Iman Reda of GEDCO on the growing influence of young voices in the Global Pulse Confederation.
By Dario Bard
Change is inevitable, but progress is optional. With these words, Hakan Bahceci, outgoing president of the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC, formerly known as CICILS), opened his farewell address at the Las Vegas Convention in April. His speech highlighted the accomplishments of his tenure and how they have positioned the pulse industry for the future. Of these accomplishments, none is likely to have a greater far reaching impact than the inclusion of young voices at the highest levels of the GPC.
The effort to engage the industry’s youngest members hit its first milestone in 2012, with the establishment of the CICILS Young Professionals (CYP) — now known as GPCYP — at the Dubai Convention. CYP was born out of the GPC leadership’s recognition of the emergence of the next generation of pulse industry leaders.
“They have grown up with instant communication across the globe. They understand the power of social media and the internet,” said Bahceci in Las Vegas. “The CYP is an opportunity to harness their energy and expressed desire to contribute to the improvement of the industry. These young people will be the future of our industry.”
As one of the final acts of his presidency, Bahceci proposed amending the GPC bylaws to incorporate a CYP representative as a full member on the executive committee. This change was approved at the general assembly in Las Vegas and Iman Reda of GEDCO, a pulse trading company based in Toronto, Canada, was elected as the first CYP representative to the GPC executive committee.
At the convention, IFT had the opportunity to speak with Reda about her professional background and her involvement with the GPCYP.
IFT: Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your professional background?
Reda: My brother, Saleh, and I were born into the family business. Our parents, Mohamed and Haifa, founded GEDCO in 1984, and as children, we grew up in the office. So as we got older, the family business became something we had a passion for and we desired to continue. In fact, my father always told us we should only go into the business if it was something we wanted to do. When they founded the company, they made the decision for themselves and they did not wish to impose it on someone else. As it turned out, both my brother and I decided to join them, and today the four of us run the company.
The GEDCO name comes from what my father saw the company as: General Dealers of Commodities. From GEDCO’s beginnings, it has been involved with pulses and grains. We deal in pulses from several sources, including Canada, the U.S., Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, China, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. We source popcorn from Brazil, but as the country is expected to grow its pulse production, we plan to source pulses from there, as well. The markets we supply are in the Middle East and North Africa. That has a lot to do with my parents’ background; my father is Egyptian of Turkish descent and my mother is Iraqi.
IFT: How did you personally become involved in the pulse trade?
Reda: I started in the business around 1995, when I was in high school and worked part time. It just so happened that at that time, Canada was increasing its pulse production. I was fortunate to enter in a company with a solid reputation and strong, rooted business values and ethics. So I learned a lot from my parents and their connections in the Canadian and MENA pulse industries.
When I started working with pulses, a lot of the Canadian processors were family owned businesses like ours. Today there are bigger, public companies involved. The industry is now consolidating, but in the late ’90s and early 2000s, they were smaller and family owned. It was an environment that I really liked, and in today’s changing environment, I am glad our family company maintains its presence.
Another thing I like about working with pulses is that it is a product that helps people. It helps them stay healthy. It is a nutritious product that people are going to always need. I like knowing that.
Of course, the pulse trade has its challenges. It is not to be compared with grains, for example. It is a specialty crop, so the level of specialized type of fluctuation is great. I like that challenge. I like analyzing a lot of factors, like the political situation and the economic realities. Human psychology also plays a big role when you are trading pulses. In a way, pulses is the perfect word for these commodities. Trading them sets your pulse racing.
IFT: Can you elaborate on that?
Reda: Everyone who deals in pulses is in a constantly changing environment. Market prices, currencies, oil prices, shipments, logistics—these things are in constant flux. So you are always dealing with people who are potentially operating under very stressful conditions.
You get a lot of different perspectives in this business. That is one reason I love to trade pulses, because you always see a very different aspect of things. There is the public relations side of it, the legality behind it, the purchasing and marketing, the trading and the development of new ideas, like what Belle Pulses, BCP and more recently AGT are doing, creating value-added products. I love the fact that our industry, even though it is so small in some respects, compared to grains for instance, has so many diverse sides to it.
IFT: How did you first become involved with GPCYP?
Reda: Hakan Bahceci and Gavin Gibson asked that I become involved in something of this sort. They asked me if it would be something that interested me and if I felt there was a need for it in the industry. I felt there was.
