Business Certification Program Launched To Support MENA Entrepreneurs; Eleven Inaugural Recipients Are Announced

Food & Drink

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has recently launched a certification program for business owners from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Much like other MBE Certifications, the goal is to amplify Arab-American owned businesses by certifying that a business is over 51% MENA owned and managed.

The Minority Business Development Agency, which is housed in the U.S. Small Business Association, was launched in 1969 under the Nixon administration. In 1972 the nonprofit National Minority Supplier Development Council was launched. According to their website, their impact includes “over 15,000 MBEs connected to more than 1,700 corporations, resulting in $482.1 billion in economic output annually, sustaining 1.8 million jobs, with $136.4 billion total wages earned.” Within the group, a minority member is defined as, “an individual who is at least 25% Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, or Hispanic.” The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) was founded in 1997, and extends this definition to women-owned businesses.

The ADC’s MENA Certification program aims to expand this definition to Arab-American businesses. The ADC was launched after 9-11 with a mission around human rights and civil liberties. Business development is a core part of their strategy. ADC Executive Director Abed Ayoub explains, “We noticed the economic impact [of 9-11] and the challenges that a lot of our business owners were facing, not just within the Arab community, but within the Middle Eastern community, the Muslim community or anybody with a foreign name. And we began seeing a lot of cases of businesses being shut down because of discrimination.”

The ADC estimates that there are 150,000 Arab-American owned businesses in the United States, comprising around 0.5% of the 33 million small businesses tracked by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Today, the ADC announces that eleven inaugural businesses have received the MENA business certification: Better Sour, California Cookie Company, Fierce & Kind, Molitical Marketing and Consulting, Pharmasense/Global Pharmacy Wholesale, ROC Commercial Construction, Sweet 220, Still Sweet, Thrivers Philanthropies, Write Track Admissions, and Zesty Z.

According to Ayoub, the goal of the program is, “the economic empowerment of our community. It’s to show that our community is a force in the economic field, to organize our economic voice, and to give our entrepreneurs opportunities to grow. I think the certification will do that.”

The MENA certification program could have an important impact in elevating sales opportunities for MENA entrepreneurs. Semira Nikou, the co-founder of Better Sour, shares that food retailers have expressed interest in her Middle Eastern inspired candies. “We are at this incredible moment — at the helm of a positive change — where opportunities are opening to historically underserved communities. We’ve are in discussions with many national retailers who are really excited about the MENA certification because they already have programs in place to support minority owned brands.”

It is expensive for a consumer brand to get on supermarket shelves. From retail slotting fees to extended payment terms, the grocery world is a pay-to-play industry. Retailers like Target
TGT
and Walmart
WMT
have goals to hit around the percentage of minority certified brands that they are carrying on their shelves; the ADC’s hope is that the MENA certification can help Fortune 500 businesses to expand their definition of ‘minority’ to include MENA founders by offering breaks in fees and expanding supplier programs to include them.

“I’ve been in the food and beverage industry for a long time,” shares Bella Hughes, co-founder of Better Sour and the founder of Shaka Tea, which recently sold to Kings Hawaiian. “I’m the daughter of an Iranian immigrant. I’ve always felt extremely lonely within the larger DEI conversations in this community. It’s really amazing to finally be able to feel included in these larger diversity conversations. It’s now on our packaging. We’re an Iranian American brand.”

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