Seeds of Peace GATHER Fellow, 2020
Empowering refugees in the United Kingdom.
How have you impacted your community?
I am a passionate New Zealander and social entrepreneur who has been involved in a number of ventures with a social development agenda at their core. Most recently, I set up NEMI Teas, a tea company that empowers refugees by providing them with work experience in the UK.
I have won numerous awards including being listed in the Top 100 Small Businesses and in Top 100 Social Enterprises in the UK. I have also held several esteemed fellowships, including the AdR Rothschild Fellowship, Thomson Reuters Changemaker, and the RSA Fellowship.
Through the GATHER Fellowship, I aim to link up with the GATHER community to share and test my business strategy as well as learn from the cohort and mentors who have scaled their businesses and their social impact successfully.
What is the need you are trying to meet through your work?
The mission of NEMI Teas is to lower the unemployment levels among the refugee communities in the U.K., which sits nearly at 18 percent compared to less than 4 percent for U.K. nationals. We have recognized that refugees face two major hurdles breaking into the U.K. workforce, including the lack of their local work experience and inability to provide local reference details.
To tackle this problem, we offer employment opportunities and work experience to refugees within our business. We hire them to run pop-up shops across London food markets, festivals, events, and conferences, which gives them an opportunity to practice their English skills, regain confidence, and gain work experience within the food service sector. We also employ them to perform commercial roles, including sales and marketing; distribution, and packaging at our warehouses. This helps refugees become “job-ready” and gain key skills to gain employment within their field of interest in the U.K.
Why do you do what you do?
I got the idea for NEMI Teas after seeing an episode of BBC Hardtalk about an Iraqi family who had fled to Germany but were now returning to Iraq—putting themselves in real danger—because they had failed to integrate or find work. This just seemed crazy. After that day the more I read, the more I saw that lack of integration and issues around language, education, and especially employment, are the key problems holding refugees back from successfully resettling in their new homes. And that’s when NEMI Teas was born—with an aim of helping refugees gain access to employment opportunities in the U.K.
And the key driving force behind what drove me to set up NEMI Teas as explained above is really well captured in this quote by Pierre Omidyar, that “everyone is born equally capable but lacks equal opportunity.”
I am a migrant myself to the U.K. and have seen how people have an unconscious bias about certain groups of people, and this is an area where I have always a felt a pull towards making a change and ensuring we all in the U.K. have access to equal opportunities.
What is the biggest challenge or obstacle you must overcome to be successful in your work?
The two biggest challenges we are currently facing that we must overcome to be successful are funding and meeting demand.
Funding has been a constant challenge for us as we have not raised any external funding as of yet. Securing a sizable external investment over the next few months is imperative in order to meet our goals set for the next 12-18 months—both our commercial and impact goals.
We also need to ensure our operations are set-up to meet the increasing demand from both corporate clients who are looking to meet their CSR commitments as well as from the more educated buyer of our retail products.
What keeps you up at night? What/who motivates you and why?
I have a deep passion for creating a positive impact through business and given my corporate background I set up NEMI Teas to create a positive impact through a commercial vehicle.
To ensure long term sustainability it is critical to generate a constant stream of revenue whilst staying true to your social mission—this can be a big challenge and is what keeps me up day and night!
“Our mission is to lower the unemployment levels amongst the refugee communities in the United Kingdom which sit far higher than UK nationals.”