One person can make a lasting and dramatic impact on the way we celebrate food and how it unites our community. Authentic humility and purpose is what drives mission-focused brands to do more and be more helping shoppers feel good about their purchases.

I’ve worked in this industry for a long time now, and throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and getting to know and working with several amazing thought leaders and industry pioneers. You’ve heard several on this podcast over the past 50 episodes, and you’ll continue to hear more. Today’s story is truly inspirational, about an unsung hero, a quiet and very humble change maker, who focused on his talents and his gifts, saw a problem, and made a change, a change that had a tremendous impact and inspired other thought leaders in the industry to join forces to create a lasting impact, something that affects us all. When we stop and think about our heroes, we think of people like Steve Jobs, or Elan Musk, our heroes that have disrupted the way we think about life.

I was equally humbled to talk to Ahmed today to learn about all the important causes that he’s involved in. Simply put, Ahmed saw a problem, and he solved it. He saw another problem, he solved it. More importantly, he was able to build a community of industry leaders to help him solve some of the biggest challenges that we’re faced with, like climate change, the need for sustainable packaging, the need for fresh, clean drinking water, fair wages, and safe working conditions for farmers, giving people a reason to belong to the community through art and education, eliminating food deserts. I could go on and on. But the reality is, I could not begin to tell the story as well as Ahmed does.

Download the show notes below

Click here to learn more about Numi Tea

Click here to learn more about Numi Foundation

Click here to learn more about OSC2

Click here to learn more about Climate Collaborative



Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcast #51

Welcome to the Brand Secrets and Strategies podcast where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

I’m your host Dan Lohman. This weekly show is dedicated to getting your brand on the shelf and keeping it there.

Get ready to learn actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.


Dan: Welcome. I've worked in this industry for a long time now, and throughout my career, I've had the privilege of meeting and getting to know and working with several amazing thought leaders and industry pioneers. You've heard several on this podcast over the past 50 episodes, and you'll continue to hear more. Today's story is truly inspirational, about an unsung hero, a quiet and very humble change maker, who focused on his talents and his gifts, saw a problem, and made a change, a change that had a tremendous impact and inspired other thought leaders in the industry to join forces to create a lasting impact, something that affects us all. When we stop and think about our heroes, we think of people like Steve Jobs, or Elan Musk, our heroes that have disrupted the way we think about life.

I was equally humbled to talk to Ahmed today to learn about all the important causes that he's involved in. Simply put, Ahmed saw a problem, and he solved it. He saw another problem, he solved it. More importantly, he was able to build a community of industry leaders to help him solve some of the biggest challenges that we're faced with, like climate change, the need for sustainable packaging, the need for fresh, clean drinking water, fair wages, and safe working conditions for farmers, giving people a reason to belong to the community through art and education, eliminating food deserts. I could go on and on. But the reality is, I could not begin to tell the story as well as Ahmed does. Quick note. The audio improves after a couple minutes. You’re going to want to stick around and hear everything Ahmed has to say.

Thanks Ahmed. I appreciate you making time for us today. Could you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself and your journey to become an entrepreneur?

Ahmed: Yeah. Thanks Dan for having me on your show. It’s been a fun journey. I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and immigrated to the United States, Europe and the United States when I was a little kid. And we left Iraq in the early 70s and came to Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up until I got my driver's license and started driving a car and left Cleveland. But growing up in the United States as an immigrant was a little rough, I must say, especially Cleveland, Ohio, where I think the form, the mentality, or the sort of the reception to foreigners wasn't that simple. But it gave me an interesting perspective on life, and it really taught me to create tolerance for cultures, and really accept people. But I think it also led me to thinking outside of the box, that I simply got into art as a kid, and got into expressing myself through different mediums, whether it was photography or film, and even dancing and music.

