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The global refugee crisis is one of the defining challenges of our time. The number of refugees around the world is at an all-time high — over 25 million — and that number continues to grow. Governments, multilateral organizations, and NGOs cannot address this issue alone. A crisis of this size and magnitude warrants concerted action from the private sector. This is the founding belief of the Tent Partnership for Refugees (Tent), a non-profit launched by Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder, Chairman, and CEO of the yogurt company Chobani.

Tent works closely with companies to help them identify and understand concrete opportunities to help refugees, with a particular focus on the middle- and low-income countries, like Turkey and Ethiopia, that host the vast majority — nearly 90% — of the world’s refugees. There are over 100 companies in the Tent Partnership today, including IKEA and CGF members Barilla , Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, supporting refugees across 34 countries.

Hamdi Ulukaya in Jordan

Refugee artisans employed through an IKEA Foundation initiative in Jordan

Our approach focuses on identifying how companies can leverage their core competencies to support refugees. While financial contributions or in-kind donations can help with short-term humanitarian assistance, they tend to be less sustainable and have lower impact over time – and don’t address refugees’ long-term needs. It’s likely the case that half of the global refugee population will remain displaced for 20 years or more. Helping refugees to integrate into economies where they live is the greatest opportunity for businesses.

Companies can have the greatest impact by leveraging their core business to engage refugees as employees, producers, entrepreneurs, and customers — and ultimately, support and enable refugees to realize their economic potential and make meaningful contributions to their host communities. Doing so is not only good for refugees and host communities — it’s good for business. Consumers are increasingly aware of social issues and place a higher value on socially responsible businesses than ever before. By including refugees in their core business activities, companies can achieve social impact, gain reputational benefits, and build brand loyalty, while maintaining or enhancing their bottom line.

Businesses can support refugees in three key areas:

  • Hiring and Supply Chains: Companies can hire refugees directly into their workforce or they can bring them into their supply chain – by incentivizing suppliers to hire refugees or sourcing from businesses employing significant numbers of refugees. Refugees have proven to be resilient, hard-working employees and research shows that refugees have higher retention rates than non-refugee employees. Large companies have already started to realize the value of integrating refugees into their workforce. For instance, Tent member Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 refugees within five years.
  • Service Delivery: Companies can reach refugees as customers by adapting their goods, and services to meet refugees’ needs. There are targeted areas—such as banking and telecommunications—where businesses can build their customer base by reducing barriers for refugees to use their products and services. For example, Mastercard is expanding its financial services to reach refugees, giving them a safe way to access and pay for services like electricity, Internet, and school fees.
  • Impact investing: Companies, as well as investment firms, can improve refugee livelihoods and achieve financial returns by investing in refugee-owned small and medium-sized enterprises or businesses committed to hiring or sourcing from refugees. There’s increasing evidence that refugees have above-average rates of entrepreneurship. For example, Generali, the Italian insurance company, has committed to helping refugees start 500 new businesses across Europe within five years.

All of the actions described above are clear win-wins for refugees and businesses alike. Showing leadership on this issue is not only good for business — it will help solve the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes.

Tent is participating in The Consumer Goods Forum’s upcoming Sustainable Retail Summit to share our approach to working with businesses to harness collective action on the refugee crisis. We hope to connect with your company there – regardless of whether you are already making efforts to help refugees or are considering doing so.

This post was written and contributed by:

Gideon Maltz
Executive Director
Tent Partnership for Refugees