Debbie Farah, CEO and Founder
Bajalia International Group and Bajalia Trading Company
“Changing the world while shopping the world.”
NPIM would like to announce Debbie Farah as the February Alumna of the Month.
Debbie Farah is a Social Entrepreneur; she is CEO and Founder of Bajalia International Group (BIG) and Bajalia Trading Company. The two companies are a collaboration of for-profit and non-profit and are based in the Orlando, Florida area while simultaneously working in 26 countries around the globe.
BIG is an import company, designing and distributing designer-quality products which serve the high-end retail mass market through their Bajalia brand. They also serve both specialty and big box retail mass markets through their branded and private label products. Eighty-five percent of their products are produced by women artisans with hand-made works manufactured in emerging countries. The for-profit component of the business leads sales and marketing efforts. The non-profit excels in entrepreneurial training and developmental workshops in tailoring, jewelry making, marketing, product development and design; all the while, it also provides resourcing to incubate businesses in emerging economies.
Bajalia launched their Fair Trade products on Home Shopping Network (HSN) in March, 2011 on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. BIG launched into Canada in August, 2013 and launched their UK line in July, 2014.
In 2011, Farah was named one of “150 Women Who Shake the World” by The Daily Beast for her work with BIG. She serves on several non-profit and advisory boards, including the Business Council for Peace (Bpeace). Collaborating with Bpeace on behalf of the Department of State, Farah developed a new model for entrepreneurship training. She also developed an apprenticeship for business cross-cultural programs that has become a model for working with global entrepreneurs.
Ms. Farah is on the founding community and advisory board at Rollins College for the Social Enterprise and Sustainability Initiative (SESI). She is active with the Blackstone Launch Lab at the University of Central Florida, assisting and mentoring students in launching new companies. Ms. Farah serves as a member of Artisan Alliance Resources through the Aspen Institute; she has also served on the Host Committee as a cross-cultural consultant for Dr. Amel Chakara from Iraq, as well as other visiting scholars as part of the Tupperware Global Links Program. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she developed a program to help families who were relocated to Dallas, Texas. The program was praised by the Red Cross and used as a model for other non-profits and emergency response organizations for natural disasters. Ms. Farah has assisted several programs, helping them to create employment after natural disasters in India, Thailand and here in the U.S.
Ms. Farah continues to consult with major clients and retailers including catalog and E –Commerce retailers in areas of consumer behavior and re-imagining the retail experience for digital and in-person platforms. She has been active in consulting and working with other non-profits to create a sustainable income model for long-term Farah’s career began in the banking industry where she became the youngest Vice President in the American Banking Association. Later, she moved into advertising where she held EVP titles, CCO, and other executive advertising and design roles for major retailers including: Bloomingdale’s, Rich’s, Neiman Marcus, Horchow, Macy’s Inc., and Marshall Field’s. Her planning and strategy experience with Fortune 500 companies include: Dell Inc., Southwestern Bell, Coca-Cola, UPS, Celebrity Cruises, CNN, Turner Broadcasting and Ritz-Carlton. As a stylist, her editorial work has been published in Women’s Wear Daily, W Magazine, Architectural Digest, Brides Magazine, Atlanta Magazine and PEOPLE. Her broadcast work experience includes commercial clients like: Honey Baked Ham, Ford, CNN, and Federated Department Stores. As a Creative Director she won numerous advertising awards including Gold and Silver Addy awards, CLIO, Show South and Catalog Age awards.
As a frequent speaker on social enterprise, job creation, poverty alleviation emerging economies and sustainable fashion, Farah is an international traveler and speaks Arabic, English and very limited Dari, and Hindi. She is a Jacksonville, Florida native and is a first generation, Palestinian-American. She presently resides in Winter Park, Florida.
About Bajalia International Group: Headquartered in the Orlando, Florida area, BIG was founded in 2003 by Debbie Farah. BIG’s mission is to alleviate poverty and empower low-income people around the world through trade, training and other forms of community development and marketing artisan products. This process brings about sustainable income streams, personal and community empowerment and a change in artisan lives. BIG is a leader within the emerging social enterprise movement. Through collaboration with its non-profit sister organization, BIG works intimately with its production network to help manage growing enterprises, hire and empower more women and focus on education, economic development and long-term sustainability. Through BIG’s office and showroom, web presence and strategic distribution networks in the U.S. and Europe, the company ensures artisans operate on a scale of production that they could not attain by themselves, marketing together globally. In doing so, the producers are empowered to replicate themselves and bring transformation to their communities. BIG’s collaborative partners globally include U.S. AID, FAVACA, Bpeace, Aid to Artisans, SEWA, India, Export Promotion Council for Handcrafts (EPCH), Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship at Rollins College, the Artisan Alliance, the Aspen Institute, the U.S. Department of State, and the University of Central Florida. For more information visit www.bajalia.com
NPIM interviewed Debbie about here experiences as a Biblical Entrepreneur.
1. How did Biblical Entrepreneurship impact your understanding of God’s plan for business?
When I first started out in business, I worked in three of the most unethical industries: finance, fashion and advertising. As a result, I had to seek God out very early in my career to understand what He said about business. He really worked with me and the Holy Spirit convicted me on better ways to do business.
When I came to BE, I was given language for all of the things I felt like I had been struggling with and learning on my own. BE also gave me all of the Scriptural references for things I believed to be true; therefore, I was then able to teach these principles to my staff and teams in a way where seekers might be open to them. I’ve learned how Biblical principles work no matter who employs them, so I am able to be a better leader as I use the parables, stories and teaching with those in my office regardless of what they believe.
The majority of our office staff are Millennials. No matter what their belief system, they are passionate about following authentic leaders and brands. I find that the BE model is the best example of that type of leadership.
2. Why do you support Nehemiah Project?
I think the Nehemiah Project gives great form, function and platform to Biblical understandings in business. I believe it also creates a network of Kingdom entrepreneurs who are thinking alike and can support one another in the mission of restoring business to it’s rightful, good place. In light of why I support the Nehemiah Project, one of the best ways I have found to support the work is by ensuring I have a strong business which can act as a model for other businesses in the future, therefore proving the model works. Personally, I’ve had to step back from my teaching and event involvement with Nehemiah in some ways in order to have a laser-focus on building my company from infancy. Like a nursing mother, my attention has been on nurturing the business through its early stages so it can mature and become strong and independent with a solid foundation.
3. What does it mean to you to operate a Kingdom business?
To me, operating a Kingdom business involves a daily, almost hourly decision-making process. When we recognize how our businesses are not our own and how we are simply stewarding them for God’s purposes, I’ve learned how all decisions must occur from this perspective. So, in some ways, it is daunting to operate a Kingdom business and understand the magnitude of all God has entrusted to me. And in other ways, it’s liberating to know that it’s not all up to me. Right now, I am especially conscious of this truth as we are seeking out more capital for anticipated growth. It’s a daily process of working hard and living by faith, not sight.
Over the last twelve years, we’ve worked with artisans in 28 countries all over the world and told their stories through many platforms, including television. Taking into account the scope and audience of our work can be overwhelming if I thought it was all up to me. In some ways, I think these realities have made me a better steward of God’s business and the relationships we have with our producers around the world. We get to teach them good business principles on a daily basis. Since many of our producers practice other faith traditions and don’t necessarily share the same ideas, we’re able to be a good example to them through business and eventually, this opens doors for us to have a voice in their lives.
Debbie will be featured on the March 3rd Kingdom Business Seminar. Click here for more information & to register.