Having a diverse and inclusive (D&I) culture is becoming even more important as the most diverse generation (Gen Z) enters the workforce. Companies that wear their D&I efforts proudly on their sleeves will stand out as employers of choice and will win over today’s top talent.
One strategy for creating this type of culture is through engaging your workers (and attracting new ones) by offering enriching experiences like cultural exchanges with refugees.
Aline Sara, Cofounder of NaTakallam—a social enterprise that offers high-quality language learning programs delivered by refugees for all levels of Arabic, French, Persian and Spanish, as well as professional translation services in 10+ languages—joins us in the following Q&A to discuss how cultural experiences with refugees help to shape a company’s culture and help to create a unified workforce.
If you’re curious to learn how these types of programs have benefited other companies, then you’re in luck! Rebecca Baron, UK Campaign Manager for Ben & Jerry’s, also joins us to discuss how NaTakallam’s latest initiative has helped improve the company’s hiring and retention efforts.
HR Daily Advisor: Why are cultural experiences so important for workers?
Aline Sara: It’s important for workers to get to know the individuals behind the headlines and political jargon that so often characterize them. Refugees and displaced persons are often associated with negative news stories, but the term “refugee” is a complex distinction that transcends geographic boundaries and socioeconomic status.
By offering Refugee Voices sessions to workers, we bring the stories of these individuals to workers in an engaging way, which helps broaden their understanding of “the other” and creates a sense of unity among colleagues.
What’s unique about NaTakallam is that we are also providing refugees and displaced people with a livelihood, which is something all workers can understand. For every hour that our language partners engage, whether for teaching or for cultural exchange and awareness-raising, they get compensated.
HR Daily Advisor: What is the Refugee Voices program, and why is it important for employers to offer this or something similar?
Sara: Refugee Voices’ virtual sessions provide a forum for open conversation between workers and refugees or displaced persons. Through these sessions, participants come to understand their personal stories, the context that forced them to leave, the challenges of rebuilding a life, and, if requested, language learning. These sessions have proven to be an impactful and enriching experience to participants. Meanwhile, each session contributes directly to refugee livelihoods.
For organizations that are working in the international sphere, the exchanges are a wonderful way to get to know a culture and to learn about the political context of the various refugee crises worldwide.
For example, if you’re going to have a session with one of our conversation partners in Iraq, you can learn about the context in which he or she left his or her village but also what daily life is like in Iraq.
HR Daily Advisor: How can employers engage their workforce using cultural exchanges with refugees?
Sara: We’ve found that most audiences are surprised but also very often touched by what they learn, specifically how little they understood about a crisis and how crushing life prospects are for refugees around the world.
Bringing colleagues together for about an hour to converse with someone who has an unimaginably different set of struggles has the power to inspire creativity and to enrich the employee experience, leading to more purposeful, productive work.
HR Daily Advisor: What would be the easiest way for employers to implement these types of programs?
Sara: The easiest way for employers to implement these programs is to visit https://natakallam.com/refugee-voices/ and sign up for a session. Employers can select a preferred topic, ranging from personal narratives of displacement to human rights or politics, as well as regional focus.
We have already conducted these sessions for several organizations and have seen the effects they have had on a workplace, including bringing a broader level of compassion for the plight of refugees worldwide, and providing a deeper understanding of the political landscape that forces people into these difficult circumstances.
HR Daily Advisor: What impact would these programs have on a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts?
Sara: We believe that hosting Refugee Voices sessions will encourage organizations to hire refugees or displaced persons. Many refugees are underemployed in the United States because employers don’t want to take a risk hiring them or don’t understand their skill set, but the private sector is uniquely positioned to help stem the global refugee crisis.
Our partner, the Tent Foundation, started by Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, is doing incredible work on this front by mobilizing the private sector to hire refugees.
Ben & Jerry’s UK is a proud partner of NaTakallam’s Refugee Voices Campaign and Baron shares insights into how this initiative has helped the company, below.
HR Daily Advisor: What made your company realize it should participate in a program like Refugee Voices?
Rebecca Baron: We do a lot of work as Ben & Jerry’s around refugee and asylum rights, primarily in our external communications. We realised that in order to make sure we had the whole of Ben & Jerry’s behind us, plus our parent company Unilever, we needed to engage people more deeply with the issues.
We wanted to help people understand a little bit more about the experience of being a refugee and to connect with the people behind the statistics. With this inspiration, people are more motivated and more connected with the work that we’re doing, and hopefully, more aware and active in their personal lives as well.
HR Daily Advisor: How have these types of programs benefited your organization?
Baron: Connecting with refugee conversation partners via NaTakallam has allowed us to deepen our understanding in this area and has moved our activism forward. More broadly speaking, this type of activity is a huge reason that people come to work for Ben & Jerry’s (and indeed Unilever) and stay with the company for so long.
HR Daily Advisor: How have these programs benefited your workforce?
Baron: I cannot tell you how many positive messages I received from people who went through the program. All of them left inspired and motivated to find out more and take action where they could. One participant even changed roles after this session, in large part so she could work more directly on our refugee and asylum rights campaigns.
HR Daily Advisor: Was this type of program easy for your company to implement?
Baron: Very easy! The team members at NaTakallam are a dream to work with; the structures and the support they have around the conversation partners and the program make it very easy to connect with a refugee and know that they are safe and happy in these conversations.
HR Daily Advisor: What advice would you offer employers/HR professionals who are interested in offering similar programs at their companies?
Baron: I would absolutely go for it, especially if refugee rights or human rights are part of your organisation’s values. It’s a really tangible way to deepen people’s understanding and connection. Just be prepared for the follow-up question: “What can I do to help?”