Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support.
In this week’s Tillman Tuesday we chat with 2014 Tillman Scholar Kimberly Jung who recently graduated from Harvard Business School and will now focus full time on her benefit corporation, Rumi Spice, which she co-founded in May, 2014. How Rumi Spice serves their customers benefits Afghanistan, specifically Afghan farmers – with no tradeoff between the financial and social return. Kimberly will visit Afghanistan at the end of this summer to oversee the process facility Rumi Spice established in response to saffron production doubling this year. The facility will employ 200 Afghan women to pick and process and cut and dry the saffron.
What inspired you to join the Army?
“My parents were immigrants from Hong Kong and I grew up in Los Angeles, learning a very strong work ethic from them. They instilled the belief in me that I could succeed wherever I went as long as I worked hard and had big dreams. One thing I wanted to do was go lead people, see the world and see what I was made of, so West Point seemed like a very logical choice for me. I graduated from West Point in 2008, studying mechanical engineering. Then then I got commissioned in the Army and was stationed in Germany.
I served for five years, including one deployment to Afghanistan. I started out in horizontal construction and then got orders to be a route clearance platoon leader. After that, I did gate construction, project construction management and was also part of a reconstruction team which consisted of going out and talking with Afghan village women so that was pretty exciting.”
What was it like for you to be part of the reconstruction team and interacting with Afghan women?
“It was great because I actually got to talk to people who I would not have otherwise talked to. We met with just groups of women, no men or kids. We talked to them about what they need, want and what their hopes and dreams were. It was so interesting to see what their hopes and dreams were. I wanted to talk to them more about what they could do since it’s really hard for them to visualize a world outside of Afghanistan.”
What did you learn most about yourself through your deployment?
“I learned about civilians and being able to break the culture gap. My American upbringing and the Afghan culture made me realize that people have a lot more in common than they think they do. I learned about team building, negotiation and working with other platoons on joint missions. I felt those missions were the greatest because we were fulfilling the purpose of why we were there. It comes down to working with your partners in Afghanistan and coming to a mutual understanding. On a person level I learned a lot about leadership and what it takes to become a good leader. Effective leadership comes from behind – equipping your soldiers with the best possible support so that they can do an excellent job. When I was a platoon leader, the biggest thing for me was empowerment.”
How did the idea to start Rumi Spice transpire and how did you come up with the name?
“My co-founder Keith and I were on the phone while he was in Afghanistan as an advisor. He was telling me about this farmer who was attempting to find local business opportunities and was given a lot of promises but none of them were fulfilled. The farmer had all this saffron with nowhere to go. I was in my first year at Harvard Business School and I was thinking, ‘what would I do with my one wild and precious life?’ It’s something that hit me because every day I wake up I want to do something that will make an impact – so I started a business. I bought myself a ticket to Afghanistan and took my Entrepreneurship professor with me. We met up with Keith and other farmers. I bought saffron from some of the farmers. They gave me some of the most beautiful saffron I’ve ever seen, smelled and tasted, so I brought it to the states and started selling it. That’s how it all started!”
“Rumi is a 13th century Persian philosopher and poet who was born in Afghanistan. Some of his poems are about love and going back to your roots that define who you are. I feel that our company Rumi Spice needs to do that – we’re really trying to bring the communities back together after years of struggle. Rumi Spice is one of those initiatives and companies that is trying to bring people back together in two ways, in both business and in food. From a business side, people earn direct income they can be proud of and own. Saffron is a spice that you bring out for special occasions because you want to show that you love the people you are sharing it with.”
Why did you decide to focus on the Afghan farmers?
“Afghan farmers serve 80 percent of the population and half of them are below the Afghan poverty line. In my mind it’s more about them. It’s about getting them a direct income through international trade and giving them access to market, which I feel is the most important thing for the filter part of the B Corporation.”
How did you learn about the Tillman Scholarship and what made you decide to apply?
“I learned about it from some of my friends as well as Service to School – which I am still an ambassador for. I was told about the great community the Tillman Scholars are and how there is a great group of vets out there doing inspirational things .I decided I wanted to be part of it. To me, it’s about being part of a really awesome group of vets who are like-minded and have common goals and interests who can help each other out through this network. “
What has being a Tillman Scholar allowed you to do that maybe you feel you may not have otherwise had the opportunity to do?
“I’ve reached out to various scholars to recruit help and advice for growing Rumi Spice. I’ve also had people reach out to me and as a result I’ve been able to share with them my own business and leadership experiences. In some cases, I’ve inspired them to do something on their own. I appreciate the platform and opportunity to talk about Rumi Spice and what I’m doing as part of the community.”
Now that you’ve graduated and earned your degree, what’s next for you?
“At the conclusion of summer I will move to Washington D.C. and focusing on Rumi Spice full time, stretching out these markets. We’re trying to get into distributers (online, wholesale, distribution and retail) – we’re in all four channels right now except for distribution. We’re going to continue to push our online sales because it’s the most profitable and it’s the most scalable right now.”
*** Right now Rumi Spice is offering 10% off all their products when you enter the code Tillman Tuesday. If you are interested in being an ambassador for Rumi Spice, you can contact Kimberly at: [email protected]