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Making a Difference: Serving the Local Refugee Community

We talked with Puneet Chhabra ’24 about what he has learned volunteering with the refugee community at Integrated Refugee Immigrant Services in New Haven.

Punit Chhabra resized headshot

In this series, Karen Guzman talks to Yale SOM students about how volunteering complements their business education and connects them to their community.

Student: Puneet Chhabra ’24

Organization: Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS)

What drew you to this particular volunteer opportunity?

I started working with IRIS through its partnership with The Path Forward, which was started by my EMBA classmates Ivan Volodchenkov ’23 and Alexandra Platon ’23 EMBA in response to the refugee crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (read about that effort). Since then, IRIS has been growing its efforts locally to fundraise and provide consulting services for refugee resettlement groups.

I’m working on a project with Jen Vickery, Tabitha Sookdeo, and Daniela Carranza of IRIS to help streamline their client engagement efforts.  For example, I’m finding ways to automate mass messaging in different languages to immigrant families when critical supplies like diapers are available.   

What are the values that motivate you to volunteer?

The immigrant story is one that almost all Americans share. My parents were immigrants from India. The plight of the refugee is one that resonates with me because I think we can all find an ancestor who was forced to leave their home because of war, political strife, or disaster. My grandparents had to leave their homes when colonial India was partitioned. In a way, my work honors that history.

How does volunteering complement your MBA education?

I see my work very much like a consulting case: I try to frame the problem in an MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive) structure. I also see the relationship between IRIS and the client like a customer journey from our Customer course: IRIS wants to maintain efficient contact with those they serve to improve outcomes and stretch limited resources.

What’s one surprising thing you have learned through volunteering?

IRIS works to create a virtuous lifecycle for the immigrant/refugee. The immigrant arrives needing a lot of help and resources but over time becomes independent, successful, and integrated into the community. Then over time they, too, become volunteers and donors to the cause.

What have you learned about the City of New Haven through volunteering? 

About 5% of children in New Haven schools are being served by IRIS.