And I think that that also led me to trying all kinds of different entrepreneurial things, whether it was selling food at festivals, or trying to do shoe shining in people's homes, to having my own newspaper delivery service. I was never afraid to try stuff. And eventually I left for New York City where I studied art, and got my degree there from NYU. And then I left for Europe, where I lived for almost 10 years. And throughout that journey, I mostly spent my time making art, and surviving off of art, again, mostly through photography and film. And really learned about different cultures, and learned different languages, and then eventually, in Prague, Czech Republic, where I settled for about six, seven years. I bought a farm out there. And some friends asked me to help them co-create and design some tea house and my partner, And then leading to learn all about teas. And then we started a wholesale business, and opened up more tea houses. But it was just a nice venture into exploring the world of tea, which I never would've imagined getting into. Stemmed back to starting Numi.

Dan: Interesting. You know, when I met you in California, I actually met the guy who said he was with you at the beginning. And he was from Europe. He was telling me about all the different teas, and he was talking about how he developed a relationship with you. Can you share a little bit more about him? And the reason I'm asking that question is not necessarily him, but about how that works, because he was sharing with me that there's a lot more to tea than just simply putting some leaves in the bottom of a cup and adding some hot water.

Ahmed: Well you know, teas have been around for thousands of years. They even pre-age the ice age. So you know, from what we know, it's been around. I mean, there's an emperor back in China who actually says tea discovered us. His name was Shennong. He was an emperor, and he was a big botanical, and taught his students to drink just boiling water. And worked with hundreds if not thousands of types of herbs. And for him, it was a tea tree. The leaves fell into his hot water, and so he discovered tea, and tea discovered us. But you know, it's an ancient beverage. It's very ceremonial. And people have been gathering around a pot of hot water and these leaves and herbs and spices. Cultures all around the world celebrate different plants and use them in ways to convene together. And for us, at Numi, it comes from our drink of hospitality, which is this dried lime that we drink in our home country of Iraq. And this lime is only in the restaurants, and it's called Numi. So we named the company after this, our drink of hospitality, just like you have green tea in China, Yerba Mate in South America, and tea here in the U.S. We have our dried lime in Iraq. And so, again, the beverages from all over the world and the cultures that are celebrated, we decided to bring back to the U.S. and name our company after that.

Dan: What a great story. Yeah, it's a little bit ... He shared with me the story about the emperor, and thank you for repeating that, because it's so inspiring. And one of the things I love about it is the fact that you've made a life out of this. You've really developed a passion around it. It was really great talking to him, because he was sharing with me some of the different things you can do with tea, and how you can age it. I had no idea that tea could be so complex, and at the same time so, I want to say mystical, in the sense that it conjures up so many other feelings. One of the things I think a lot of people overlook is the scent, and how scent plays such an important role in what we do. And yet tea has that, some of the teas have such a vibrant scent to them. Can you share a little bit about that? And I'd like to learn more about how the drink of hospitality. What's unique about that tea in Iraq as opposed to the other teas? What flavors or what senses does that inspire?

Ahmed: Yeah. Well, just a little background on tea. I mean, tea comes from a bush called the Camellia sinensis bush. It's an evergreen bush that, you know, like I mentioned earlier, dates back thousands of years. And you can make, from that bush, you can make green teas, white teas, oolong teas, all kinds of different teas. And then you can blend them with various herbs and spices. You can scent it with real jasmine flowers, or you can put mint or lemongrass, or cloves, and make a chai. So there's all different ways you can take tea. For us, this dry desert lime that is our drink of hospitality in Iraq, that's just a lime that's sun dried in the desert, and it's crushed, and that's it. It's steeped in hot water. And in our culture, they put a lot of sugar in it. I don't recommend too much sugar, but it's just a pure lime, so it's more of a fruit beverage. You can drink it hot or cold. So it's not a tea plant. It's a fruit, just like, you know, if you were to take freeze dried strawberries and raspberries and steep those in hot water, you'd get a real nice tart fruity beverage.

Dan: And so, are you adding this to that, to the plant, to the other plant that you make the tea out of, or just having it by itself?

Ahmed: No. Our dry desert lime, we use the lime in various products. But our signature, and our original namesake product, which is called dry desert lime, it's just a pure lime that's sun dried and crushed. We don't add anything to it.

