Alumni Couple Combine Business, Philanthropy During COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis may have temporarily closed their new clothing brand store in Tiburon, but it hasn’t stopped co-owners Yema Khalif Manyanki ’15 MBA ’16 and Hawi Awash ’17 from continuing to open their hearts to needy families in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The couple, who first met in 2013 as global ambassadors at Dominican, are working with Wub Alem, a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Ethiopia. That group is assisting YEMA to hire cooks to distribute hot food to starving children in their hometowns of Kibera, Kenya and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as restaurants there have been shut down because of the pandemic.

So far YEMA has provided food for more than 300 families and has delivered more than 13,000 meals to street kids and homeless people.

“This project is our way of contributing to our communities during this hard time. We are staying true to our mission and supporting those who need it most,” Hawi says.

The community-minded efforts of Yema, Hawi, and their friend, Tegist Worku, falls in line with other Dominican alumni, students, and faculty who have remained connected and engaged during the pandemic.

YEMA Inc. was the brainstorm of Yema, who delivered the Senior Address at Commencement in 2015 while graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Communications and Media Studies. The next year, Yema returned to Dominican to complete his MBA. That is when his personal relationship with Hawi, who earned her BA in Pre-Med and Humanities with a minor in Public Health, evolved into a business partnership. 

Yema raised funding, registered the company, and utilized samples of the sketches he had created to launch an e-commerce site. The business partners then established an online presence with YEMA Inc. and attended trade shows and events in Atlanta, Chicago, Minnesota, Texas, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

Yema designs the clothes and oversees design development, production and execution. Hawi oversees brand operations, marketing, community outreach and sales. They both put to use the skills they learned at Dominican, specifically people management and how to effectively communicate, and combined those with techniques how on to communicate their goals and develop a successful business plan.

Finally, on February 15 of this year, they opened their Ethiopian inspired urban wear store and their customers have included legendary musician Carlos Santana (posing with Yema and Hawi for photo above) and Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson. On March 7, YEMA celebrated the store’s grand opening in downtown Tiburon. Unfortunately the coronavirus outbreak and shelter-in-place order forced them to close their doors nine days later.

“Nevertheless, we are increasing our online presence through our social media platforms,” Yema says. “Even though the shutdown has paralyzed our brick and mortar, we have been busy bringing smiles to the communities we serve in slums in Kibera and Addis Ababa.”

That was their intent all along. YEMA Inc. had a mission to support the education of orphaned children in Kenya and Ethiopia from the start. Yema says Kibera is the second-largest slum in the world. He has worked tirelessly to provide educational opportunities to children growing up in his hometown because residents of Kibera are always at a disadvantage and most of the people who live there make under two dollars a day in wages.

“Through our company, we donated in bulk essential groceries such as flour, cooking oil, rice and beans to around 150 families in Kibera,” Yema says. “In addition we donated hygienic supplies including soaps and pads to 350 girls living in Kibera.”

Hawi is a long time champion of education, housing and food for homeless/orphaned children in Ethiopia. She was a refugee in Kenya before relocating with her family to the United States. She experienced first-hand what poverty felt like in Ethiopia and continues to work to provide better opportunities for children in Addis Ababa.

“In Ethiopia we started by donating essential groceries and hygienic supplies to 150 vulnerable families,” Hawi says. “We managed to raise funds and start feeding 600 plus street kids along with the homeless population last month.”

For Hawi and Yema, their concerns for the children of Kenya and Ethiopia escalated with the coronavirus. Though closing their business temporarily was difficult, their cause to bring comfort to kids in their homelands fueled a GoFundMe fundraising campaign.

“During COVID-19, schools around the globe have closed resulting in more household hunger because most kids eat their only meal at school,” Hawi says. “People in the slums and vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are taking to the streets to find food. Parents are having to feed their families with no jobs or means of getting basic needs. Knowing this reality, we are reaching out to our customers and anyone who can help. This is an ongoing initiative until the lockdown is lifted.”

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