The Chobani effect in the refugee crisis

The Chobani effect in the refugee crisis

If you asked who one of the heroes at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos was, I would say Hamdi Ulukaya, who was able to make the yogurt brand “Chobani,” which he founded in the U.S. in 2007 and became the fastest growing company in history.

Ulukaya, who has made a fortune of $1.4 billion in a couple of years, was in Davos not only as a successful businessperson, but as a sensitive person looking for a remedy through the foundation he formed for the 60 million refugees in the world.

Meanwhile, readers would remember that, it must have been a couple of years ago, I criticized in a piece about Chobani that Ulukaya publicized his brand as “Greek yogurt.” I had a point; yogurt is a Turkish-origin word and all other languages use it. It is believed to have originated from Central Asia and it is an indispensable part of Turkish cuisine.

I had an opportunity to talk to Ulukaya in Davos but it did not cross my mind to ask him why he promoted his product as “Greek yogurt.” The reason was that Ulukaya has put his heart on the “refugee” matter, which was very much in the forefront. 

Ulukaya declared he would give a major part of his fortune to The Giving Pledge founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. He also set up his own foundation, Tent, to reach out to refugees.

Whenever he finds the opportunity, he has spoken face-to-face with refugees in several places. One of them was a Yazidi girl he has been able to save from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). A photo of this Yazidi girl is on his cell phone.

Meanwhile, British businessperson and Virgin owner Richard Branson wrote his in his blog:

“Chobani’s CEO said ‘businesses and innovators have a critical role to play’ in ending the refugee crisis. Ulukaya is calling for leaders of the technology sector to lend their support to the refugee crisis, asking for companies to provide food, shelter, and jobs to those in need.

Ulukaya is himself a Kurdish Muslim who immigrated from Turkey, and through Chobani, Ulukaya has hired hundreds of refugees in the last five years. Ulukaya has pledged half of his personal wealth to the refugees’ humanitarian crisis, and has recently launched Tent, a personal foundation that seeks to connect refugees with the resources of the private sector.

He also pointed to the tremendous contributions to global society made by other former refugees - Google’s Sergey Brin, Intel’s Andy Grove, and WhatsApp’s Jan Koum. ‘Some of the world’s most innovative and successful businesses simply wouldn’t exist if they had been turned away in their time of need,’ said Ulukaya.”

Ulukaya’s Tent foundation is supported by six companies: Airbnb, LinkedIn, MasterCard, Ikea, UPS and Western Union.

Ulukaya believes that it is not only the responsibility of governments and nongovernmental organizations to provide hope and opportunities to the 60 million refugees in the world.

As a matter of fact, this biggest crisis of our era is the responsibility of all of us.