When Shelina Mawani followed her love of cooking and a yearning to remember a piece of her heritage, never did she realize that her entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit would be recognized globally.
Mawani, Co-founder of Nana’s Kitchen and Hot Sauces Ltd, was recently conferred the prestigious Bharat Samman Global Leader Award at the 30th NRI World Summit at the House of Lords in London, England this past October. The NRI Institute, a non-profit non-governmental organization, awarded non-resident Indians (NRI’s) from fourteen countries for outstanding achievements in their chosen field and for their contribution to the socio-economic development of India along with the country of their origin.
The only Canadian woman honoured was Mawani, for promoting heritage and entrepreneurship. Born and raised in Tanzania, she moved to Canada in 1983 and noticed immediately the divide between various South Asian cultures which she set out to bridge through the common thread of food. She and her sister Nasim Dhanji established Nana’s Kitchen in year 2000 and have never looked back since.
Surrey-based Nana’s Kitchen produces nearly 25,000 samosas per day in seven different flavours in an effort to fuse people of Indian origin and feed the demand of hungry consumers ready to partake in the culture through their taste buds. Available at the deli counter at over 5,000 grocery stores and in restaurants across North America, Nana’s Kitchen’s mission to become a household name is well under way.
“I remember when I was a little girl and my mother used to donate food to the needy,” reflects Mawani. “This is when I first learned about leprosy and it just pulled at my heart.” A natural leader, Mawani became the chair of her local Lioness Club at the age of 21 and organized her first fundraiser for Leprosy Aid. She recalls the event fondly as it set her on the path of philanthropy.
“When I think back to those days back home, the question of caste and religion was not even a question when it came to helping someone, we all were simply just one community trying to preserve a piece of our Indian heritage; and this is what I work towards here — breaking down the barriers between different community groups who work to preserve a piece of our Indian heritage and culture.”
Mawani supports numerous community initiatives and charities, she employs immigrant women in her factory and sets them up with proper training, and speaks about women’s empowerment to crowds across the globe. When asked about the secret to her success, she shares that leadership starts at home with a simple idea and loved ones to support you. “Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help, there is always someone there to catch you.”