Dan: Interesting. I'm learning so much about tea. I really appreciate you sharing that and indulging me. I'm going to back up a little bit. You talked about how you weren't afraid to fail. And I think that's so important, 'cause as an entrepreneur, you've gotta be able to take risks. And the fact that you were able to try so many unique and different things, different ways of making money, I'm sure that really made an impact in your life. What advice or what strategies, or what thoughts would you want to offer a budding entrepreneur about how to get into, how to start a business, how to launch a business? What stories do you have that you could apply to what you shared with us in terms of willingness to try just about anything?

Ahmed: Well I feel very fortunate where I had a father, still have a father who always told me to live your dreams and do what makes you come alive, and not settle for less, and find something that makes you happy. As I've taken my journey from being an artist to an entrepreneur, I've always tried to tap into my inner senses and always think what could be better? What could I do to find my truer purpose? And I do think it's important, whatever we do, to have a connection to it. And I think even more importantly, it's something that you dream of or you wake up every day feeling excited to do, not just clocking in and clocking out of a job, but really doing something.

Even if it's not your own business, but it's somebody that you work for, something that you're really excited about, that you feel you’re driving change in a positive way, you're connected to an inner part of your soul, let's say, that's important to you, that really you feel like, "I have a connection to this." It's not something that you clock in and clock out of, but it's rather something that it's in your DNA. I always think of the great artists and great thinkers of the world. They didn't do it because they felt they had to. They needed to. It was a part of who they were. And I probably wouldn’t tell Miles Davis or Picasso, "Hey, put down that trumpet or brush because you've been playing for 8 hours and it's 5:00 p.m. and you gotta go to your other life." It was integral in their lives, and I recommend anyone who's looking to start something on their own to do something that they're just passionate and love, and they look forward to doing every single day.

Dan: I really appreciate you sharing with us. Okay, so that's a great segway. So now I understand why OSC2 and the Numi Foundation are such a big part of your life. I mean, that makes so much sense now. And I guess where I'm going with that is people want to feel good about what they do, and if they can't necessarily take off work to go do something, to give back, companies like yours that offer the benefit or the opportunity for them to feel good simply by purchasing your product helps inspire others. And of course, in addition to that, being a thought leader, being such a inspirational force within the industry, giving back and doing something more than just focusing on yourself, is what makes natural natural. Can you talk a little bit about the Numi Foundation, and how that started? What drove you to starting that foundation and giving back and doing more than just creating a box of tea? And I don't mean to make light of the tea. That's an integral part of it. But my point is, you are more than the product you produce. And that's why I wanted to talk to you, because it's thought leaders like you that are really changing the way people think about food and think about the way they live today.

Ahmed: Yeah. Well that's a good point, Dan. You know, tea for us is simply a vehicle to do good in the world and drive change and awareness of what we can do as business people and as, let's call it creators. And you know, using tea as a vehicle, I think for us it's always been, what can we do better, and how do we create this product that really touches and supports the people that work so hard in these developing countries to pick it, and also for the planet that produces it. So you know, agriculture and impoverished cultures around the world is the livelihood for so many. And for us, it was, first and foremost, how do we support the farmers and take care of the planet? And then after we felt like that was in a really good place, and we became the largest fair trade tea importer into this country, we thought a little bigger and thought, what can we do for others that need help?

And so around 2008, we decided to launch the Numi Foundation. My sister and I's original hope, my sister my co-founder and partner, we decided let's try and help our home country of Iraq, and help the children that have been impoverished by all the wars and left homeless or as orphans or without education. So we really wanted to bring some of our love for arts and love for the planet to children in Iraq. And so we launched the Numi Foundation in hopes to bring these kids in Iraq an education on art and gardening. But it was a little difficult back then with all the turmoil. So we turned our attention to Oakland, California where we launched our company and still, 18 years later, still run our company out of Oakland. And we started curriculums for inner city children, because most of these children in the inner city live in trauma, whether it's gangs or drugs or single parenthood or no parenthood, we wanted to bring them a way of learning about themselves and their true potential. So we created an art program, a gardening curriculum and a social studies curriculum. Very experiential learning, somewhat inspired by the Waldorf school system by Rudolf Steiner. And that evolved over many years. Now we have the curriculums in many schools, over 30 schools here in Oakland, and I helped open up a couple schools.

