Jul 13, 2017
Aleem Ahmed Brings Teff to Your Local Food Store.
Even if you’re already an aficionado of chia, kale, goji berries and other so called ‘superfoods’ you would still love to add another one to your list: teff. Gluten-free, high in fiber and proteins with a subtle nutty flavor, teff might just be that nutritional powerhouse you’ve been waiting for. That’s exactly what Aleem Ahmed sensed. He is the cofounder and CEO of Love Grain, a company that helps smallholder Ethiopian farmers connect to international markets while expanding the range of choices for American gluten-free and health product consumers.
Eager to learn about social change at the grassroots, Aleem’s career took him from doing micro-finance in Bangladesh, to water projects in Kenya. There, as he explains, he “realized that to really improve the lives of his neighbors, [he] had to learn something about agriculture.” This realization finally brought him to Ethiopia where he worked closely with the country’s teff farmers. After discovering both the harsh living conditions of the farmers and the potential of the ancient grain they have been harvesting for thousands of years, the idea of Love Grain started. The company seeks to empower farmers and considerably increase their income by getting rid of the middle-man, who purchases at low prices, and by financing improved seeds and organic fertilizers at planting.
Back to the US, Aleem enrolled into an MBA program to learn how to launch a business. Laughing, the young entrepreneur recalls, “our advisers didn’t believe we could actually sell teff to Americans.” Determined to take up the challenge, he and a few business school classmates cleverly saw in a favorite American cultural habit an entrance door into the market for their first product: a pancake mix for brunch! “Because who doesn’t love brunch?” asks Aleem. Love Grain’s first product is already sold out after being launched online and in stores along the East Coast in December 2015.
This is surely a sign of the daring mind of today’s health-conscious urban consumer. Maybe that’s where contribution to social change starts, by showing boldness at the level of thought. Add to this Aleem’s confidence which springs from the fact that his company is doing good by answering tangible needs at both ends of the farmer to consumer chain, and take it to the realm of action with enthusiasm, creativity and perseverance. Surely, in developing these and many other qualities and attitudes, a good number of our peers could turn into the biggest social entrepreneurs of our time.