President and CEO of AGT Foods, Murad Al-Katib, was picked from 59 individuals representing 49 countries and named EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2017. He was chosen not only for his success in building a business empire focused on providing vegetable protein to the developing world, but also for helping to feed refugees.
Image credit: EY Canada via Twitter
The Canadian, born to immigrant parents, said he was very proud to be accepting the award in an audience of other country winners, but also used his moment on stage to tell the audience that he believed that labels such as social entrepreneurship were out of date.
“There’s just entrepreneurship,” he said. “Social cause is not only important for business, it’s essential. I’ve been given this platform now and I want to use it to change the way that our businesses engage with their stakeholders around the world,” he added.
AGT went public in 2007 and has been increasing revenues by an average of more than $100m a year to $1.4bn in 2016. It has made 17 acquisitions in 15 years and now runs 46 manufacturing facilities and employs 2,000 people around the world. In South Africa, AGT Foods represents the Retail, Hospitality, Spices, Ingredients, Popcorn, Bakery and Protein Divisions as well as Pouyoukas Foods, which falls under the Retail Division and is sold through all major supermarkets in South Africa. The company’s produce accounts for more than 20% of world trade in lentils.
Sustainable agriculture, refugee relief
Al-Katib has used his manufacturing and distribution network to deliver more than 4 million family ration packs to international agencies for Syrian refugees under the UN World Food Programme.
In 2016, he was named Global Citizen Laureate by the United Nations Association in Canada. In March this year he was one of four people (including Elon Musk the founder of Tesla electric carmaker and SpaceX) honoured with the Oslo Business for Peace Awards. Al-Katib received the award for his contributions to sustainable agriculture and feeding refugees.
“When I look at the emerging markets of the world, a basic building block of civil society is available food. A baby is hungry, it cries. A young man is hungry, he gets angry. It’s civil unrest. It’s war,” Al-Katib told the FT in a video interview earlier this week.
He explained that he was particularly motivated to provide protein in vegetable form as opposed to meat because meat production takes a greater toll on the environment. “Water is one of our scarcest resources,” he said, pointing out that lentils require far less water to grow than beef. “To meet our food targets in the future, we need to create 2 billion vegetarians,” he said.
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