- Posted by Guest Author
- On May 2, 2019
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By Evan I. Schwartz
Some entrepreneurs have to rise above greater obstacles than others. Nefisa Siraj owns Cini Coffee in Brighton, which imports coffee beans from her native Ethiopia, the land where the coffee plant originated and was discovered by a legendary goatherder in the ninth century.
As a mother of four who arrived in Boston with her husband five years ago, she worked to learn English and navigate the import-export rules and now operates a popular stand at the Oak Square Farmers Market on Wednesdays.
But each cup and bag of beans comes with the tumultuous story of how Nefisa got here. Growing up as the daughter of merchants, Nefisa was 18 in 1991 when she and one of her brothers decided to take advantage of a new market opening in Addis Ababa, the capital and largest city in Ethiopia.
As their coffee trade business grew, government workers demanded higher and higher unofficial payments. “Every time, they asked for more money to share,” Nefisa recalls.
When the payments got too high to afford, Nefisa’s brother refused to pay any more.
“They killed my brother,” Nefisa says.
When Nefisa spoke out in the press about the murder and the political corruption, her own life was suddenly in danger. But leaving the country as a political refugee was not an easy thing.
Nefisa heard about the African Woman’s Entrepreneurship Program launched by the U.S. State Department in 2010, and she was invited as part of a group of 37 women brought to America’s largest cities to learn about business opportunities. Due in part to her husband being an engineer, they were able to obtain green cards and emigrate in 2014.
She met Temple Israel member Elayne Baskin of the non-profit Family Nurturing Center out in the street one day. “We met in Oak Square,” Nefisa recalls. “She guided me, and she helped my kids take exams to get into good schools. I don’t have enough words for her.”
But for Nefisa, there were new and different business struggles in Boston. She didn’t have the capital to join large, certified kitchens like Commonwealth Kitchen as a place to roast her beans and prepare her products. “It’s very expensive,” she says. And she was only able to roast small batches of beans in her own kitchen. For the time being, she has been able to use the free kitchen at the Brighton Community Center. In the summer time, Nefisa roasts her beans in the open air at the farmer’s market.
The larger issue for minority and immigrant entrepreneurs like Nefisa is that they need to overcome many more hurdles than is otherwise typical. As part of the Tikkun Central Racial Justice Initiative’s Purchasing at Temple Israel, members are supporting businesses in historically under-resourced as both customers and investors, in an attempt to bridge economic disparities. Purchasing a cup of coffee or a bag of beans from Nefisa brings us closer to that goal. To learn more about this Initiative or to learn how to buy Nefisa’s coffee, contact TI member Thel Klein at firstname.lastname@example.org