Haytham Al Saegh lives in Fargo, ND, a place where immigrants and refugees from around the world have found a home.
Fargo has been Haytham’s home for 11 years. He emigrated from Syria in 2009. The greater Fargo, ND – Moorhead, MN (Fargo-Moorhead) area has become home for a growing community of immigrants who offer a diversity of cultures, languages, religions, and beliefs.
“It is a small community different from other communities,” says Fowzia Adde, executive director of the Immigrant Development Center (IDC), which works with immigrants and refugees, or New Americans, as Fowzia calls them, in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“This area is becoming more diverse as more refugees and immigrants move to the area,” Fowzia says. “They bring culture, beauty, and they bring challenges at the same time.”
The challenge, Fowzia explains, is that some residents are not as willing to embrace these New Americans, though there are open-minded residents who are accepting of those who have come to contribute their threads to the community’s tapestry.
Haytham was ready to contribute to the community.
Haytham, an entrepreneur, was ready to start a business as soon as he moved to Fargo in 2009. He wanted to open a shop where his neighbors could access food and ingredients reflecting their diverse needs and comforts. He recognized an unmet need in the community. Importantly, the business would provide a secure economic future for his family.
Haytham did the math: $250,000 would buy a building, land, and supplies to begin making his vision into a reality. He began to explore options. There were plenty of banks, but few were willing to lend money to immigrants with little history in the community.
There were plenty of banks, but few were willing to lend money to immigrants with little history in the community.
That’s when Haytham approached Fowzia and her team at IDC, based in nearby Moorhead, to reach a solution. IDC provides New Americans with resources and tools to help them become economically self-sufficient.
“We focus our resources on business development, working to put together a business plan, business training, financial literacy training,” Fowzia explains. “We put a lot of resources in clients to make sure they overcome poverty and become self-sufficient. With Haytham, we worked with him to put his business plan together.”
“We put a lot of resources in clients to make sure they overcome poverty and become self-sufficient.”
When the business plan was ready, it was time to bring in the funding.
After meeting Haytham and understanding his plan, Fowzia and her IDC team knew they wanted to support his business idea. They took him on as a client. Their first step was to help with his business plan.
IDC didn’t have all of the money Haytham needed, but knew it could find a way forward through using its strong relationships with local banks. IDC convinced a local bank to invest in the business plan after the bank saw IDC’s contribution.
With the help of Fowzia, the IDC team, and a local bank, Haytham got the full $250,000. He was able to open FM International Foods.
“He owns the land he’s sitting on and he’s running his business well,” Fowzia says of Haytham. “Everybody shops from him.”
“Everybody shops from him [Haytham].”
Haytham, his family, and business bring the world to the Fargo-Moorhead community.
Today, Haytham is not only a business owner, but also a landowner. Instead of worrying about paying rent, he is able to support his family and steadily provide his community with an array of fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, dried foods, canned goods, and even household items not found in conventional grocery stores.
“He recently bought a good, fine house for his family because his income increased,” says Fowzia. “[FM International Foods] built his assets and made him somebody with income, and the bank gave him another loan to buy his own house.”
FM International Foods, thanks to the work of Haytham and his family and the support of Fowzia and IDC, brings the world to the Fargo-Moorhead community. Members of the community can express and retain traditions and culture through food, find comfort and nourishment, and share new dishes and experiences with neighbors.
IDC supports the wisdom, passion, and expertise of multiple cultures.
Fowzia and the IDC team work with clients like Haytham to navigate the dominant economic system and culture that limits opportunities for immigrants.
“Since we started 11 years ago, our work is focused on asset building and American dreams with entrepreneurs,” says Fowzia. “Our organization focuses on wealth building, all for minority [groups].”
As a minority-run organization dedicated to working with New Americans, IDC faces its own set of challenges. According to Fowzia, to be a minority-run organization in a conservative and rural area in the United States is “not popular and it’s not easy.”
“We have survived being around this area by believing in our mission, building a vision, and working with those who want to work with us,” Fowzia says.
“We have survived being around this area by believing in our mission, building a vision, and working with those who want to work with us.”
Fowzia has led IDC since 2006, bringing experiences working in multiple cultures and languages as an interpreter. She saw IDC’s launch of the International Market Plaza in 2016, a business incubator and now a major attraction for local residents and visitors in Fargo.
IDC works not only to build equitable economies, but also to lift up the voices of communities, strengthen health and well-being, and liberate communities from policies and practices designed to disadvantage them.
The Foundation is proud to support IDC and the people it serves in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up,” Fowzia says of the Foundation’s grant, which she calls a “blessing.”
HOW GRANTEES HELP COMMUNITIES PROSPER
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At Northwest Area Foundation, we're learning from our grantees that are building equitable economies. This story is the third in a series highlighting how our grantees are liberating the communities they serve from policies, practices, and beliefs that disadvantage them.
Four Bands Community Fund
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Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation
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IMMIGRANT DEVELOPMENT CENTER
IDC supports the wisdom, passion, and expertise of multiple cultures in the greater Fargo, ND – Moorhead, MN area. It creates strong partnerships throughout Fargo-Moorhead to liberate communities from policies and practices designed to disadvantage them, build the capacity of businesses and the economic skills within the immigrant and refugee population, and ultimately lead its clients to economic self-sufficiency.
“Since we started 11 years ago, our work is focused on asset building and American dreams with entrepreneurs. . . . all for minority [groups].”
Executive Director, IDC