Khalid Ahmadzai (’17) and his work with Abwe Adebi in starting a mask-making business in Fayetteville, Ark., were recently profiled by The Times of Entrepreneurship and Forbes.
Ahmadzai, a native of Kabul, Afghanistan, who works as the Director of Economic Advancement for Canopy NWA, a refugee resettlement organization in Fayetteville, proposed the idea for the business to Abedi, a Tanzanian refugee and client of Canopy NWA with more than 25 years of sewing experience.
Ahmadzai said the idea for the business and connecting Abedi expertise came to him after hearing a report on NPR about the need for mask making at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ahmadzai, who has a variety of personal experience as an entrepreneur, leads Canopy’s 12-week entrepreneurship program. Because he had helped Abedi update his resume, he knew about Abedi work history as a tailor in Tanzania.
“When I was looking to find employment for Abwe, as part of my job, he mentioned that as a young lad, he worked and earned money through sewing,” Ahmadzai said. “I had that information in the back of my mind.”
Abedi and his business have now sold more than 600 masks, primarily through Facebook. He has donated masks to Governor Asa Hutchinson, the Fayetteville Adult Education Center, his children’s schools, and a local NAACP chapter.
After completing Canopy’s entrepreneurship class, he is now training others to sew as the Director of Sewing Operation at the Arkansas Arts and Fashion Forum, a nonprofit that promotes a local fashion industry.
“Abwe and I had been brainstorming about a center where he could teach other refugees and immigrants the art of sewing and where they are there, to learn English and driving skills,” Ahmadzai said. “That all crumbled when COVID-19 hit. Now, thankfully, he is being paid to do what he wanted to do.”
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