Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

Portrait of a Nation: the man who wants to feed the world

An experience from his childhood made Khaled Diab want to find a way to feed the less fortunate

Khaled Diab founded Nefsy to help feed the world's hungry. Reem Mohammed / The National
Khaled Diab founded Nefsy to help feed the world's hungry. Reem Mohammed / The National

A stroll down a busy street in Egypt more than 30 years ago was a Dubai resident’s source of inspiration to help find a way to feed the less fortunate.

Khaled Diab was seven when his father’s business failed; his mother worked for the government and the pair struggled to make ends meet.

In their home town of Giza, he and his two younger brothers lived simply and their pocket money consisted of any change his parents could spare. Mr Diab collected coins for six months, saving for a scoop of ice cream.

His cool prize was barely in his hand when a boy younger than him spotted it and told his mother he wanted one too. She told her son she did not have any money but the boy cried “nefsy” (I am craving it).

Unable to shake off his cries, Mr Diab gave the boy his ice cream.

“I was a child and, for a second, I blamed myself for giving away my ice cream but then I thought of the smile on his face. Drawing a smile on his face gave me more satisfaction and happiness,” Mr Diab said, now aged 42. That day he told himself he would try recreate that feeling by helping feed the hungry.

Like many who grow up in hard conditions, Mr Diab’s goal, for the longest time, was to “become rich”. He studied hard to earn a BA in commerce from Cairo University and went on to achieve a master’s degree from the American University of Cairo.

This drive brought him to Abu Dhabi in 2008, when he accepted a job at a trading company before moving to Dubai in 2014 to work for a logistics firm.

There are more than 800 million hungry people around the world

Khaled Diab

There, an encounter with a hungry resident reminded him of the promise he made to himself as a child.

“[The company] had invited a group of VIPs to dinner. We ordered nine courses and each one as small as a spoon full. I paid a large sum of money but my guests were still hungry and so was I,” he said.

The group drove to a fast-food restaurant and bought Dh12 sandwiches instead. As he walked out of the restaurant, someone grabbed his hand and told him he was starving.

“I gave him Dh20 but he pushed the money away and told me he was not begging for money and that he only wanted to eat.”

Mr Diab gave him his sandwich and thought of the thousands of dirhams that were wastefully spent on an expensive, unsatisfying meal that could have fed dozens of people.

“There are more than 800 million hungry people around the world with as many as 25,000 people dying of starvation every day. It got me thinking that those dying must have been hungry for months and wondered how I could help.”

His answer was Nefsy, a mobile phone app that allows its user to feed the hungry while also feeding themselves.

“We don’t donate money every day but we do eat every day. That's why I thought of linking doing good to others with eating.”

Users buy a meal from one of the registered restaurants, through the app, and Emirates Red Crescent, who agreed to partner with Mr Diab, will match that providing a meal to someone in need in one of the 38 countries they operate in.

“For years, my focus was on becoming rich but the unchangeable fact of life ending in death, changed my focus towards leaving something that would outlive me,” he said.

Nefsy officially launched last month, after a trial in June, and has since been downloaded by nearly 6,000 people.

Mr Diab signed agreements with Dubai Government and more than 300 restaurants to offer users meals at discounts of up to 50 per cent.

“There are no charges, donations and no hidden fees. It’s clear and simple, for all meals ordered through the dine-in app, equal meals are distributed to the hungry by the ERC,” he said.

Users are also rewarded with certificates that tell them how many people they have helped feed by using the app. He presented the app, which is available for download for android and iOS devices, at Gitex Technology Week.

“We started from UAE where I was introduced to diverse and beautiful cultures, and I really hope that UAE’s around 10 million people will help feed much more than a 10 million hungry people.”

Updated: October 10, 2019 05:18 PM

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