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Farah Al Chammas: Finding Home and Community At the Dinner Table

Farah Al Chammas: Finding Home and Community At the Dinner Table

Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to Farah Al Chammas, an entrepreneur working to make the world a better place through her work with Okel, which she founded and now leads as CEO. Are you ready to be enlightened?

Spiffy: Welcome to the blog, Farah. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Okel?

Farah: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! A pre-pandemic Harvard study reports that 61% of young adults are lonely frequently to almost all of the time. Unfortunately, COVID didn’t exactly cause this issue, but further amplified it. Loneliness has been a brewing epidemic plaguing society, not only in the US, but around the world, and specifically in countries with growingly industrial societies. It’s an issue that costs the US alone $7 billion extra every year. Loneliness is caused by people not knowing who to hang out with, when to hang out, and what to do/where to go. Okel solves this by facilitating the curation, scheduling, and reservations of more meaningful meals at local restaurants for new and old friends, for individuals and communities.

Spiffy: What a fascinating idea! What motivated you to do it?

Farah: Okel was inspired by my own journey of experiencing loneliness upon graduating, of realizing that most of my friends were suddenly across the world, and of struggling to make new friends on the existing social apps. Given my background understanding the power of sharing meals, I took everything I learned from the only job I had post graduation in research strategy and launched an extensive quantitative and qualitative study to understand the extent of loneliness, how people experience it, how people build community and find friends outside work and school, and how they hang out with friends. From the data that I found, I ideated Okel’s first MVP, which I launched in NYC a month later.

Spiffy: Can you elaborate on how you and your organization are working towards a more equitable world?

Farah: At Okel, we're building the future of community at the dinner table. Everyone eats. Throughout human history, communal feasting has contributed to our evolution according to anthropologists. Yet the evolution of technology and social media has magnetized us to our screens and away from each other, so that our very evolution is now at stake. Okel solves this by making it as easy as possible for more people to share more meals more often.

Spiffy: I love this! Tell me about a recent Okel milestone or initiative and the impact that it has on your community.

Farah: Okel has connected more than 320 users over meaningful meals at local restaurants throughout multiple low-fidelity MVPs that aimed to measure Okel's impact for different use cases, all without any paid marketing!

Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?

Farah: I consider failure as a teacher. When I first moved to the US from Syria in 2013 for asylum, I only knew basic English, and while I spent my entire first year in class writing words I’d never heard of, I pushed through no matter how many times I got things wrong, until I ended up with above average SAT scores. Despite having been rejected from many universities, I was admitted to a dream top-20 university and received a full-ride merit-based scholarship for creatively pursuing my passions and following my curiosity. I learned that only I get to define my refugee experience. It doesn’t define me.

Spiffy: That’s a wonderful note to end on, Farah. Thanks for speaking with me today—it’s been an honor!

An intuitive creator and instinctive leader, Farah Al Chammas has been building and leading for as long as she can remember, turning friend hangouts to boardroom meetings with printed agendas in middle school, building and leading a team of more than 100 students in college, and now founding Okel, which was inspired by her journey finding home at the dinner table after leaving Syria for asylum in 2013, then living, working, and studying in five different countries and visiting many more. (Nominated by Josef Scarantino at Hubspot Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 25, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.