In a CBS interview recently, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya discussed his new “Tent Coalition” — a group of 30+ major companies, including the likes of Amazon, Facebook, UPS, Pfizer, and others, committed to hiring Afghan refugees. His framing of both the need and the collaboration is reframing the role of business as we know it.
“The sole purpose of business is to not just make money for shareholders, but to make society a better place,” Ulukaya said. While many have questioned this positioning, he stands behind it with both cultural and financial reasoning:
“If we look at financial market,” he said, “we see the financial return on building investment in diversity, income equality, environment, [and solutions to other societal problems]. This is becoming a part of companies’ responsibilities.”
Why? “Employees and consumers want their employers to do the right thing,” Ulukaya stresses. The numbers bear this out: Studies show that between 50-70% of consumers pay close attention to brands’ social responsibility when they buy a product. And companies have a long way to go — only 9% believe companies when they say they are socially responsible.
There’s another dimension to this, too, that’s taking center stage. Once upon a time, businesses were only quietly political — funding campaigns on the down-low that would largely support their own interests. Now, politics is front and center. It hardly matters that there are political implications to supporting Afghan refugees — businesses, many with immense international sway, are stepping up to make space for them.
This points to a slow but steady separation of social responsibility and the political implications that have long been paired with them. Climate change is no longer a political issue — it’s part of social responsibility, and social responsibility is, by definition, everyone’s responsibility. The same can be said of human rights, which includes the treatment of refugees as they flee dire circumstances across the world.
Uluyaka was challenged, however, as he explained more about his “Tent Coalition”: What about refugees taking American jobs?
His answer was clear and concise: “Studies have shown that within five years of refugees settling in communities, job opportunities increase.” Why? With more money flowing into local economies, businesses flourish and expand, paving the way for new job openings.
This is long overdue. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (especially to new CEOs and entrepreneurs building a company from scratch): Build a community, not a company. Make social responsibility part of your vision and mission. And dump the old fear of meddling in politics in favor of community support — where all lives are valued and opportunities are afforded to those willing to contribute.
That’s pretty much what makes America great, right?