I have been in the industry for a long time now. I was in it part-time during high school and dedicated myself full-time to it after graduating from university in 2003. At that time, I and just a few others were the only younger people in the pulse industry. Everyone else was much more experienced. I learned a lot from my more experienced peers, and, thankfully, they guided and helped me.
I remember as I was getting more involved in the industry, the younger generation would ask me if I could help them get into it. I encouraged them to talk to this person or that person, and get direction from the people with the most experience. I realized then that there is that desire from young people to be involved, but sometimes they shy away from it because they do not know that they can easily connect with and talk to the older generations.
Then the other side of the coin is there was a big concern of how we were going to have a proper succession on the executive board, to make sure that GPC continues and there is a process in place to provide for youth representation. Slowly, we are setting up those structures and bylaws.
IFT: It sounds like Hakan and Gavin saw you as a nexus and asked for your help in forming CYP.
Reda: Yes, I suppose so. What they ended up doing was encouraging people under 35 to come to the Dubai Convention and meet and listen to the direction the organization was taking. There was good attendance, about 30 young people, who formed and are considered the founders of GPCYP. Then, at the following convention, in Singapore, the coordinators were chosen. We were set up in groups and brainstormed about how to involve youth and get this going. From then until now, GPCYP has been more of a social network. That will change when we start to build more ties on the standing committees and connect young professionals with more experienced people.
For now, for instance, in Las Vegas, we had a GPCYP event at the Bellagio Hotel. This sort of social gathering is important to build a network of friendship first. We believe in the long-term these friendships are going to lead to ethical business dealings because it will decrease the temptation to do something wrong. People will start seeing each other as friends, as people they hang out with at meetings like this one or get together when they travel the world. The idea is, whenever a GPCYP member is in a foreign country, he or she can contact the organization and see if there is another GPCYP representative there that can connect with them. These social ties are very important to keep the intentions behind contracts more binding.
IFT: I see there is a GPCYP panel on Wednesday.
Reda: Yes, I will be among my fellow coordinators. There are five of us that are going to be leading the session alongside our mentors, who share their expectations with us and help us as we look to merge their ideas going forward and generate youth interest in the industry. There is a large group of people who are from a new generation and do not necessarily share the same outlook as the more experienced industry members. We need to combine the two mindsets because they are both very important and necessary when setting the direction for the industry.
I am quite excited about this session because we will discuss how the youth voice can be heard in the industry. As Hakan announced, I am now going to be an official voting member on the executive committee. That is where succession is basically formed and now youth has a voice to articulate a vision that meshes with the fundamentals of the organization.
This marks the first time GPCYP will have a voting representative on the executive committee. Fortunately, we’ve had observer status for a couple of years before then.
Video: GPCYP panel discussion at the 2015 World Pulses Convention
Also, prior to the establishment of GPCYP in 2012, I was engaged in a lot of standby committees. I was on the dispute resolution group with Andrew Jacobs. Also I assisted on the speakers committee for this convention, in addition to being involved with GPCYP, founding it and leading it with my fellow coordinators, Atheeqe Ansari (Emco, UAE), Faisal Majeed (Bombi’s Group, Pakistan), Elyce Simpson (Simpson Seeds, Canada) and Mattia Pedon (ACOS, China). We were the five coordinators chosen to lead the CYP. Today, we have about 40 members.
IFT: You mentioned a different mindset among the industry’s youth. Can you elaborate on that difference?
Reda: I should clarify that it is not a drastic difference. It is more that there are a lot of young people coming into the industry that are really excited and passionate about getting involved. These young people are part of the social media generation. We like to have quick information and we want to be involved early on to generate quick results.
At the same time, it is important for this influx of young professionals to appreciate that it took years for the industry to establish the GPC and position it where it is today, to the point where the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.
So young people need to get onboard with what the previous generation has built. That is the mergence we are trying to develop right now.
It is a very exciting time to be a CYP coordinator. One of the things we would like to see is greater youth involvement in IYOP thematic areas so that the next generation understands how to properly take this industry to the next level.
It really is an exciting time for young people in the pulse industry. We have the opportunity to leave our mark.
New GPCYP Coordinators shall be:
GPCYP Observer to Coordinators shall be:
- Tala Mobayen of Victoria Pulse, Canada
- Andac Kolukisa of Natural Gida San Ve Tic A.S., Turkey
- Matías G. Macera of Desdelsur S.A., Argentina
- Daiyan Adam of Marina Commodities, Canada