneurs to support -- not only with capital, but mentorship, advice, and connections. And in select cases, businesses can responsibly engage refugees as customers, such as offering tailored financial and job training services.

What can you do to help right now?

If you work for a large business, encourage them to take part in the Tent Partnership for Refugees. Tent has a coalition of more than 80 businesses that have made concrete commitments to support refugee lives and livelihoods. If you’re reading the Maven Women blog, you’re already conscious about why ethical products and consumption matter. Can your company or employer make a commitment to hire refugees or consider how to integrate them into your supply chain?

Designers can take inspiration from IKEA, which launched an initiative to hire refugees and citizens to make products like textiles and hand-woven rugs in Jordan. The center is set to expand to 400 employees with plans for a second collection underway. The debut collection called TILLTALANDE” will go on sale in IKEA stores in New York in June 2018 in honor of World Refugee Day. In Switzerland, IKEA has supported resettled refugees by creating a six-month internship program that includes job training and integration support. Other companies, including WeWork and Starbucks, have also committed to hiring refugees. WeWork has committed to hiring 1,500 refugees in the United States and United Kingdom in the next five years, and Starbucks has pledged to hire 10,000 refugees in 75 existing markets by 2022.

Check out these great resources

For more information on hiring refugees in the US, see this helpful guide created by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Tent. There are many other meaningful and simple ways to engage; Melissa Fleming from the UN Refugee Agency shared “8 practical ways to help refugees,” and the International Rescue Committee also has a helpful list of resources on other ways to personally support refugees. For example, by speaking out in support of refugees on social media, you can amplify the message that refugees are welcome.

Cindy Huang is co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy and senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. She wrote Global Business and Refugee Crises: A Framework for Sustainable Engagement in partnership with the Tent Foundation.

Photo: Timea Fauszt/IRC


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