From there, we decided to look back at our farming community, and we launched back in 2013 or 2014 a, what's called Together For Hope. It all boils down to water. And that's to bring our farming communities access to clean safe drinking water. As you may know, about 800 million people live without access to clean water. And when we'd see our farming communities drinking dirty river water, we thought that's a problem and we need to help that. So we've been embarking on that project now for about four years, and been working with our farmers in Madagascar, South Africa, India, Egypt, all of the different communities that grow our herbs, teas, and spices, to help bring them access to clean water through the Numi Foundation.

Dan: That's amazing. And going back to before, understanding the true potential. So you're able to actually go back to your roots in art and being able to share your passion around that. That's must be really inspiring. Do you have any stories about people that have taken that to the next level, how they're starting to give back as well? The gardening, the art, the social studies?

Ahmed: Well what we do know, with the curriculums, about 90 plus percent of the children didn't really have access to real food or understanding where their food comes from. In Oakland alone, in West Oakland, 40% of people buy their groceries in liquor stores.

Dan: Really?

Ahmed: So you know, it's a food desert, and there's not much access to fresh vegetables. And the knowledge of food not coming from a truck or from a grocery store is pretty foreign to them. So just that alone has got the children engaged to eat healthier and help their families just be more aware of what food is. And even just the retention of children in school, we see that growing, 'cause a lot of kids drop out. So it's still fairly new to have real deep case studies, but just from learning from other organizations how being kids curriculum and ways for them to feel like they belong in this world and they belong in a community, and they have a right to be a person, that alone are huge steps for these children in trauma.

And then I have seen, you know, one example in Madagascar, where we raised over $100,000 and dug 23 wells for 4,000 people that grow our Turmeric. You know, Madagascar's the ninth poorest country in the world. Average salary is about two dollars a day. You know, that community transformed from drinking dirty river water, to drinking clean water right outside their homes where the wells are, and seeing that community transform to a place of happiness was quite incredible to watch over a year period that it took us to get that infrastructure set. I was just amazed to see the level of happiness that those people felt, and just that human right to have clean water just transformed them.

Dan: And that's the Together For Hope that you're talking about?

Ahmed: Yeah, exactly. That's the Together For Hope and our clean water project.

Dan: I love the fact that there's a common thread here, what you're able to do here in the United States, and you're bringing those common threads about helping people belong, helping them understand what food really is, what proper nutrition is, making them feel like a part of the community, and now, okay, now lets go to Together For Hope where you're helping to ensure that they have the most basic thing that they need is clean water to live on. Thank you for doing that.

I don't think a lot of people really understand how vitally important that is, because I think a lot of people take it for granted. And yet you hear stories, and it's kind of hard to fathom what that really looks like when you're living in your own bubble. And the reality is that this is such a huge problem, literally across the globe. How did you get inspired to do that? Was it because you were over there working with your farmers, or how did you learn about this?

Ahmed: Well I think it was two-fold Dan. Yes, going to these places you know, in our farming communities where they're all in developing countries, whether it's India, China, North Africa, South Africa, Madagascar, wherever it is, South America. These are places that are quite poor and they're agricultural farmers. And these people don't have access to much, even from healthcare to education, and the basic need of water. So there was one side of it where you would see it when you'd visit them, and using our fair trade funds or their fair trade funds, I should say, some of the focuses were on education or healthcare, and water was still a neglect. Maybe they would learn to boil it, or maybe they had some sanitation wash programs.

And then here domestically, we thought about what can we do beyond that, and my sister's husband, Rashid, helped us come up with this idea, this Together For Hope. Like, hey, you got this big issue in the world about water, and how can you have tea without clean water? Are you going to make tea from dirty river water and wells that are contaminated if they have wells? So it was just a spark of inspiration to say, "Okay, we have a responsibility here with our farming communities to make sure that they have access to clean water so that they can make good tea. I know we take water for granted here, I think, in this country. I don't know if we celebrate it like we could, just what comes out of the earth and feeds us. We're, what 90% plus water as a human being. So we need it. It's essential to our livelihood.

