Faris Alami’s journey from refugee to CEO has given him the insight to be able to help others on their journeys.
What’s your story?
In August of 1990, I was just the 18-year-old son of Palestinian refugees awaiting to apply for a visa at the Canadian embassy in Kuwait. But at dawn, Iraqi tanks rolled in. I tolerated the Iraqi soldiers’ identity checks while currying their favor sharing store provisions – quietly manufacturing IDs my employees needed to get through checkpoints. Kuwait to Baghdad to Jordan. Jailed in Jordan. Back to Baghdad, then Amman, and back to Jordan. Finally landing in NYC on Halloween 1991. A t-shirt fundraiser grew to a wholesale business, into a retail chain …
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What excites you most about your industry?
What excites me the most about training and business coaching is the ability to support marginalized or underserved and unrepresented members of our community and communities around the world. Entrepreneurship is an always growing industry, and those who might usually be overlooked have the potential to become champions.
What drives you in your career to push beyond what other people consider normal?
Knowing that we’re making an impact with individuals and organizations that normally don’t get a chance to be heard or seen is what motivates me to make sure that our work is being done to the best of our ability. As an immigrant to this country, I understand what it means to be overlooked; but I have been blessed with opportunities, and I want to share my knowledge and skills to improve the chances of success for others who might not otherwise have that.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
The most useful skills I’ve learned and applied in my journey are leadership, resiliency, and entrepreneurship. Throughout my journey many times I’ve had to step up and lead a community that I’ve lived in to act and implement activities that would ensure underserved and underprivileged were being served, especially during crises (when no one else wanted to act). One example is during war time when I helped to provide IDs for checkpoints. Another during covid I put together weekly calls with over 5,000 people joining from 61 countries for over 6 months so that we could still keep working.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
There is not one single piece of advice that was the “best” it was the combination of several. But if I have to choose just one: “Patience is beautiful.”
In the past this has helped me to stay focused on the work and the reasons why I’m here beyond the moment or the situation. It also provided outlook for the future and a window for a light to come through. It continues to help me every day when things go unplanned or rejections happen, or I end up in a dead-end zone.
Who inspires you?
Many people inspire me including the everyday entrepreneurs I’m lucky enough to work with, as well as the everyday organizations we work with in the communities. From the past, many leaders such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and many others.
These people inspire me by ensuring that I’m always looking at situations from multiple perspectives rather than just my own.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve been in this industry so long it is difficult to be “blown away”, but there are still times – especially when we run programs with young entrepreneurs. The ability to see youth and individuals that society may otherwise have dismissed, how powerful they can become when they unleash the borders that others have placed upon them. Seeing them become free thinkers and explore concepts of what they can do to impact the world. It’s honestly inspiring.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Knowing what I know today, it is hard to reflect back on what I would have done because the time, knowledge, and connections that I had back then might not have been able to get me where I’m at today. But, if I were to do it all over, I would try to make sure that I am setting myself up in the right circles that opens the right doors, in the right environments, for future goals. It’s all about removing barriers.
How do you unwind?
I unwind by watching short funny clips, playing games with my family, taking personal walks, but spending time with family and pets is the best way.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your career?
When I started out, I was blessed to find “champions” of their industries. People who provided me with an opportunity and took a chance on me, they opened a door because they believed in my capacity and development of skills. This is something I have taken with me throughout my career, something that is Imbedded in me now. When I hire a new employee or intern – I look at the individual, not just the resume. Who are they, where do they want to go, can we help each other succeed?
Everyone in business should read this book:
- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
- 8 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Shameless plug for your business or career:
ISM is a leading advisory, capacity development and technical assistance provider within the economic development area. Our expertise includes Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development, SME Development, Workforce Development, and Leadership Development. We specialize in immigrants, minorities, and women-led businesses, with a focus on training for underrepresented, underserved, underfunded, ethnic and immigrant groups, women, and youth entrepreneurship.
We also deliver entrepreneurship and global leadership training to K-12 and college students and to organizations supporting technology commercialization. ISM has done work globally in over 100 countries and over 80 industries working with the likes of presidents, ministries, universities, incubators/ accelerators, and economic development groups.
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This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.