Client Spotlight: Kimberly Jung – Rumi Spice

150 150 Vivek Jayaram

What is Rumi Spice?  We are a group of military veterans who served in Afghanistan who believe that peace is achieved through economic empowerment. Rumi Spice connects Afghan farmers to the international market through saffron, the world’s “Queen of Spices.”

Your story is so inspiring.  How was Rumi Spice Formed?  Three of the cofounders: Keith, Kim and Emily all served as Army officers in Afghanistan. In 2014, Keith an Army engineer officer who worked with regional governments in Afghanistan, approached his friend Kim, whom he had met while working for the Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Sandy in New York, about the idea of marketing Afghan saffron. Kim  had been an Army engineer officer who searched for roadside bombs in Afghanistan. She was then at Harvard Business School with Emily, also a former Army engineer officer, who had assisted Special Operations on night raids. Rumi’s fourth founder, Carol Wang, had worked in Afghanistan on a World Bank-backed rural development program. Kim bought a ticket to Afghanistan to meet with Keith and other farmers in the summer of 2014 after her first year at business school.

Tell us a little about the problem you’re solving. Our farmers were skeptical at first, since they have seen so many well-intentioned people coming and going. We stayed and continued to export more and more saffron, even improving upon the supply chain process by reinvesting our earnings into better drying machines, a clean processing facility, and working capital support for our farmers. Now the farmers see us as customers and business partners, which is a stronger bond than any charity or military can bring about. Also, one of the arguments for bringing saffron to an international market is that it could give Afghan farmers an alternative to growing opium poppies, a source of heroin.

Tell us a little about the challenges you’re facing with the company.  The supply chain is a very international one that crosses cultures, languages, and currencies. Rumi Spice has three processing centers in Herat, Afghanistan and hires 1,952 Afghan women, which makes us the largest private employer of Afghan women. Delicate saffron threads, handpicked from crocus flowers by our Afghan women, are dried and shipped to an old meatpacking plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, where they are then inspected, cleaned and packaged for restaurants in Chicago and New York.

Are you currently fundraising?  Yes, we are fundraising! Contact us at keith@rumispice.com.

What’s on the horizon for Rumi Spice?  We aim to become the next spice company bringing the full spectrum of flavor, culture, and the connection with people across the globe. Where goods don’t cross, armies will. Spices for peace!

 

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