PIMCO Taking Local Action in the Global Refugee Crisis

Sarah Middleton October 17, 2017 Employee Engagement

Right now, at this very moment, we are witnessing the highest levels of displaced peoples – by war, conflict or persecution – on record. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Can you imagine if you were one of those 22.5 million – and you had to pack up your entire life into just a few bags, and then find some place new to call home, to rebuild everything?

As I sit at my desk, in my comfortable office, thousands and thousands of miles away from any conflict and any refugee camp, I simply can’t imagine.

But we see the riveting images in our news feeds, on TV, all around us – and hopefully, we choose to do something. Hopefully, we choose to step up and lead with our values.

This crisis is simply too large for the humanitarian and government sectors to tackle alone; cross-sector collaboration is necessary. It’s time for the private sector to bring its resources to bear – and many companies certainly are.

I’d like to share our PIMCO story, and give you an example of how our firm decided to take action and make an impact.


Colombian refugee family receives psychosocial and humanitarian assistance from HIAS, including food, rent, and education.


Our Story

In September 2016, as the refugee crisis continued to explode on the global scene, two of my PIMCO colleagues felt compelled to act. And act they did, pulling together a remarkable hour-long event called “The Frontlines of the Global Refugee Crisis: Human Flight Beyond Comparison,” that educated and unnerved our Americas employees. Not long after that September event, our PIMCO offices in Toronto, New York, and Newport Beach, CA formed Refugee Action Teams, comprised of motivated colleagues, to strategize how PIMCO’s talents could impact the crisis.

Throughout the rest of 2016, our Newport Beach Refugee Action Team got to know Orange County nonprofits working on the refugee crisis – and also learned about refugees’ immediate needs. By early January 2017, the Team had decided to launch a fundraising campaign to cover a year’s worth of rent for five local refugee families.

Why housing? Well, we heard over and over again that housing is the biggest, most insurmountable challenge for refugees resettling in Orange County. Orange County’s high cost of living is almost double the U.S. average; one needs to bring home $57,440 annually to afford a median-priced one-bedroom rental unit here – that’s a $27.62 hourly wage.


A HIAS community mobilizer meets with Amneh Yakum Abbakah, 40, who learned to make baskets through HIAS activities and now runs her own shop with the income she has generated.


Restoring Hope for Five Orange County Families

The Team put some more thought into campaign logistics and reached out to Access California Services, a culturally-oriented community-based organization dedicated to empowering the underserved Arab-American and Muslim-American communities. In partnership with AccessCal, the Team identified five families who resettled in Orange County from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria to be our campaign beneficiaries.

We thought if we could provide for housing, these families could use their time and energy to find employment, address health challenges, attend to their children’s education, and rebuild their lives. We could restore their hope.

The Team set a campaign goal of $100,000, and then shared the families’ stories and photos with the rest of our PIMCO Newport Beach colleagues. The stories were overwhelmingly sad, much like the kind you might read in The New York Times or on BBC News – except this time, the stories were coming from our own backyard. We read about children diagnosed with ADHD and PTSD, consequences of being witness to the constant bombing in war zones. We read about parents struggling to learn English and find employment, anxious to get stabilized before the cash aid runs out. We read these very personal stories, and we became intently focused on reaching our campaign goal.


A family of Ethiopian refugees awaits resettlement in Nairobi, Kenya after they fled Ethiopia when one of their sons disappeared and the father was detained and tortured. Here, they pose with baskets and marriage hats hand made in Ethiopia and carried to Kenya.


The Campaign for a Year of Housing

We ran the campaign for three weeks in June. The Team set up an intranet page, sent emails, plastered break rooms with posters, put reminders up in elevators, promoted the PIMCO Foundation’s matching gift program, and talked up the campaign at every opportunity. At the campaign’s end, we had raised slightly more than $77,000 – not the $100,000 we were hoping for, but an impressive showing nonetheless.

But here’s the good news: AccessCal tallied up the five families’ monthly rents, and we learned that to cover the yearly cost for all families, we only needed to raise $83,200. The PIMCO Foundation will be covering this $6,200 gap, and AccessCal is beyond thrilled to break the news to our five families that their rent will be provided: for one whole year.


Kenya / Congolese refugees


Looking Forward

As for our Refugee Action Team, we look forward to meeting the five families at a celebratory event at AccessCal next month, about one year to the day that my two PIMCO colleagues hosted “The Frontlines of the Global Refugee Crisis” and got us started on this journey.

I know we all know that the sheer scale of the global refugee crisis is something the world has never seen before. There is no doubt that a solution to this global crisis requires government leadership, but it also requires both the private and nonprofit sectors to innovate, take charge, and take action. It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is; everyone can do something.


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