Living and Giving

“The emotional walls are worse than the physical walls” Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani, on the refugee crisis.

Share This Post

\”The emotional walls are worse than the physical walls\” Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani, on the refugee crisis.


Hamdi Ulukaya came from Ilic, a town in the Eastern region of Anatolia, where he worked on a farm with his mother creating yogurt and cheese. Now he\’s running a globally-recognized company and serving refugees.  He\’s committed to delivering excellent yogurt and making a significant dent in the refugee crisis.

Ulukaya moved from his home country in 1994. In Turkey, there\’s little income disparity; a slightly richer family might have 50 more sheep or cows than their poorer neighbors. Instead, an individual’s wealth was determined by his reputation and how he worked within the community. In establishing his business and growing his success, Ulukaya has followed the same practices of relying on his reputation and community connections.

Chobani’s business model is inspired by the physical and emotional lessons of Ulukaya’s youth. He supports the pillars of dignity and community in his relations with both farmers and customers, and the natural, wholesome yogurt once produced by Ulukaya and his mother on a farm in Anatolia now comes from upstate New York.

Chobani is now a major player in the yogurt industry, and is a household name recognized for the Greek yogurt revolution it brought to the United States. It\’s known for its nutritious and delicious yogurt that is made with only natural ingredients. Ulukaya was named one of the inaugural members of the President Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship Initiative by President Obama in 2014.

Today, Ulukaya has \”made it big\” and can walk away. He took some personality tests to find out what he should do.

Should he buy a yacht?


Buy some homes?


Live the high life?


Well, Ulukaya decided none of the above. (He just didn\’t test positive for extravagance!)

He\’s back at Chobani again- but not just producing natural yogurt. He\’s donating more than 10% of company profits to serve refugees and other causes and has also employed over 600 refugees in his Upstate New York and Twin Falls plants.

He says:

\”Every hour is different.  One moment it\’s about customer. The next hour it\’s about helping the refugees.\”

Your company can help you to achieve your calling.  This isn\’t just about money; it\’s about how you earn it, and the relationships you build along the way.

Ulukaya is using that same connection with farmers which made him successful, with refugees.

\”The emotional walls are worse than the physical walls\” he says.

While the refugee crisis might scare you, unsettle you, even disillusion you, don\’t build a wall.  Keep your mind supple and your heart open.  The first way we can do that is to think about each refugee with dignity and respect. Then, we can find a way to serve by giving our time, or perhaps donating funds.

Support those in need by helping to tear down the emotional walls that have been built and fortified with time. This cannot be achieved all at once, but can likely only happen brick by brick. Be ready to serve with respect in your mind and passion in your heart. We can learn from Hamdi Ulukaya’s approach to business at Chobani by prioritizing dignity and community in our efforts to aid refugees around the world.

Donate to World Food Program\’s Syrian Relief Fund: