Immigration

Immigrant women entrepreneurs pitch business ideas

Ghadeer Darwish wins second place at Immigrant Women Entrepreneur Showcase

Ghadeer Darwish spoke to friends and family during a networking session at Monday night’s showcase.   Fadila Chater

Ghadeer Darwish’s grandmother, Sakina Linjawi, passed away four years ago, but lives on through her granddaughter’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Darwish won second place at the Immigrant Women Entrepreneur Showcase at the Halifax Central Library Monday night. The 44-year-old mother of three won $500 to kick-start her International Coffee and Tea Café.

The cafe is inspired by Darwish’s memories of eating lunch at her grandmother’s home in Saudi Arabia. She hopes to bring that taste and atmosphere of Arabian home-cooking to people in Halifax’s south end. 

“This is amazing,” said Darwish after her win, as she hugged friends and family.

The judges munched on Darwish’s homemade sweets during her presentation.   Fadila Chater

Darwish moved to Halifax from Saudi Arabia after her son was seriously injured in an accident last year. She said she moved to Halifax so her son can receive physical therapy and her daughter can attend university.

The second annual showcase was the final phase of a series of workshops hosted by Enactus Dalhousie and Global Shapers Halifax. As part of the competition, there were four judges from McInnes Cooper, Nova Scotia Business Inc., Bullfrog Power and the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development.

Darwish gave a five-minute business pitch to the judges for the cafe that will serve a variety of Arabic and international sweets. During her presentation, she showed pictures of colourful rooms, with floor seating cushions and large windows that are reminiscent of her her grandmother’s house.

People from Enactus Dalhousie served Darwish’s cookies during her presentation.   Fadila Chater

But, her idea is more than just a café, Darwish said. She envisions a place where people in Halifax can feel like they’re at home, even if they’re miles away.

“For me, the best gathering place was my grandmother’s living room,” Darwish told the judges.

Linjawi’s door was always open, Darwish recalled. And on Thursdays the whole family—about 70 people—would squeeze into her modest house for lunch.

Darwish said her grandmother broke the rules, spoke her mind and cared for others.

“(She) knew how to talk to people, even when they were upset; she would listen to you,” Darwish said in an interview after the presentation.

After giving her pitch she handed out plates of homemade cakes, cookies and pastries to the judges. The audience of about 75 people, also took samples.

Darwish’s daughter and Dalhousie University student, Hayat Showail, watched her mother’s presentation.

“What she wants to give to people is a home, it’s not just a coffee place,” Showail said during a break. “She wants people to feel the way she felt when she was young.”

Hayat Showail (right) said she’s proud of her mother for following her dreams.   Fadila Chater

Women in the workplace

Silvia Revenco won first place at the competition. She is originally from Moldova and attended university in London, England. Her business, RawMania Chocolate, bakes and sells raw chocolate treats.

Kyla Doornbos, Enactus project manager, said the competition is a networking opportunity that attracts potential investors to unique business ideas. While contestants won money prizes, she said the awards aren’t enough to meet the initial investment, which is well over $1,000, that entrepreneurs are seeking.

“We want to help them get their foot in the door. We want to help them break through that glass ceiling of gender and race,” Doornbos told The Signal.

Susan Marie (far left), Darwish, Kyla Doornbos, Silvia Revenco and Tianshu Huang (far right) pose for photos after winners were called.   Fadila Chater

On Monday, Statistics Canada reported that in 2015, immigrant women’s “wages were generally lower than their male immigrant counterparts.” The report also shows differences in immigrants’ median wages based on their region of birth.

For example, median wages of women born in East Asia are $6,000 less than the median wages of men from the same region. East Asian-born women make $10,000 less in median wages than European-born women.

In 2015, Statistics Canada reported that immigrant women made up 21.3 per cent of entrepreneurs, investors and self-employed admissions in 2013, up from 14.2 per cent in 2004.

Darwish married when she was 17 years old and by 21 she had three children. Darwish moved from Saudi Arabia to New York in 1993. She attended Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. where she received her bachelor and master’s degrees in systems engineering.

“That was the proudest time of my life. I accomplished something for me,” Darwish said. “I wasn’t a mommy or a wife or taking care of someone else.”

Audio file by Will Gordon.