One brand set to change the status quo is Nemi. By employing refugees and paying above the London Living Wage, they are providing financial empowerment. Anuj Dhanak, the Sales Director, explains his story and why he’s so passionate to help refugees.
The son of a refugee, Anuj was born in Kenya and raised in England. A young entrepreneur, he started his own business aged twelve. Selling cricket balls and other equipment, he became so successful that he supplied his own school. It was the same school which suspended him for missing classes because he was so busy. He compromised by selling shoes for his Uncle on weekends at Wembley Market.
Whilst studying Biomedical Sciences at Warwick University, Anuj attended an event by John Bird, the Big Issue Founder. In the lecture, John Bird spoke about Social Enterprises and how businesses could earn money while being socially conscious. This was the moment of awakening, where Anuj realised how to benefit society while being able to afford doing so. After developing some ideas and creating a plan, he won a grant for £5,000.
In 2014, Anuj opened Juice Cube. The concept ran on using surplus fruit and vegetables to make their juices. The shop opened up a route for him to direct his passion into engaging with the local community in West Ealing. Through customers paying for ‘suspended juices’, they were able to supply two homeless shelters with juices every weekend. He also worked with the council to help tackle vandalism and anti-social behaviour in the evenings.
Two years later and in need of a new project, Anuj started working for Sibberi selling tree waters. While this may not initially seem socially conscious, it has a hidden benefit. By making trees profitable while alive, it discourages tree felling. With more and more products having social benefits, it brings the power to do good into the customers hands. Through their choice of drink, Londoners have the chance to help tackle deforestation, or homelessness, or refugees.
Speaking to Anuj, he comes across as a very passionate person. He is direct, honest and unafraid to tackle difficult issues in conversation. His ability to speak clearly comes straight from his sales background but what makes him stand out is his desire to do something positive. When he gets started on something important to him, his eyes light up and his energy is visible. After understanding his journey, I ask him about Nemi.
Tim Copeland: What is Nemi?
Anuj Dhanak: Nemi is a tea brand that sells a variety of different types of tea with a social aim to employ and to encourage refugee integration in the UK. Directly through employing refugees, we’re actually able to convince more employers to give jobs to refugees who have skillsets. A lot of refugees in the UK are doctors, business owners, journalists, who can seriously add a lot of value to the UK. What we’re trying to do is sell our tea and using the profits of the tea, refine ways to encourage integration. That may be by going in to give talks to employers at conferences or to employ refugees at tea stalls to develop their confidence to speak out more. Also, to give them financial empowerment, to help them afford housing.
TC: Do you have any success stories?
AD: One story I would like to mention was of a Sudanese journalist. Great guy, great camera. He went through a lot of things in Sudan. When he did come here, he couldn’t find a job for a really long time. If you’re a male without a family, you don’t get priority on living. He was told to move a few times. Didn’t have friends, didn’t have that good health. I worked with him for one day and straight away me and him were talking like we had been friends for 7 years. We just cracked jokes, to see this guy smile was heart-warming. We went to a festival once. It was just me and him on a stall and he had his camera. There were a lot of other stall holders around. Before trading actually started he went around and talked to the other traders. He was cheeky enough to say, ‘you want those photos? They look good, right? 50 quid’. He was a bit cheeky, I was like ‘that’s awesome’. He wouldn’t probably have done that before. He used to say to me that he would spend eight or nine hours in his room alone. Every day like that. Having seen what he’s been through and where he’s at now, that for me is a success story. And that’s the reason I do what I do. There’s not a lot of money in social enterprise start-ups but there’s a lot of satisfaction.
TC: Have you had any challenges?
AD: I’ll level with you. There’s a lot of guys out there who make it difficult. They want a job and come down to see you. You’re excited, they’re excited. You want to learn what they’ve been through, they want to learn what you’ve been through. You’re thinking you’re on the same page but you’re not. They’re just in it for a quick buck.
TC: How do you get past these obstacles?
AD: What we’re trying to do is bring people together from across the UK who have something in common. Most of the time its language. They can talk to each other and that’s really good. I don’t know how to describe it but it works.
Making social change happen isn’t easy. It requires pushing past people’s perceptions and tackling difficult issues. What it takes is passion and Anuj exemplifies this. By helping Nemi to become successful, he helps give us the choice to benefit others within our daily lives. It is not hard to buy a different brand of tea; the hard work has been done for you. By buying Nemi tea, you can help refugees feel welcomed in our society. Is London empowering refugees? It’s up to you.
You can support refugees by buying Nemi tea in these East London stores:
Second Shot. E2 9QH
Autumn Yard. E8 2BT
L’epicerie 56. E5 0LS
E5 Bakehouse. E8 3PH
Eat 17. E17 9NJ
Words and images by Tim Copeland