Dan: I live in Colorado, which most people don't understand, it's a semi-arid desert. We should not have green lawns, but we do. And to your point, yeah, we take it for granted. We don't really appreciate what goes into water. And because we have all the droughts, especially in Colorado now, you guys in California. I don't think people really understand that. I think they're beginning to. But it's more so than just being able to turn on a tap. Like you said, it's having clean water. And that is the primary ingredient in your product. Everything that you make comes from the soil, from the water. And so to have dirty water producing your crop is, that's not a good thing either. And more importantly, not having clean water for the people that are the farmers that are producing it, that's not healthy. So it makes so much sense.

So in my mind, it's the next logical thing for you to be looking at. So inspiring, true, but it makes so much sense that you're able to step back, take a look at the problem, and then work to solve it. How have you been able to get others involved in this?

Oh, by the way, before I get involved in that, let's talk about fair trade. And the reason I want to ask that question is that I don't think people really understand what that means and why it's important. I think a lot of people take for granted that not everyone makes a living fair wage. Let's talk about that first.

Ahmed: Yeah. Fair trade is a fairly new concept, even though it should be an old ancient concept that everybody needs to be treated fairly, paid fair wages. When they work overtime, they should get overtime pay. These are things that again, I think in cultures like ours, you know, especially in the western occidental cultures, we have some rules, and that helps with not being taken advantage of. And we hear those stories in different countries of children and or adults being taken advantage of, and not being paid fair wages, or giving them the opportunity to live a good fair life.

So fair trade and what we call fair labor, it's a standard we created, Numi and SCS, Scientific Certified Services. We work on programs that ensure the livelihood of the farmers are safe, they're healthy, they have access to education and healthcare, and they get wages that are above the standard wages, and all the other simple employment rights that an employee should have in an organization. And especially in agriculture, where they're in rural areas. They're outside of cities. These people are really dependent on their crops. And so we work on different programs with our fair trade bodies and our fair trade premiums, that goes back to the farming community, and they collectively decide what to do with those funds, whether they've gone beyond schools and hospitals, and that infrastructure set. And then it might be, you know, a community space. It might be a church or a religious type of structure. It might be road infrastructure or mosquito nets.

There's so many needs in these developing countries, 'cause the climates are so different and the diseases are so different. And for us, the water project was just another layer on top of all the fair trade initiatives that we've taken the last 16, 17 years, to make sure our farmers really live a good, fair life. So, this gives a little background about it hopefully.

Dan: That's great. So you actually helped, you were instrumental in creating the Fair Trade Association or that thought process?

Ahmed: So there's FLO, which is out of Europe, which the Fair Trade USA branched off from here in the U.S. And we certify a lot against that verification. But there's another one that we also use, which is called Fair Labor Practices which we co-created around 9, 10 years ago with Scientific Certified Services here in Emoryville, California, which is a different type of program. It's an improvement program. It's not a pass fail. There's also different types of qualifications that a farmer has to do to get verified. One basic thing is they have to be organic certified.

Dan: Great.

Ahmed: A larger amount of their ingredients have to be fair trade within the actual product. And then it's an improvement program which allows the farmer every year to get better and strengthen their work with their community. So we used both certifications and we also just look outside of that at other programs that really benefit the farmer, that's not an imperialistic approach of this is what we think you should do, but it's really what does the farming community need to do to help their community? So we try and cross reference different standards, one from ourselves and others from various industries to work with our farming community.

Dan: That's amazing. I had no idea. Well, and the fact that you're able to do this, it's so inspiring. I was talking to Sheryl O'Louglin yesterday, and she was telling me about the human trafficking issues. And this ties in nicely to that, because you're giving people good water and teaching them how to farm, and giving them the opportunity to really help and support themselves. As far as the fair trade, the progress on perfection, I know a lot of people really get hung up on this is the way you have to do it, and you have to do it right from day one. I love the fact that you guys have a progress or a progression that you help people along with. 'Cause at the end of the day, it's really about how do we improve things little by little for such a monumental increase over time. So thank you for all that you're doing in that regard.

So how did that morph into OSC2 and The Climate Collaborative and some of the other groups that you help spearhead?

Ahmed: So you know, it's similar, like the fair labor that we collaborated with SCS. We saw a need in the industry, and how do we create something that's better and how do we work together to drive change? And you know, about 16 years ago, with some of my colleagues that also started natural food companies, we just discussed how can we really help each other. We're all budding entrepreneurs trying to bring something to the market. Can we do something to hold each other's hands, support, work together, and cross reference?

So the idea was born then, but it didn't really launch until seven years ago when my co-founder, Lara Dickinson, and I discussed the need to have a bunch of CEOs really work together that have a common denominator of sustainability and really driving business for change, positive change on the planet. So the idea was born and brought to life, with Lara and I, and we brought together a little over, almost a dozen CEOs, friends, the similar friends that I was with 16 years ago, and we decided to work together and officially start OSC squared, One Step Closer to an organic sustainable community. How do we work together to get one step closer? And it's grown now to about 24 CEOs and the core group. We meet once a month and look at big industry issues as well as our own, and support each other to help create that impact that we see based on our different experiences and knowledge and learnings and shortfalls.

And then from there, we also thought that hey, that's not enough just to help each other. How do we really help the rest of the industry? So when we launched OSC2 six, seven years ago, we also launched the Packaging Collaboration. And I think packaging is an achilles heel for almost every brand. Plastic is destroying the planet right now. The amount of plastics in the oceans, the amount of plastics in landfills, it's ... You know, they say 60% of fish now contain plastic in them, so that's just one example of what we're putting in our body. And you go to these developing countries, and plastics are everywhere, all over the streets, and all over the roads, and beaches, and countryside. And there isn't a solution, or there wasn't a solution for home compostable or biodegradable plastics. The only solutions that have started the last few years is all GMO plastic made from corn.

So we really set out to find sustainable material that is non-GMO and that's plant based, and that composts. So through the efforts of the OSC packaging coalition, and the buying power, over 40 companies have joined and come together to do testing, and found a material with some film producers, and this material is eucalyptus and wood mulch based.

Dan: Really?

Ahmed: It's non-GMO, and it composts in 60 days in your compost bin. So it's something we’re proud of. We just launched our home compostable over wrap, and that's going to be out this summer. And it's been a big need for us for the last 17 years, and we hope that many more brands will jump onboard. And really, whether it's through our packaging coalition at OSC or them taking their own initiatives, we’ve got to reduce the plastics in the world. The petroleum is really killing us, and I think it's killing the planet, and hopefully we don't resort to the GMO based corn plastics.

Dan: Agreed completely. And I appreciate you sharing that. I've actually interviewed a couple of packaging suppliers on this podcast, and I'm learning more about it. And the point being is like you said, we really need to fix this problem. It's a problem that hasn't been addressed, and we've come such a long way in such a short amount of time thanks to your leadership and people like you. Actually, Kelly Williams gave me a package at Expo West that he said I could go plant in my backyard. It'd be gone in like 60 days. That's pretty amazing. And again, it goes back to the idea that consumers want to feel good about what they're buying, and they want to feel good about what they're purchasing beyond the four corners of the package. And so for you to come up with a product, you and your group to come up with a way to help consumers feel good about what they're buying, to help make the planet safer, to give back to other countries. At the end of the day, I think that's the message that needs to be celebrated.

I had the opportunity and the privilege of also speaking with Lara Dickinson, on our podcast, I think it was episode 37. And she was sharing some of the initiatives that you've got going in terms of the climate collaborative as well. Can you share a little bit more about how you're bringing this group together. Like you said, you have your monthly mentoring groups. You broke it into silos into different groups where you focus on finance and marketing. And so it's, from my standpoint, a mastermind group on steroids if you pardon the pun. But the point being is that you're getting the best of the best of the best people to work together to help inspire and encourage people. And that's how you're solving these real problems. Can you share more about that?

Ahmed: Yeah. So you know, I think it's great to bring the CEOs and or founders together to talk about the big issues, but then getting the working groups of marketing, of finance, of operations, of sales, getting them together, the ones that are doing the heavy lifting on the ground every day. And to your point, it's like masterminds on steroids, but it still has a common denominator of positive sustainable change, which is kind of a big void out there in these CEO groups or even working groups, that there isn't a big common denominator except for profit and loss, or how do you create this widget or gadget or product, which might not be good for your health or for the people and planet.

