Giving Thoughts


On World Refugee Day, Respond with Hope

By Sarah Middleton and Yvonne Siu Turner9661967921_17b8f7dea3_b

We have become all-too familiar with the heartbreaking images of flimsy, inflatable rafts attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, of young children and their parents peering through barbed wire into a new country, and of refugee camps where the tents stretch on for miles and miles. And then there are the pictures that you will never unsee, like tiny Alan Kurdi’s body lifeless on a beach.

This is the global refugee crisis, where right now we are witnessing the highest levels of displaced peoples—by war, conflict or persecution—on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes, one-fifth of whom are under the age of 18 (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2017).

The sheer scale of this crisis is something the world has never seen before, and the humanitarian aid system is reaching breaking point. Governments of the world’s top 10 refugee host countries are completely overwhelmed. These countries are too poor to provide for refugees’ basic needs without putting the welfare of their local populations at risk. Simply put: there is not enough humanitarian and financial support to fill the urgent needs of refugees and their host countries.

Bringing resiliency to the crisis

Amidst this global tragedy, many companies are stepping up to lead with their values and lend their time, talent, treasure, and voice. They are working to bring an urgency and resilience to this crisis through their passionate, motivated, and empathetic workforces.

There is no doubt that a solution to this global crisis requires government leadership, but it also requires both the private and nonprofit sectors to innovate, collaborate, and take action together.

What are companies doing?

It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is, everyone can do something. In 2007, Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant to the US, founded the Greek yogurt company Chobani. In addition to hiring more than 300 refugees, Ulukaya launched the Tent Foundation in 2015, through which he aims to aid refugees and end displacement globally.

Global consulting firm Accenture worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop the Biometric Identification Management System, a tool to “improve protection and support for an estimated 33.9 million refugees in 125 countries as they move across borders.” Accenture has also partnered with US-based charity Upwardly Global to create an online training program to help skilled refugees and immigrants launch professional careers in the US. Through this partnership, Accenture mobilizes volunteers, like Wendy Chan, who want to lend a helping hand.

Airbnb is partnering with UNHCR, the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps to house aid workers in some of the worst affected areas. Through the company’s philanthropic travel credit program, hundreds of humanitarian workers have been able to stay in Airbnb listings on the frontlines in places like Greece and Serbia.

At PIMCO, we have launched Refugee Action Teams in offices around the world. A team in PIMCO’s Newport Beach office recently launched a refugee housing fundraising campaign with the goal of providing rent for a year for five local refugee families who have resettled in Orange County, CA.

This is why business is crucial to making a dent in this crisis: business brings agility, creativity, diversity of thought, and leadership together. Companies are mobilizing their workforces to volunteer as mentors, English teachers, caregivers, job coaches and friends to refugees. You don’t need 500,000 or even 500 employees to make an impact—you can make an impact at any size, simply by taking the kind of action that makes the most sense for you.

Shifting the paradigm on refugees

Research shows that conflicts reduce human capital by spreading poverty, but we need the world to look beyond that and view refugees as an opportunity rather than a burden. In a May 2016 Tent Foundation report entitled “Refugees Work,” author Philippe Legrain notes that investing one euro in refugees can yield twice that in economic benefits in five years.

We think of the example set by L&R Pallet, a large pallet manufacturer based in Denver, and its remarkable story about putting refugees to work and the business results it yielded. We know employment can unlock potential and economic dividends. It is absolutely vital that we figure this piece out. When more job opportunities are offered, the education and health care cannot help but follow.

Cross-sector partnerships are vital

This crisis is simply too big for governments or nonprofits to tackle alone. Cross-sector collaboration is vital. While the United Nations and various nonprofits bring the data and amplify the need, the private sector can bring the resources.

From CEO-designed initiatives to employee-led efforts, more and more companies are coming together to do something about this global crisis. Initiatives like the Tent Partnership for Refugees, designed to bring companies, relief organizations, governments and academia together to discuss and build upon business-led efforts to make an impact, are key to tackling this issue.

Collaboration is challenging. Coalescing around a singular goal is challenging. But these are unprecedented times and the only way we’re going to solve this emergency is to work together.

About the authors:

Sarah Middleton Executive Director PIMCO Foundation

Sarah Middleton
Executive Director
PIMCO Foundation

Ms. Middleton is senior vice president for global corporate citizenship at PIMCO and executive director of the PIMCO Foundation. She is a Points of Light Corporate Institute Leadership Faculty member, IMPACT 2030 Regional Voice Lead, and sits on the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness. Prior to joining PIMCO in 2007, she served as an AmeriCorps volunteer and worked in the nonprofit sector. She was named one of Orange County’s “100 Most Influential” people of 2015.



Yvonne Siu Turner Senior Manager Corporate Resources and Programs Points of Light Institute

Yvonne Siu Turner
Senior Manager Corporate Resources and Programs
Points of Light Institute

Yvonne Siu Turner is the senior manager for corporate resources and programs at the Corporate Institute at Points of Light, the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service. Yvonne leads the learning communities and development of resources for the Institute’s community of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and employee volunteer practitioners, including serving as the editor for The 2016 Civic 50: Turning Good Intentions into Sound Business Practices. Previously, she served as the marketing manager for A Billion + Change, a national campaign housed and managed by Points of Light that in 2013 inspired more than 500 companies to pledge $2 billion of skills-based volunteer support to communities—the largest commitment of pro bono service in history.

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