Soul food: Qatar’s Wa’hab nourishes the hunger and hearts of those in need

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Ashlee

(Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images)

By Ashlee Starratt

Think, for a moment, of the amount of food that ends up in landfills. Perfectly good buffet leftovers scraped into the bins at hotels and restaurants; surplus fruit and vegetables that your local grocery or wholesale farmer couldn’t sell, tossed or left to spoil.

In light of global food shortages, the act of wastage is sustainable neither for our communities, nor our planet. Qatar, especially, struggles with its quantities of food wastage – with one of the world’s highest per capita rates. But one new social enterprise aims to change that. Wa’hab is connecting those who have food – extra, and lots of it – with those for whom hunger is a daily reality.

Meaning ‘to be of service’ in Arabic, Wa’hab works alongside charitable organizations such as Eid Charity, acting as a facilitator or link between such groups, and Qatar’s many food and beverage outlets – hotels, stand-alone restaurants, food distributors and the like.

“Wa’hab is a new start-up that wants to reduce food wastage in Qatar by connecting the food industry with charitable organizations and the community,” explains its Chief Information Office, Kim Wyatt. “Wa’hab has three aims – to engage, to inform, and to inspire. We want to engage the community, consumer, government, and food industry in the discussion of food wastage, how to deal with it, and how to reduce it.”

“We [also] want to provide practical and useful information about reducing food wastage at home, and in the food and beverage industry,” Wyatt continues. “[And] we want to inspire the community through our social media network to volunteer and join the Wa’hab group in packaging and redistributing surplus food to those in need.”

(Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images)

Wa’hab’s core team is led by Sheikha Alanood Abdulaziz Al Thani, it’s Chief Executive Officer, who oversees and manages its strategic direction and functioning of the team, bringing her expertise in food microbiology testing, and a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition to the venture.

Joining hands with Sheikha Alanood to lead the company is Wardha Mamukoya, Wa’hab’s Founder and Chief Operating Officer. The brainchild behind Wa’hab, her role is to develop the company’s strategy and lead the management team towards the achievement of its goals.

Supporting Mamukoya and Sheikha Alanood, alongside Wyatt, are Wa’hab’s Chief Technical Officer Ramees Mohammed, and its Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer, Shahid Abdusalam.

ILQ sat down with Mamukoya to learn more about Wa’hab’s vision for a less wasteful future, and its dedication to serving our Qatar community. 

 (A volunteer prepares re-packaged food for delivery. Photo credit: Wa'hab)

ILQ: Tell us a bit about the background of Wa’hab and how it works?

WM: At Wa’hab, food is given a second chance to do what it does best – which is to feed people. Wa’hab is a social enterprise dedicated to connecting surplus food to those in need. [Our] mission is to help food companies, charities, consumers, and entrepreneurs collaborate to reduce food poverty and protect the environment by reducing food waste.

ILQ: How did you identify a need for a service such as Wa’hab in the community?

WM: Though there are no starvation or people dying because of hunger in Qatar, the majority of the low-income workers could benefit from the available surplus food. Low-cost or free meals will help them to save money to better their family circumstances in their home countries – which is the primary reason why they’re here.

We see and hear about food being thrown away at food outlets, which means edible food is being discarded due to a lack of awareness on who to give it to, or because of the fear of food safety regulations. Conversations with the drivers and workers here indicated that they would definitely benefit from a free meal. We identified the need for a system/network that would connect the two ends, which would simultaneously solve the problem of food wastage and food hunger by re-routing the good food from landfills to hungry bellies – where it really belongs! [Smiles]

ILQ: In your belief, what is the number one problem leading to food wastage in Qatar?

WM: Stringent food-safety regulations! More stringent safety regulation means importers/food canteens/restaurants have to be cautious on food quality or they’ll be fined. Safety regulations are adhered to but, due to unforeseen circumstances, food products are discarded for the sake of consumers’ health and adherence to government regulation.

Other factors like Break in the Cold Chain (related to weather temperature and storage), Buying Behaviour, Demand for Perfect-Looking Produce, Events such as work dinners or weddings etc. are some of the other key reasons contributing to the food wastage problem in Qatar.

(A delivery van full of re-packaged, donated food. Photo credit: Wa'hab)

ILQ: How can the public and service providers get involved with Wa’hab – either to donate or to volunteer?

WM: We at Wa’hab want the community to be involved in reaching out to those in need – and what better way to their hearts than through a warm meal?

Currently, we’re in talks with a few restaurants who are willing to donate their excess food. As the number of restaurants grow, which we hope it would, we will need volunteers who are willing to pick up the food from the participating restaurants and deliver them to specified charity units. We might also need volunteers that are certified by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to re-package the food, before it’s distributed to the needy. 

We’d also like the people to spread awareness on food wastage and the value of food. We are targeting this issue by organizing awareness campaigns at schools and universities.  We’d like the community to engage in conversation about what they can do to reduce food wastage, practice good habits at home and, of course, like and share our social media accounts. 

ILQ: Which communities does Wa’hab deliver its surplus food?

WM: We don’t directly deliver to the beneficiaries at the moment. We ensure that the surplus food is collected and delivered to our partner charities, who then do the [quality assurance] to ensure food-safety, re-package if necessary, and distribute them to the needy.

ILQ: Is it by delivery only, or are there plans to operate similar to a food bank in conjunction with charities, where individuals can also drop off non-perishable items, and those in need can pass by to collect?

WM: It’s by delivery only at the moment, and there are few food banks operated by Eid Charity, RAF Charity etc. – albeit of small scale. Wa’hab wants to establish a food bank/logistical hub in the long-term where anyone can drop off non-perishable items as well as fresh food, vegetables, and fruits.

ILQ: How can those in need of food access the services of Wa’hab? For example, can a struggling family contact Wa’hab and put in an order or request for assistance?

WM: Our first and foremost aim is to create awareness about the existence of a system/network in Qatar to connect the surplus food to those in need. Of course any struggling family can contact Wa’hab and/or our partner charities to request for assistance.

(Employees from the Radisson Blu Doha show support for Wa'hab during QIFF 2017. 

Photo credit: Wa'hab)

ILQ: What are the short- and long-term outcomes of Wa’hab for the community?

WM: Wa’hab promotes the highest use of excess un-marketable food and reduces hunger and waste by using technology and social media. Our long-term objective is to provide strategic investment to help bridge the logistics gap and economic hurdles that result in food waste, which we envision to accomplish through: 

  • Financial investment to increase the capacity of food recovery and diversion organizations, and support research and development into food waste solutions.
  • ‘No-Waste Promise’ initiatives to let consumers know which businesses and organizations are working hard to reduce waste.
  • Education tools and campaigns to inform the public, private, and consumer sectors about waste and sustainability.

ILQ: What has the feedback been like from participating food donors, volunteers, and also members of the community that Wa’hab has helped?

WM: Currently, it’s very positive, and people are very welcoming of initiatives such as Wa’hab.

ILQ: Where Wa’hab relies on donations of food that would otherwise go to waste from hotels for example, how does it address the stringent Baladiya regulations surrounding perishable food items?

WM: We deliver the food collected to charities, who have the expertise on dealing with perishable food and its safety. All the workers that handle food are certified by the MoPH – and even the containers provided have been approved by the MoPH. They comply with the standards set by the health Ministry strictly, and the charity we work with are proud to state that they have not had a single case of food poisoning for the last seven years.   

(A Wa'hab supporter at QIFF 2017. Photo credit: Wa'hab)

Want to learn more about the work of Wa’hab, or become a volunteer? Find them here:

@wahab_qa (Twitter & Instagram)

@Wa’hab (Facebook)

www.wahab.qa (Website coming soon)

How do you do your part to reduce food wastage in your home or business? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below and let us know what you think of Wa’hab’s community service. Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!