So getting all these industry folks that have the same belief system is so important. Our working groups have spread. We launched what's called the Rising Stars in 2016, and that's bringing young entrepreneurs that are sub 10 million in revenue that need mentors and need each other. So we launched that. Now we have 8 different CEOs in that Rising Star group, which is very nice to see them working together. And we, as the core members, also support them in any way we can. And in 2017, we launched the Climate Collaborative, again bringing SCS into our OSC meeting. SCS shared with us the huge discussion that we need to be really attentive to right now is the climate and how if we get two degrees warmer on our planet, there's really no turning back.

I think Paul Hawken does a pretty good job in his recent book Drawdown to highlight some of the ways in which we can collectively do that work. But we didn't see anything in our industry to talk about the climate. So we launched a Climate Collaborative at Expo West in 2017. We had over 400 people show up, industry leaders, a lot more CEOs and founders of companies, and their heads of sustainability that said, "Yes. We need to collaborate on this major issue."

So through the Climate Collaborative, we now have about 250 organizations that have joined and there's 9 areas in which people can make commitments. Some of those 9 areas are food waste, transportation, energy, agriculture, and so on. And people are making commitments within their organizations under these 9 main areas. And I think we now have have over 300, 400 commitments. I don't know the exact amount, but you can learn more at

And it's just been amazing to see the industry come together. And you know, we just had another climate collaborative this last March of '18 at Expo West, and almost 600 people showed up. And now it's really gaining momentum, and it's become a big focus for a lot of organizations through the climate collaborative.

Dan: Well it's so important. And so, I want to back up a little bit. When I was talking to Sheryl yesterday, we were talking about how the paradigm is changing. The way that we learned to do business is not the way we learned how to sustain the planet, not the way we learn how to think out of the box, and give back, and create a culture for enabling and inspiring people to grow and to become more than they currently are. She says that she's the Chief Love Officer. And I love that, because it's so important to understand that you set the tone from the top down. So the fact that you are doing this, that you're bringing people together that are like minded, that are thinking out of the box, focused on making a real difference, not thinking about business the way we used to do it, or the way that it's "done in textbooks" is amazing. And the fact that you're then able to inspire others as a result.

It's, I keep going back to what you first started with, this conversation. Here you are as an immigrant, as an artist, who kind of fell into this, I don't want to say fell into this business, but got started in this business. And you keep doing more and giving back and giving back and giving back. And it truly is inspirational, all the different things that you do. So when do you have time to make tea?

Ahmed: Well, you know, I always make time to have tea, whether it's with friends, in the office with colleagues. It's a part of my culture and my heritage. Our lineage has been drinking this dry desert lime. And it's also such a blessing to do to these countries of origin, like China and India, and Taiwan, and wherever, Japan, and even these cultures that create herbs like turmeric, and ginger, and mint. You really learn the celebration of these beverages and how to really share. And for me, it just feels like such a privilege and honor to be able to share all these incredible herbs and teas from around the world with the general public and the greater community. And I feel like every time a box of tea is sold somewhere, that somebody's sharing in that whole experience from around the world, and that specific farming community. So always make time for a cup of tea.

Dan: Well you have to, and I always say that food, and tea's part of that, is the common denominator between all of us. It is the one thing that transcends race and ethnicity and language. It's the one thing that we all have in common, and it's that one thing that brings us together. So you're absolutely right. We do need to celebrate that more. And that's part of this culture. It's why this podcast exists. We are trying to help people take that food, help them get their products on more retailer shelves, and in the hands of more shoppers. The point being is it's brands like you that are inspiring consumers, that are helping consumers feel good about the products that they want, that are giving them the nutritional benefits that they're looking for, that are really making a sustainable difference, that are leading change in this industry. So I really appreciate all that you're doing. What thoughts would you have, again going back to my earlier question, around a young budding entrepreneur. What would you say to them? What would you say to your younger self?

