How this Sudanese Refugee-Turned-Entrepreneur Makes Pouring Cups of Hope His Daily Grind
Welcome to the Global Goals, Local Leaders series, where we highlight innovative American businesses that are acting as local leaders to support and promote the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – also called Global Goals!
Company: 734 Coffee
Sustainable Development Goal #2: Quality Education
“734 Coffee is more than just a number, it is a place of refuge,” explains Manyang Reath Kher, a refugee-turned-entrepreneur and Lost Boy of Sudan, “We help tell the story of the refugee—through coffee.”
734 Coffee, a small, impact-focused business based in Richmond, Virginia, traces back its roots quite literally to their Founder’s fight for survival during the Sudanese Civil War. Manyang Reath Kher escaped to America in 2005 when he was 17 years of age. “I am one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. I was separated from my mother and sister, and my father was tragically killed,” says Manyang. “I was exposed to things I would never want any child to see. For 13 years.”
The Lost Boys is a group of 20,000 boys from the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were orphaned and displaced during the Sudanese Civil War. Kher decided to use his experience as a Lost Boy to assist those children who are still in refugee camps in Sudan with the goal “to improve the lives of Sudanese refugees and attempt to battle the problems of an entire displaced population.” After coming to America, Kehr graduated from college and focused his efforts on creating a way to directly help other refugees who did not have the opportunity to escape Sudan like himself – and the non-profit organization Humanity Helping Sudan was born.
“I started Humanity Helping Sudan so that I could have a platform to advocate on behalf of those refugees still in Sudan and to provide a way to educate children while improving their community atmosphere,” says Kher.
But it wasn’t easy to start this nonprofit.“People didn’t believe I could do it. I think outsiders looked at me and doubted. I had to have anyone and everyone help me finance Humanity Helping Sudan,” says Kher.
Humanity Helping Sudan was living off donations, but I wanted to do something more, I wanted to go beyond donations. I needed to create a company – and that is when I thought of 734 Coffee.
Humanity Helping Sudan is the parent organization behind 734 Coffee – the small-but-mighty social good business that Kehr launched to help refugees learn entrepreneurial skills and give them a glimmer of hope in what seems to be a hopeless situation.
“People were shocked when I told them I wanted to start a business,” explains Kher. “They thought I was wanting handouts or donations, and I had to clarify that I was here to make a real an impact, using my real skills in business.”
Starting 734 Coffee has now created a new market for the Sudan region. “734 Coffee is creating an education system for refugees,” says Kher. “Only one percent of refugees can go to college, so we are using 734 Coffee as an outlet to create a scholarship program so that children have the opportunity to live a better future.”
But why coffee? Kher explains that coffee is a commodity that is fairly easy to bring to the U.S. market that sells well – and it transcends all nations. It is an international product. But more importantly, it creates jobs. And since opening its doors, 734 Coffee is lead to the creation of over 100 jobs.
“If I can create jobs while spreading awareness of the refugee crisis, then I am giving the story of the refugee a fighting chance.”
By creating jobs through 734 Coffee, Kehr notes that they are able to prove that refugees are competitors and business-minded individuals: “I think there is this unwarranted assumption that refugees are not qualified or talented enough to have high-impact jobs. And this is simply not true. Just because you are a refugee doesn’t mean you lost your marketable skills.”
“Your intelligence does not go away just because you needed to escape your homeland due to war.”
Kehr’s unparalleled drive to spread the story of refugees whether through a cup of coffee, on-the-ground-vocational training, or traditional education opportunities, gives refugees more than the ability to feed themselves, but also the option to imagine with ambition and to manage their communities free of outside aid.
Kehr reminds himself, “If I can change just one life, well then this has all been worth it.”
Watch Nothing but Net’s Facebook Live with Manyang Reath Kher: