2014 Awardee: Alfa Demmellash,CEO, Rising Tide Capital, Inc.
Born and raised in Ethiopia, Alfa’s Mother fled a brutal dictatorship, and saved up money for Alfa to come to America by sewing beautiful gowns and selling them. Alfa came to the United States at the age of twelve with a keen interest in poverty alleviation and conflict resolution. She graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2003, where she majored in Government. During her time at Harvard, her interest in conflict resolution brought her to Rwanda.
Recognizing the role poverty played in fueling conflicts, Alfa turned her focus to economic empowerment as a strategy to achieve peaceful societies. Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Alfa co-founded Rising Tide Capital – a nonprofit microbusiness-development organization that supports underserved entrepreneurs in the low-income urban communities of Northern New Jersey.
Since 2004, Alfa has been the Chief Executive Officer of Rising Tide Capital, headquartered on Martin Luther King Drive in Jersey City. The organization runs the Community Business Academy – an intensive business training session coupled with year-round coaching and mentorship that equips marginalized entrepreneurs to better operate their small businesses. Many of these individuals use the increased earnings from their business to supplement their low wages, allowing them to better provide for their families and transform the face of their communities. To date, there are 963 graduates of the Community Business Academy. There are 400 Rising Tide Entrepreneurs currently in business, with another 400 in the planning stages.
In August 2012, Alfa was recognized as one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women Changing the World with Philanthropy. In 2010, Alfa was awarded honorary doctorates from St. Peter’s University and New Jersey City University. She also received the Future Global Leader award at the World Business Forum and the Humanitarian Award at the American Conference on Diversity. In 2009, Alfa was selected and profiled as a CNN Hero, and recognized by President Barack Obama during a speech at the White House. Alfa and Rising Tide Capital have been featured in a number of major media outlets including the Suze Orman Show, The Larry King Show, O, The Oprah Magazine, Inc.com, BusinessWeek.com, The Star-Ledger, Entrepreneur.com as well Essence Magazine’s 40th anniversary edition where she was recognized as a “40 under 40 Dream Maker.” Alfa was the 2007 recipient of the Redbook Strengths and Spirits Award and Avon’s Hello Tomorrow Fund Award for working with women entrepreneurs.
Alfa currently serves on the boards of St. Peter’s University and Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship, education, conflict resolution, and the environment.
2013 Awardee: Samia Bahsoun, President and CEO of S2 Associates International
Samia Bahsoun came to the U.S. from Senegal in 1979, where she earned her M. Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and completed Ph. D. Level work in electro-optics at the Polytechnic University of New York. She later trained with the Ford Institute of Integrative Coaching at JFK University.
As a serial entrepreneur and small business owner, Samia has founded and managed 3 telecom start-ups in the telecommunication equipment and services sector. A pioneer of fiber optics and DWDM technologies, Samia founded in 1997 a premiere global fiber optics consulting firm, SetWave Communications. In 1999, she launched and privately funded FiberWorx, the first privately owned fiber characterization and DWDM testing firm.
In 2000, she sold FiberWorx, a company she had grown from of a firm of 9 employees to over 70 employees, to Tyco Telecommunications (TyCom).
In 2003, Samia and Swee Wong co-founded S2 Associates International, a telecommunications consulting firm that that specializes in the design, development, procurement and implementation of broadband network infrastructure worldwide, focusing on undersea and terrestrial fiber optic networks. S2 Associates develops domestic backbone and international fiber optics networks to private operators, service providers and government institutions in Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America and Asia.
Samia is receiving tonight’s award in recognition of her ardent advocacy for local issues that affect her community, as well as statewide and federal issues. As an immigrant and naturalized citizen, an entrepreneur in the high-tech sector, a small business owner and a woman, Samia’s advocacy addresses the many issues by which she has personally been impacted.
As an advisory board member of the Main Street Alliance of New Jersey, Samia participates in press conferences, writes letters to the editor and op-eds, and takes any opportunity to help contribute to public dialogue on important issues. She has attended several lobby visits to Washington, most recently in July, where she attended the President’s briefing on Healthcare.
Samia also serves on several boards to promote economic development in underserved areas, locally and globally. She is the President of the Executive Committee of the International Telecommunications Council for Lebanon; the Ambassador to the Americas of SAMENA, the South Asia, Middle- East, North Africa Telecommunications Council, and co-chairs the SAMENA Subsea Cable Working Group. She currently serves as a judge and a coach for the MIT Arab Business Plan and MIT Grow your Business competitions and serves as mentor to students and young professionals.
A peace activist, Samia, an Arab-American of Muslim descent, partnered with Brenda Rosenberg, an American Jew, to co-found the Tectonic Leadership Center for Conflict Transformation and Cross-Cultural Communication, combating Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism.