Why this founder is creating an extraordinary food start-up to help refugees


I travel the world looking for stories to read about companies that are a real force for the good of humanity and our planet.

This is why I am HAPPY to introduce Farrah Moussallati Sibai, Founder and President of Afia to you.

Farrah and Mediterranean food company Afia are driven by the mission of making food powerful.

Their impact to date?

Afia set out to introduce American consumers to practical and authentic Mediterranean cuisine and to carve out a niche for modern Middle Eastern food in grocery stores, while giving back to their local refugee community through employment opportunities. and mentoring. Additionally, Afia has distributed over 100,000 falafels to hunger relief organizations in central Texas over the past 1.5 years.

Let’s dive into the deep end.

Diana: What’s the problem you’re solving?

Farah: I try to make sure that people like me, other Middle Easterners, see themselves reflected in grocery stores, introduce American shoppers to some of our delicious specialties and help the refugee community in our area feel more settled. .

Diana: How do you solve it?

Farah: It’s really two parts.

First, through the company we founded. Afia offers a modern take on some of the Mediterranean classics I grew up with – like falafel and kibbeh, but presents them in a fresh and accessible way. One of the only things my mother-in-law was able to take with her when she fled Syria during the conflict was her family cookbook – and we took those recipes and added twists to them. We also spent a lot of time defining the Afia brand – because I wanted to be true to our heritage but also to break all stereotypes. This area is known for its fresh, bright and healthy cuisine and vibrant design, and I wanted to make sure we present this correctly, even using irreverent expressions, like “Feeling Falafull” on our website. It’s meant to be fun and present the culture in an uplifting and welcoming way.

I am very focused on vocational training and recruiting within our local refugee community. There are so many talents among the current refugee population living here. And I firmly believe that through employment opportunities, we can help give people dignity and a sense of belonging to our community. My own mother-in-law was a refugee after fleeing Syria during the war. She eventually reunited with her own family in the United States, but I saw how difficult it was for her to fit in and find a community. I discovered this myself – when I moved here after my own tragedies. I know what it feels like to be a foreigner in a foreign land, to start over. I have to do everything in my power to give people new opportunities – and our family is working to shape that in our community.

Diana: What is the story of a life that you have transformed through your work?

Farrah: Our first hire was a refugee who had just arrived in Austin. His wife was pregnant and he didn’t speak a word of English. He tried to find work, but had difficulty because of the language barrier. He was desperate and ready to work two or three shifts just to support his wife and his unborn baby. He started working for Afia, and we helped him with all his papers, taught him how to use banking apps, explained how taxes work, explained health insurance and made sure the whole family was covered and set them up with their primary care doctors, guided him and his wife on how to communicate with preschools etc. He now has two daughters who are in school, are bilingual – perfect English and Arabic, he and his wife have learned to speak English, and he has earned and saved enough money over a few years to be able to take his family to vacation, owns a car and is considering owning his own home. He settled down and stood. I still see them and their daughters and I am very proud of how far they have come.

Diana: How does Afia measure the impact?

Farrah: It is so difficult to measure the impact of such a small organization. Our employee base is still quite small. I measure it by “are we giving as much as we can?” “,” Are we changing lives? “” Are we good global citizens for our daughters and do we inspire them to be good global citizens in their lives?

Diana: What is the world like after you solve this problem?

Farrah: Oh wow, that’s a great question. Because I see my goals on three levels: 1. to help find jobs for refugees and help with their resettlement, 2. to change mindsets and increase awareness of Mediterranean cuisine, and 3. (probably my biggest goal) , inspire others with my mission and history. This is a very long term goal.

When all of this is done, we will truly have changed the world for the better.

Diana: What personally motivated you to start this business / organization?

Farrah: I founded the company in 2017 when I realized I couldn’t find the foods I liked in the Texas grocery store. I had recently moved to Texas, having lost almost everything in Syria, including my two daughters. I had fled for a better life for my second daughter, but I was really starting over with next to nothing. During this time in my new country, I started volunteering with a local refugee organization – and really sympathized with their pain and struggle. It was then that I started to see how food could be a connection to home for them and for myself. This inspired me to launch Afia with our range of frozen Mediterranean dishes, falafel and kibbeh.

I also wanted to be sure that we gave back. From the start, we have sought to employ local refugees in our factory.

Diana: What’s a hard-earned growth hack that you chose to build this business that you share with other founders of good companies?

Farah: From the start, we seized every opportunity that presented itself – and you will quickly learn that some paths are wrong. Because we were working on a shoestring budget at launch, we must have been disjointed, but being disjointed has taught us a lot. It helped us determine who we wanted to be in those early days. Now we are able to be more insightful in our choices and make sure they match the message we want to get across.

Diana: A little vulnerability – how do you take care of yourself so that you can present yourself as the best version of yourself to serve others?

Farrah: Wow, it’s really hard. I find that I am often the last to be prioritized. I try to practice gratitude every day – and after suffering so much and losing so much, I remember it regularly. I want to be an inspiration to my daughters and to women around the world. Empower them to believe that they are stronger than they think they are and that they can start from scratch and overcome the adversities that change their lives.

Much of my own care is to give back and support the community. When I needed help, I had it. It uplifted me and was encouraging. I hope that with my help, I can make this impact on others and encourage them.

Diana: How can readers get involved / support / help?

Farah: Buy Afia, ask for it in your stores. But also stand up for different voices, a variety of cuisines in your grocery stores.

If you would like to donate directly to support the refugee community in the United States, my favorite charities to help refugees are The Tent Partnership for Refugees, which was founded by Hamdi Ulukaya whom I was very fortunate to know. Through the The Chobani Incubator program, and locally in Texas, Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, is an amazing organization that we have seen up close making a huge difference in people’s lives. They have a deep commitment to helping refugees settle in Texas – and it really is hard work on the ground.

Diana: How can you help readers who are building businesses for good?

Farrah: At the end of the day, all good companies are startups at heart. There is so much work to be done to make your business successful. But I think it boils down to two main things:

  1. Self-confidence: I founded Afia without any experience in CPG, food industry or non-profit organizations, my background was in business, but I believed in Afia concept, opportunity and overall mission . Believing in Afia meant that I had to believe in myself, in my own judgment and my own vision. Believing in myself and in this adventure also meant that I had to show patience and resilience because it is a journey, difficult but rewarding. I am always reminded that difficult roads can lead to beautiful destinations.
  2. The humility of knowing what we don’t know: Being an entrepreneur is learning and growing not only as an individual, but as an entrepreneur. Like I said I knew very little when I first entered the world of CPG and it wasn’t something I was shy to admit, I constantly asked questions and still do. so far as founders it is impossible to know all the answers and be an expert in all areas, but as a founder you will always learn. I am a constant learner. At every meeting I take, I ask people to educate me on the topic, even though I think I already know it. You would be amazed at what you will learn. As someone who has arrived in a new country, I think it says a lot about my experience here that I needed to be so open to new experiences.

Diana: Something I didn’t ask for that you would like to have?

Farrah: People always ask me why we founded Afia with a social welfare mission. Ultimately, I feel incredibly lucky where I am today and to have been able to overcome the most overwhelming adversities, that I know that whatever I do will have to be returned to our community. After going through so much, I feel this deep connection with the refugee community. I myself have never been a refugee per se, but I know what it’s like to lose your whole life, leave everything behind, arrive in an unknown land and frankly wonder when you will see again the sunlight. I knew I had to uplift people no matter what I decided to do with myself.

Learn more and take action:

  • Try us on afiafoods.com
  • Ask for Afia in your local grocery stores!

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