Chobani yogurt’s founder is a self-made billionaire and a Turkish immigrant—Now he’s promised $2 million for the country’s earthquake relief

February 8, 2023, 10:07 PM UTC
A picture of Hamdi Ulukaya speaking on a microphone
A picture of Hamdi Ulukaya speaking on a microphone.
Evelyn Hockstein—AFP/Getty Images

Turkey and Syria suffered one of the most devastating earthquakes in decades earlier this week, with the death toll nearing 12,000 as of Wednesday. The scale of the catastrophic twin earthquakes of 7.8 and 7.5 in magnitude, respectively, have mobilized more than two dozen countries to support disaster relief. From hot meals to search personnel and technological equipment, people around the world have stepped up to help the disaster-struck regions.

Now, the U.S.-based self-made billionaire and Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya is stepping up to help as well, pledging to support relief efforts this week with a $1 million donation. Ulukaya requested others join him in donating towards ongoing rescue and recovery operations, and wrote in a tweet that he would also match donations made up to $1 million through the Turkish Philanthropy Funds. That threshold has been met, a Chobani spokespeson said, bringing his total donation to $2 million.

The fund that Ulukaya amplified is based in New York and aims to collect a total of $10 million in donations, according to their official website. They have collected $4.2 million so far.

When the disaster struck on Monday, Ulukaya urged “organizations, institutions and people of the world” to offer their support for those suffering from the disaster.

This is not Ulukaya’s first foray into relief and social causes. In January, amid a slew of layoffs, he said companies should consider hiring migrants as they could be the “most loyal and motivated workforce.” He also set up the Tent Partnership for Refugees in 2016, a non-profit organization that works towards encouraging big corporations to hire refugees.  

Ulukaya and the TFP did not immediately reply to Fortune’s request for comment.

The Turkish government has declared a three-month state of emergency in several cities affected by the disaster in the south of the country. On Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited one of the worst-hit areas, Hatay, which lost an airport to the earthquake, complicating the region’s rescue efforts. Erdogan has been criticized by residents and opposition members in the country for not being quick enough in the crisis response efforts and for not preparing government agencies for potential disasters. 

Syria and Turkey, which share a frontier, have been plagued by their own national turmoil for years—Turkey is faced with a steadily weakening currency and sky-high inflation, while Syria has been roiled in civil war for over a decade now. Thousands have been displaced in Syria, many of whom sought refuge in Turkey. The earthquake has further exacerbated this, as people in the affected areas have lost their homes and continue to seek permanent shelter. 

Update, Feb. 8, 2023, 7:26 pm: The headline and text for this article have been updated to include new information that Ulukaya will donate a total of $2 million—his initial promise of $1 million, plus another $1 million based on matching the donations of others.

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