WeWork says it will hire 1,500 refugees over next five years

Of­fice-shar­ing firm’s plan ‘not a po­lit­i­cal state­ment’


WeWork, the am­bi­tious of­fice­shar­ing com­pany that has ex­panded into nearly 60 ci­ties and into brand ex­ten­sions such as com­mu­nal hous­ing and a pri­vate el­e­men­tary school, has a new am­bi­tion: Over the next five years, the New York-based co-work­ing space turned life­style brand plans to hire 1,500 refugees glob­ally as it seeks to fill jobs in its rapidly grow­ing busi­ness.

The ini­tia­tive, which fol­lows an an­nounce­ment that WeWork plans to hire a sim­i­lar num­ber of veter­ans, is in step with other high-pro­file ef­forts by com­pa­nies to hire refugees. Af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump is­sued his travel ban ex­ec­u­tive order in Jan­uary, thenS­tar­bucks chief ex­ec­u­tive Howard Schultz said the cof­fee be­he­moth would hire 10,000 refugees in 75 coun­tries over the next five years, a plan that drew both cheers and crit­i­cism on so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing some calls for a boy­cott. Dur­ing last year’s elec­tion cam­paign, yogurt-maker Chobani was the tar­get of politi­cized at­tacks for hir­ing refugees in its fac­to­ries — but the move also drew ap­plause from many oth­ers af­ter head­lines about CEO Hamdi Ulukaya’s ad­vo­cacy.

WeWork chief ex­ec­u­tive Adam Neu­mann, who moved to the United States in 2002 af­ter serv­ing in the Is­raeli army, said the ini­tia­tive is “not a po­lit­i­cal state­ment.” Rather, he said in an in­ter­view, it was launched out of a grass-roots ef­fort and a de­sire to take an ac­tive role in solv­ing a big­ger prob­lem.

A pi­lot pro­gram ini­ti­ated by an em­ployee, Fa­tima Du­ran, led to part­ner­ships with or­ga­ni­za­tions that re­set­tle refugees, such as the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee (IRC), and the hir­ing of 50 refugees in “com­mu­nity ser­vice as­so­ciate” po­si­tions. Their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties range from day­time straight­en­ing and re­stock­ing of WeWork fa­cil­i­ties — known for their beer taps, in­spi­ra­tional mot­tos and hip­ster vibe — to ba­sic equip­ment sup­port for mem­bers.

Af­ter 95 per­cent of the hires were still around nearly a year later, WeWork de­cided to ex­pand the pro­gram and open it to other com­pany po­si­tions. “Do I think peo­ple who need a good op­por­tu­nity be­come harder work­ers some­times? Yes,” Neu­mann said. The ini­tial hires, he said, “had ex­tremely high feed­back from their co-work­ers, from their bosses and from our mem­bers. . . . I’m not sur­prised these em­ploy­ees were very good, but I had to prove it with data.”

The refugee ini­tia­tive is one way the com­pany — which re­port­edly has a val­u­a­tion of $20 bil­lion, plac­ing it among the largest tech­nol­ogy start-ups — is aim­ing to fill jobs amid rapid growth. Over the past two years, its em­ployee head­count has nearly tripled, grow­ing from 1,048 at the end of 2015 to 3,000 today.

A com­mit­ment to di­rectly hire refugees is still rare for com­pa­nies. Ac­cord­ing to the Tent Part­ner­ship for Refugees, which was founded by Ulukaya to sup­port refugees, only about 10 per­cent of its 80 busi­ness mem­bers have made di­rect hir­ing com­mit­ments.

The refugees who have been hired so far hail from coun­tries in­clud­ing Ethiopia, Guinea, Peru and Iraq. Joe Dugbo, who was hired at one of WeWork’s Mid­town Man­hat­tan lo­ca­tions in May through the IRC, said the job was his first af­ter ar­riv­ing this year from Liberia. His du­ties in­clude stock­ing and clean­ing the com­mon area and cof­fee sta­tion, for which he is paid $15 an hour and re­ceives ben­e­fits such as health in­sur­ance and some WeWork eq­uity. “I’ve made a lot of friends with mem­bers,” Dugbo said of the com­pa­nies and peo­ple that rent space at WeWork, in­clud­ing one with whom he plays bas­ket­ball af­ter work.

That re­la­tion­ship be­tween refugees and WeWork’s cor­po­rate and in­di­vid­ual mem­bers is one thing that could set WeWork’s ini­tia­tive apart, said David Miliband, the IRC’s CEO and a for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary of Bri­tain. (Hires for WeWork’s refugee ini­tia­tive are ex­pected to come from place­ments by the IRC and its part­ners.) The com­pany in­tends to launch a web­site and en­cour­age its net­work — some 20,000 com­pa­nies rent space or have ac­cess to WeWork fa­cil­i­ties — to hire or men­tor refugees and di­rect them to or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Tent Part­ner­ship. “There’s some unique ca­pac­ity here,” Miliband said. “The clos­est par­al­lel would be a com­pany that has an ex­ten­sive sup­ply chain.”

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