Major corporations have pledged to boost the number of military veterans in their ranks and committed to hiring refugees making the U.S. their new home. Now, a new program wants to bring these two groups together, pairing veterans whose shared experiences with Afghan refugees could make them more invested in their success.
Google, Cisco, Hilton and 13 other major companies announced Thursday they are teaming up with a trio of nonprofits—Hiring Our Heroes, the Afghan American Foundation and the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a nonprofit organization 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 to work.
Chobani CEO Ulukaya said in a press 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 are likely to find loyal workers. A previous report from Tent found retention rates for refugee employees to be higher than they are for the average worker. “It’s simple as it is: This is good for business— business productivity, culture, innovation and reliability,” Ulukaya said.
The participating companies will pair employed veterans, military spouses and allies 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 and cover letter advice, aiming to hit roughly half of Tent’s goal of mentoring at least 1,500 refugees. More companies are already reaching out to participate following the Thursday press conference, Tent vice president Scarlet Cronin tells Forbes.
Veterans are “natural allies” for refugees, Cronin says. Mentors are often “the natural spokespeople and those who are going to be interested in advancing the needs of that [specific] community. For many veterans, there is that natural bond that already exists with the Afghan community.”
The program’s leaders say it gives military veterans the chance to give back to refugees who may have helped the U.S. military in the past. “It will allow [companies and veterans] to come alongside a population that quite honestly took care of our [former] and currently serving members overseas,” said Elizabeth O’Brien, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes.
The first pledges include commitments from 16 companies to pair refugees with military veterans as mentors. They include American Airlines, Bain & Co., Chobani, Cisco, Hilton, Merck, SAP, Starbucks and others.
The mentorship program follows a string of commitments last September from 45 companies such as Amazon, PepsiCo and Marriott to hire more than 22,000 refugees over the next three years. The U.S. has taken in about 90,000 Afghan refugees since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough said in the press event. (McDonough is close with Ulukaya, says Cronin; the mentorship program is not a Veterans Affairs initiative.) The total global refugee population exceeded 32.5 million as of mid-2022, according to UNHCR—up from 27 million six months prior.
Ulukaya, an immigrant from Turkey who founded Tent in 2016, has long been a leading force for campaigns to hire refugees and veterans, which have brought attacks and threats to him and his company over the years. In 2016, customers threatened on social media to boycott Chobani after Ulukaya, who has long hired refugees at his company, ramped up advocacy for the practice. The CEO said about 5% of the yogurt maker’s employees are veterans.
Similar to refugees, veterans often have difficulty with career advancement and finding jobs equivalent to their qualifications, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has outlined. Whether it’s returning to a job or preparing to enter the workforce, veterans can 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, as both often face difficulties finding and advancing in jobs and translating their skills to the corporate world.