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‘I’ve always felt like I want to discover more in life and through my work with Buy Food with Plastic I can do exactly that.’
Khalil from Zurich is an ocean lover and it was seeing Nicaragua’s plastic problem first-hand that inspired him to become the founder of Buy Food with Plastic – a movement that’s helping to tackle poverty and encourage upcycling at the same time. He says English has 100% got him where he is today.
His journey has taken him from wanting to become a professional soccer player to completing a banking apprenticeship, but it was his lifelong dream to start something bigger, something that really inspired him.
Languages have always played a big part in my life. I speak English, Spanish, German and French; I was born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland. My father is Moroccan and my mum is half Spanish and half Swiss, so they often communicated in French at home, which helped me to pick up French quite quickly.
English has 100% been the key to getting me where I am today. The multinational organisation I initiated and co-founded is operating on four continents and without my English skills that would never have been possible. When I was younger, I actually wanted to be a professional soccer player, but it didn’t work out. The competition was too high and training six days a week was too much to balance with schoolwork. However, it was always clear to me that I wanted to create something big and meaningful. That was always my dream.
It was always clear to me that I wanted to create something big and meaningful.
My English journey started in the seventh grade when I was 12 years old, but I didn’t improve because my teacher couldn’t speak German. She could only explain the grammar in English, and since I didn’t know any English, it was very tough for me to keep up with her lessons. In Switzerland we have the option to do an apprenticeship in high school, and I did mine at the Cantonal Bank of Zurich (three years), where I continued working for three more years afterwards. I lacked English when I was doing the apprenticeship, and we were preparing for B2 First and I failed, but that just motivated me to work even harder.
During this time, I also did half a year in the Swiss military. When I came back to banking, I realised there must be more out there and I went to see the world. After the apprenticeship, I joined a traineeship that gave me the opportunity to travel to Orange County and San Diego in California, where I took my English studies to a new level and I achieved a C1 Advanced qualification from Cambridge English. I studied hard to improve my English skills and it paid off.
I then decided to study international management here in Zurich. As part of my degree, I had to spend one year abroad, so I went to Medellín, Colombia, where I also learned Spanish while studying at the University EAFIT. During a semester break in 2018, I went to Nicaragua and it struck me that the land was full of plastic. I asked locals – what do you do with that trash? I was told that nobody comes, nobody picks it up and there isn’t a clear plan to recycle this plastic. In the worst case, some locals use the plastic as tinder to make fire and cook over it. I’m not from a wealthy background but seeing this made me feel very privileged and I felt I had to give something back. It was the motivation I needed to come up with a concept to give my contribution to society and nature, and it all went from there.
I wondered how we could tackle the hunger crisis and the plastic problem all together. I organised an event with music, where people could come and exchange 10 plastic bottles for warm meals. It was a huge success, and lots of children came. When I went back to Zurich, the media had heard about our movement and the four inspiring female leaders, Anna Gracia Herbst, Xenia Meier, Elena Hauptmann and Lena Götsch helped me professionalise this idea.
Looking back there were many moments that were hard, and I almost gave up – I had problems with my own mental health and there were times when I thought I couldn’t do this. But what inspired me the most were the kids who were coming to our events. If this was just a start-up to make money, I would have stopped a long time ago, but since there was more to it than only money, I carried on. I’ve always felt like I want to discover more in life and through my work with Buy Food with Plastic I can do exactly that.
Currently, I’m working on Buy Food with Plastic’s World Changing Campaign to raise money to support 24,000 people in Nicaragua, Ghana and India with over 400,000 meals during the Covid-19 pandemic. This project is our mission and we rely on people’s willingness to help out, and their generosity has been incredible so far. We are currently fundraising for the project worldwide. We also want to build a factory in Nicaragua to upcycle the plastic bottles we received from the locals, which they used to buy the meals.
From a personal point of view, I want to have a wonderful wife and a big family in the future.
About Khalil Radi
Khalil has taken C1 Advanced in California and he is the founder of Buy Food with Plastic.
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