Most entrepreneurs avoid even the appearance of getting involved in international warfare or its fallout.  So Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, made headlines last month, when he pledged $2 million to help refugees fleeing Islamic State militants and the fighting against them in Syria and Iraq.  

“It’s a little close to me as a person,” Ulukaya, a Kurdish native of eastern Turkey, said during a video interview at the Inc. 5000 conference in October. Much of the conflict has centered on the town of Kobani, on the border of Syria and Turkey, and many of the refugees fleeing ISIS have wound up in eastern Turkey.

Ulukaya’s Greek yogurt behemoth has donated money to other international causes before, including famine in Somalia and emergency response efforts in Haiti. (Chobani also donates 10 percent of its profits to various philanthropic efforts, including those in its home state of New York.) 

But Ulukaya acknowledges that getting involved in the escalating Middle East warfare has been a little more complicated than supplying hurricane or earthquake relief. For example, some Turkish Kurds have criticized their government for doing too little to beat back ISIS. Meanwhile, U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State forces are adding to the numbers of refugees in the region.

Ulukaya has repeatedly resisted weighing in on policy decisions around the conflict, but he acknowledged to me that “it’s politically very complex. You have this group, that group, somebody’s bombing from there, somebody’s against them.”

But, he added, “what they’re missing is the greatest human tragedies going on. There are families separated, there are people in fear of their lives. … We don’t think about who says what and what is going to happen, we focus on the human tragedy and how we do our part.”

When asked how he balanced the potential risks or benefits to his business of associating the Chobani name with complicated international politics, Ulukaya said, “I am an entrepreneur and I love my job,” but “we have obligations to speak our voice on the issues that we don’t agree.”

His donation is being distributed by the International Rescue Committee and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which Ulukaya said he picked after seeing their work.

For any entrepreneurs considering similar humanitarian donations, “it’s important who you partner with,” Ulukaya says, adding that he looked for groups that would ensure that “this fund is going to actually reach people who are in need. Are they in the field, are they actually doing the work? These two came together, they are the only ones on the field right now … and we can trust them.”

Watch my interview with Ulukaya about his donation to refugees below:

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