Mmajor corporations pledged to increase the number of military veterans in their ranks and committed to hiring refugees, making the US their new home. Now, a new program wants to bring those two groups together, pairing veterans whose shared experiences with Afghan refugees can make them more invested in their success.
Google, Cisco, Hilton and 13 other major companies announced Thursday that they are teaming up with three nonprofits — Hiring Our Heroes, the Afghan American Foundation and the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a nonprofit founded by Chobani billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya — to provide mentorship to at least 1,500 Afghan refugees over the next three years. The program is part of Tent’s initiatives to connect refugees with jobs.
Chobani CEO Ulukaya said at a news conference Thursday that mentoring and hiring refugees helps both companies and workers: Veterans say opportunities to help resettle Afghan allies would improve their mental health, while businesses likely would find loyal workers. A previous report from Tent found that the retention rate of refugee employees is higher than that of the average worker. “As simple as it is: it’s good for business – business productivity, culture, innovation and reliability,” Ulukaya said.
Participating companies will match veteran employees of all ages and seniority levels with at least 50 Afghan refugees over the next three years, providing one-on-one career support such as professional networking and development, interview skills training and resume advice, and cover letter, with the goal of reaching roughly half of Tent’s goal of mentoring at least 1,500 refugees. More companies are already looking to participate after Thursday’s news conference, said Tent Vice President Scarlett Cronin Forbes.
Veterans are “natural allies” for refugees, Cronin says. Mentors are often the “natural speakers and those who will be interested in advancing the needs of this [specific] community. For many veterans, there is that natural connection that already exists with the Afghan community.”
Program leaders say it gives military veterans a chance to say thank you to refugees who may have helped the U.S. military in the past. “Will allow [companies and veterans] to come alongside a population that quite honestly took care of ours [former] and currently serves members overseas,” said Elizabeth O’Brien, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes.
The first commitments include commitments from 16 companies to pair refugees with military veterans as mentors. Among them are American Airlines, Bain & Co., Chobani, Cisco, Hilton, Merck, SAP, Starbucks and others.
The mentoring program follows a series of commitments last September from 45 companies including Amazon, PepsiCo and Marriott to hire more than 22,000 refugees over the next three years. The US has accepted about 90,000 Afghan refugees since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, US Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dennis McDonough said at the news conference. (McDonagh is close to Ulukaya, Cronin says; the mentoring program is not a veterans affairs initiative.) The total global refugee population topped 32.5 million by mid-2022, according to UNHCR — up from 27 million six months ago.
Ulukaya, an immigrant from Turkey who founded Tent in 2016, has long been a driving force behind campaigns to hire refugees and veterans, which has led to attacks and threats against him and his company over the years. In 2016, customers threatened on social media to boycott Chobani after Ulukaya, who has long employed refugees at his company, stepped up advocacy for the practice. The CEO said about 5 percent of the yogurt maker’s employees are veterans.
Like refugees, veterans often have difficulty advancing in their careers and finding work equivalent to their qualifications, the US Department of Veterans Affairs emphasized. Whether returning to work or preparing to enter the workforce, veterans may struggle with the lack of structure they once had in the military. But pairing refugees with veterans in the workplace is a “natural alignment,” O’Brien said, since both often have difficulty finding and advancing in jobs and transferring their skills to the corporate world.