The win-win of embracing refugee talent in retail businesses

NRF Retail Big Show wrapped Day 2 last week in conversation with Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO and Founder of Chobani and Founder of Tent Partnership for Refugees (TPR).

Hamdi’s corporate social responsibly innovation ‘Tent Partnership for Refugees’ adopts a new approach to supporting refugees.

With significantly more refugees displaced for longer periods of time, retail and hospitality businesses play a critical role in helping them integrate economically into their host communities.

TPR encourages businesses to think beyond traditional philanthropy, to include refugees by engaging them as potential employees, entrepreneurs, and consumers.

When companies take this approach, they are not only helping refugees, they may also see considerable business benefits.

Inspired by his own experience starting Chobani as a Turkish immigrant to the U.S., Hamdi Ulukaya hired refugees and experienced early on that they were some of his most loyal, dedicated, and resourceful employees.

In 2016, he founded the Tent Partnership for Refugees to mobilize the global business community to hire, train, and mentor refugees and incorporate them into their core operations.

Hamdi shared his personal reflections on the benefits of hiring refugees, how retailers can make the most of hiring this relatively untapped talent pool in the face of global labour shortages, as well as Chobani’s experience and learnings hiring displaced immigrants since the company’s inception.

“Retail is a diverse business, so it is reasonable to have a diverse workforce”, said Ulukaya.

Ulukaya recounted how he personally went to the refugee organisations, more recently located on the Ukrainian boarders, to understand the challenges these groups faced as they escape their home countries. He identified three barriers – no training, no transport and no language.

“You can solve those problems. So, you don’t speak the language, use translators. You don’t drive, we bought busses. Lacked skills, we provided training”.

“The refugees I engaged with all had four common fears – ‘where will I live, where will I work, where will my kids go to school and where will I be safe. Every one of those questions can be answered with a job”, argued Ulukaya.

Chobani’s experience when they can give those in need a job found that the work itself provided value for both refugees and retailers.

“When you stand at a border and engage with refugees, anywhere in the world, there is commonality – they have lost everything. They are constantly looking for solutions to problems, because of their lived experiences.”

Ulukaya explained how his Tent Partnership for Refugees program had brought together other retailers, keen to employee refugees.

“We give them work. These people never give up, they are survivors – if you can employ them, they bring value to your business”.

“You will have the most loyal workforce. They will remind others in your business of the importance having a job and being connected. They inspire others. When you give people a chance, they will be committed to you forever”, said Ulukaya.

Employment for refugees is the most important element for success. “I have seen doctors flee countries, and work as bus drivers. Teachers leave and become house cleaners. They are the most loyal, hardworking people.”

It is important for retail leaders to engage with communities as they recruit and deploy refugee and immigrant workforce.

Retailers can ‘change lives’ by simply giving people a job.





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