October 3, 2018; Times-News (Magic Valley, ID)
The Chobani Foundation announced last week that it is launching a $100,000 annual fund to support entrepreneurship and economic opportunity in Idaho’s Magic Valley. Chobani has been expanding its south-central Idaho plant since its original move to the area in 2012. The announcement mirrors a similar fund that supports Chobani’s other significant home in Central New York and an overall integrated and place-based corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy.
The Community Impact Fund will provide $15,000–$30,000 grants to local programs that are driving economic opportunity in the area. The foundation is bringing in institutional knowledge through its partnership with the Idaho Community Foundation, whose staff will identify the grant recipients.
Hamdi Ulukaya, Chobani’s founder, has made headlines over the past few years for his powerful stand in support of refugees, progressive employee practices, and, with this recent announcement, his funding of economic mobility at the hyper-local level.
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“From the moment Hamdi identified Twin Falls as a home for Chobani, it was important that we weren’t just creating opportunity for our employees, but really strengthening the fabric of the community as well,” said Michael Gonda, Chobani’s senior vice president of corporate affairs.
Ulukaya’s approach to community and employee engagement has drawn positive attention over the past few years and has been lifted up as a new, sustainable approach to CSR—grounded in a belief in shared wealth. Holding close his experience as a Turkish immigrant starting a business in an unknown land, he has demonstrated his belief in seeding first- and second-chances. Employees are given Chobani shares based on their tenure and role, extended as “a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility.” When he opened his Twin Falls plant, he immediately turned to a refugee resettlement center to seek his workforce, citing his belief that “the minute a refugee has a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee.”
Those foundational, integrated practices thread through his burgeoning and more traditional grantmaking activities, such as this newly launched Community Impact Fund, and as he builds out his corporate foundation as well as The Tent Foundation. Other CEOs, most recently Jeff Bezos, have come under fire for announcing larger-than-life philanthropic initiatives without first looking inward at their own employee practices.
As CEO and corporate activism rises, with both personal and business-based philosophies driving these new platforms, employees and consumers will become more sophisticated in separating the wheat from the chaff. In that rapidly evolving landscape, Ulukaya and Chobani are emerging as exemplars of true social responsibility and change.—Danielle Holly