Shortly after arriving in Turkey, Syrian entrepreneur Ravan Hudayfa started looking for opportunities to expand her network in the country and build new skills. She started volunteering with local community and youth programs, where she got to know the mothers of refugee children. Ravan quickly learned that many of these women were providing for their families by offering catering services out of their home kitchens.
This prompted her to arrange events to help women entrepreneurs improve their skills in Middle Eastern cuisine and expand their customer base. However, they still faced challenges in building and sustaining these at-home catering businesses. “We noticed that producing from their own kitchen was neither easy nor sustainable for these women,” Ravan says. Then, she learned about the concept of social entrepreneurship from a Turkish company called June, which works with social enterprises to help skilled workers enter the Turkish market. In collaboration with the company’s founder, Ravan launched Tina Zita, a catering business that offered a safe working space for women entrepreneurs.
Ravan emphasizes her personal and professional relationship with her Turkish counterpart, June founder Duygu, as critical to her business journey. “Duygu introduced me to non-profit social incubators and development agencies, where I received training and learned a lot,” Ravan says. “I could not have been where I am today if it wasn’t for her. She was my personal incubator in this country.”
Ravan received her first catering request in 2019. Soon after, she applied for a program supporting Syrian companies in the registration process for the Turkish market. But by the time her company was officially registered in August 2020, Tina Zita was grappling with a new challenge: adapting to the drastic changes in the market from COVID-19.
“With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the quarantine measures the country took, our catering activities for events stopped completely,” Ravan recalls. “We continued trying to take any kind of meal orders and spent time researching and meeting with businesses facing similar challenges both nationally and internationally.” Recognizing the need to pivot her business to meet changing demand, Ravan sought online courses to guide her and her staff. This is how she found the LIFE Project. “I was able to work with qualified trainers and receive a practical curriculum tailor-made for the food sector in Turkey,” she says, noting that the courses were “full of relevance to what I was going through.”
For Ravan and Tina Zita, the stakes were especially high, since many of the women working there became the primary household earners after their husbands and other family members lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
After completing the LIFE Project courses and learning that her company was officially registered in Turkey, Ravan decided to change her business model to focus on packaged products. She was able to come to a rent-sharing agreement for kitchen space with another company, where she is developing these packaged products while also catering for limited events. Her decision was met with some criticism, but Ravan has confidence in her business. “I have a strong belief that I can work with whatever budget I can start with … it is amazing to take this opportunity and move forward with it.”
Despite the uncertainties of the current market, Ravan is proud of what she has built. “Entrepreneurship is key to integration when you are a foreigner regardless of your nationality,” she says. She advises fellow refugee and migrant entrepreneurs to move forward by building ties in their new communities: “We always need natives of the host community to cooperate with … you need to have an open mind and a great amount of flexibility. Be very prepared to receive a million negative comments, and just carry on with your journey.”
Are you interested in Ravan’s story or see potential in his business as an investor? Learn more and get in touch with her at https://en.tinazita.com, on Instagram @_tina.zita_, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.