EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DMZ AND CEO, DMZ VENTURES
When I was a child, I remember having a million different ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up. But one experience, in particular, shaped my career path. When I was 9 years old, my father took me on a trip to Aqaba, Jordan, a city on the Red Sea’s Port of Aqaba. There, we stayed in a Holiday Inn for about three nights. I was enchanted by the hotel - the way it was designed around its guests. From that day forward, I became fascinated with the hospitality industry.
“When I was a child, I remember having a million different ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
In the early nineties, my parents decided to move our family from Amman, Jordan to Canada to access more opportunities. We moved several times between Montreal, Quebec and London, Ontario, and I ended up attending 10 different elementary schools in just a few short years. That was a period of massive transition for me. As a kid, it was very difficult to say goodbye to friends just as I’d made them, but looking back, these experiences taught me how to be resilient and adapt to change.
“Looking back, these experiences taught me how to be resilient and adapt to change.”
When I graduated from high school, I didn’t feel ready for university yet. So, I decided to join the Canadian armed forces. I wanted to be challenged and meet new people. I ended up being the youngest person in the army at the time and boy did it challenge me. For several years I persevered as an infantry soldier, learning a lot about myself and being pushed physically and emotionally. Then, it came time to make a decision: keep on with the army or go to university. Though the army had been a great (yet tough) experience, I was ready to explore my interest in hospitality. I applied to the Hospitality Management program at Ryerson University and was excited to be accepted. So, in 2005, I moved to Toronto, Ontario - Canada’s largest city. After I finished my degree, I began working for Ryerson University full-time providing community relations and international development support for the Faculty of Business. Then, in 2012, I co-founded an organization called the Supa Maasai Foundation. This was a non-profit foundation in Kenya that aimed to improve the quality of living for the Maasai community, with a focus on women and youth. For many years, I spent months in Kenya, and through the program, we helped build a women’s cooperative that hired over 150 women, encouraged fair trade and fair wages, and sold handmade beadwork to fund projects.
“These experiences gave me a crash course in community building. They were also my first introduction to working with investors, and they expanded my global perspective.”
Building on my background in hospitality and service, these experiences gave me a crash course in community building. They were also my first introduction to working with investors, and they expanded my global perspective. That’s when I came to the DMZ. Over the Christmas holidays, in December 2013, I travelled home from Kenya to Canada to see my family and friends. While I was home, I met up with Sheldon Levy and he asked me to move back to Toronto to take on the role of business development at the DMZ. Ready for a change and excited by the prospect, I accepted the position and started at the DMZ in January 2014. Eighteen months later, I was appointed to be the DMZ’s Executive Director.
“I get excited about creating spaces that people love... And, most importantly, spaces where every founder who walks through our doors feels included, safe and respected.”
At the DMZ, my main focus has been to develop service excellence, as well as build community. While I’ve never been a tech guy and I’ve only had one brief experience building a startup, I get excited about creating spaces that people love. Spaces that embrace diverse skills, life experiences and perspectives. Spaces that encourage new ways of thinking, connecting and growing.
And, most importantly, spaces where every founder who walks through our doors feels included, safe and respected - regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or ability. To me, that’s what the DMZ is all about.
“When we focus on serving others, we help empower people and communities to grow in new, impactful ways. That’s what drives me every day.”
Looking back on my personal journey, I feel fortunate to have had so many diverse life experiences. They’ve brought me to where I am today. They’ve taught me to always be grateful, welcome change and approach the world with a glass half full. And, they’ve shown me that when we focus on serving others, we help empower people and communities to grow in new, impactful ways. That’s what drives me every day.