How One Woman’s Feeling of Helplessness Launched an Initiative to Hire Refugees

Published on: 16 March 2022
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Mona Babury's husband is an Afghan refugee who moved to the U.S. when he was 5 years old. Pfizer had nearly 1,000 open jobs it was trying to fill. What if they hired refugees for some of these open roles? Today, more than 300 Pfizer employees have volunteered to mentor refugees through a non-profit called The Tent Coalition for Afghan Refugees.

The images, unfortunately, have been too common for far too long: people young and old, refugees whose lives have been upended by forces beyond their control, fleeing their homes for safety. Watching it as it unfolds can make someone feel powerless. But what can one person do to make a difference?

That was the question Mona Babury asked herself in August 2021 when the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan. From her home near New York City, as she watched footage of Afghan refugees, the trauma was close to home: her husband, Farhad, is an Afghan refugee who moved to the United States when he was 5 years old. “In the 10 years we have been married I had never seen him so distraught and depressed watching the scenes on TV. People running for their lives, grabbing onto the plane wheels risking their lives to evacuate. I watched and I just remember feeling so helpless,” she says.

In her work at Pfizer, where she’s a Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lead, a number of colleagues also have roots in Afghanistan, some are refugees. Questions ran wild through her head on how she could help: Where could she make donations? Should she foster a child? What could she do right now to make an impact?

That’s when the idea struck. She knew that Pfizer had nearly 1,000 open jobs it was trying to fill. What if they hired refugees for some of these open roles?

In the coming weeks and months, Babury would see that with the right partners, the right team, and the right intentions, anything is possible. Today, her idea is a formal program called the Pfizer Refugee Leadership Initiative. Its goal: to hire at least 100 refugees by the end of 2022 and mentor at least 150, 50 of whom identify as LGBTQ. As of mid-April 2022, Pfizer had hired 40 people through the initiative and had expanded from the U.S. to Pfizer offices in Greece, Germany, Belgium, and Italy, seeking to reach refugees from Ukraine as well as Afghanistan.

For Babury, the focus has given her, and many of her colleagues, a new sense of purpose and gratitude in their own lives. “There are a lot of tears and sleepless nights working on this program. It makes you appreciate everything we have—our safety, our homes, our families, our banks, our jobs, our educational institutes, our right to speak freely,” she says. “All these things we sometimes take for granted.”

She shared the concept with her husband, and was emboldened by his response. “He said, ‘Mona, that would be absolutely incredible,” she recalls. Then she took it to an Afghan colleague she mentors, Senior Information Associate Negeena Niazi. She, too, loved the idea. So, Babury summoned the courage to email Pfizer’s Executive Vice President, Chief People Experience Officer, Payal Sahni.

So Babury began researching organizations to partner with outside of the company. She learned about The Tent Partnership for Refugees, a non-profit organization that works with businesses to hire and train refugees. It was the ideal fit, and Pfizer, alongside more than two dozen other major businesses, joined the Tent Coalition for Afghan Refugees, committing to support and create opportunities for refugees.

Soon after, Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla—himself, an immigrant from Greece who is a naturalized U.S. citizen—sent out a company-wide email announcing the program as a formal initiative. When more than 300 employees volunteered to help mentor refugees, Babury cried tears of joy, watching her idea became a reality. She was named Pfizer’s Refugee Leadership Initiative lead and Niazi became its Program Manager.

Source: pfizer news

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