Ahmed: Well I think I would probably continue building on the thought of do something that's really connected to you and stay true to it. Don't go off on various tangents and be extra different or clever, unless you have that intrinsically within you. 'Cause sometimes, you know, these concepts are so abstract, and want to build a million layers on something and we forget about the essence. Just like us, bringing herbs and teas out, we just want to celebrate these teas and herbs. It's just pure mint. It's pure rooibus. It's pure chamomile. We're not trying to complicate it with all these natural flavorings or artificial flavorings or oils, or trying to make something up about the farmers. We just want to stay true to the herb, true to the origin, true to the culture, and true to the celebration of it.

So I would say to these young budding entrepreneurs, find something that's really deep in your essence that really means something to you and that feels like it's living your dream. And you wake up every day, you feel like you're coming alive. Because it's hard work. All of it takes a lot of time, a lot of discipline, money, managing people, being out there some days in the beginning early years, you know, 14, 15, 16 hour days. And it's hard if it's something that doesn't really feel true to your core. And but when it does, you never feel like you work an hour in your life. It just feels like you're on a magic carpet ride.

Dan: So true. So how does a kid go from Cleveland, Ohio to making such an impact in the world? And I guess that's, I would imagine, being in your shoes, you're living your dream. And having the opportunity to give back and inspire. And if I can go one step further, the programs that you've created are creating the guardrails to help people stay focused, and help inspire them, and help stay true to their mission, while giving them a hand up and teaching them the skills that they need to have. So thank you for all you do.

Anything else you would like to share that we've missed?

Ahmed: Dan, it's really the heartbeat. It's just that true connection, and being a messenger. I believe we simply are a messenger in this life to carry some message, and allow that lineage and legacy to live on so that it hopefully improves the next generation and generations to come, to think about what they do and how they do it, and how they show up every day. I think that's so important nowadays. I mean, with millennials and generation Z being now over 60% of the purchasing power on our planet, they really do care. They want authenticity. They want transparency. They want to see what's in their products. And that's a real change, whether it's the world of technology or it's just the world of awareness, we need to help people be more aware, and help vote with our dollars, because it's up to us to make that change happen. It's not happening from the top down.

Dan: No, it's not. And on that same point, I was talking to Gary Hirshberg about this exact same thing, voting with your dollars. Here's an opportunity for people to feel good about their purchase decisions by supporting brands like Numi, by supporting brands that give back, by supporting brands that go above and beyond, to not only provide transparent, authentic ingredients, but more importantly, to make a change in the world. So thank you for all you do along those lines.

I really appreciate you and the time that you've made for me and for the audience. And it was so great meeting you in person back in California, at Expo West. And I look forward to our next conversation.

Ahmed: Hey Dan, I really appreciate you making time for me and allowing me to share a little bit of the Numi story. My sister and I are definitely on a great journey, and I feel honored every day to deliver the quality and the values in our product. It's a great vehicle, and I just thank you for your time and interest in Numi.

Dan: Well I appreciate that, and I'll certainly put a link in the show notes to OSC2 and The Climate Collaborative. You're going to have to send me a list of all of the different programs I need to put in the show notes, 'cause there are so many things that you do. I'm just so inspired. Thank you so much. And again, thank you for making such a difference, and thank you for being more than just a worker, like you said. Instead of just punching a time clock, this is what inspires you. This is what fuels your dreams. And I can hear your passion. So thank you again for sharing that with us.

Ahmed: Thanks for the time, Dan. I really appreciate it.

Dan: I want to thank Ahmed for coming on today, to share his inspiration, his valuable insights, and the great stories about all the different things he's involved in, his passions. I also want to thank Ahmed for everything he does for us, for our world, for our environment, and for our natural community. I will include links to Numi tea and all of the important comments that Ahmed talked about in the show notes. You can download the show notes at We talked about the importance of storytelling and community. In honor of Ahmed, I'm going to include my Turnkey Sales Story Strategies as this week's free gift. You can download it on the website, on the show notes, or go to

As always, this show is about you and it's for you. I really appreciate you listening. If you like the podcast, please share it with a friend, subscribe, and leave a review on iTunes. I look forward to seeing you in the next show.

Numi Tea

Numi Foundation


Climate Collaborative

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