Making the refugee crisis 'cool' for business

A marketplace in the Azraq camp for Syrian refugees in northern Jordan. Photo by: Russell Watkins / DFID / CC BY

NEW YORK — Business leaders working with the Tent Foundation Partnership for Refugees gathered on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly with a rallying cry for peers to get involved in employing, supplying, and building new economic models around refugees. The private sector has a unique ability to shift social and policy norms at a time when global politicians are abdicating that role, they said.

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“We have to make this ‘cool,’” Hamdi Ulukaya, Chobani CEO and Tent Foundation founder, said of the refugee situation.

The private sector has more power than it thinks to contribute to refugee integration in a way that is also good for the bottom line, said Masood Ahmed, president of the Center for Global Development, presenting a study about the best ways for business to make an impact. “You are much more important as policy influencers than you have so far exploited that potential,” Ahmed added.

Gideon Maltz, CEO of the Tent Foundation.

Companies can include refugees in their supply chains, provide services to them as customers, speak with a loud policy voice, and win plaudits from socially minded customers through those efforts.

The Tent Foundation is now working on a toolkit of policy ideas and frameworks for its partners, which recently grew in number. Ben & Jerry's, Generali, Oath, Masimo, HOMY and Taqanu now join nearly 75 other businesses, including AirBnB, LinkedIn, MasterCard, IKEA, Starbucks, and Unilever.

Devex spoke with the Tent Foundation CEO Gideon Maltz and AirBnB co-founder and CPO Joe Gebbia about how their efforts are changing social norms and mainstreaming refugees into the business community.

Joe Gebbia, co-founder of AirBnB.

Update, September 26, 2017: This article has been updated to clarify the official name of the partnership as the “Tent Foundation Partnership for Refugees.”

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About the author

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    Elizabeth Dickinson

    Elizabeth Dickinson is associate editor at Devex. Based in the Middle East, she has previously served as Gulf correspondent for The National, assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy, and Nigeria correspondent at The Economist. Her writing also appeared in The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Politico Magazine, and Newsweek, among others.

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