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Obada Otabashi

Obada fled Syria and settled in Belgium where he founded We Exist with like-minded individuals. We Exist is a Syrian restaurant facilitating access into the labour market for those who fled persecution and conflict.

Obada's entrepreneurial journey

We Exist is an organisation created and managed by Syrian people. The aim is to facilitate access into the labour market for people who have fled conflict and persecution. We Exist aims to promote participation in socio-economic and cultural life and to raise awareness of Syrian culture and traditions. They organise lunches, dinners, and cultural-culinary events in their restaurant as well as catering for professional and private events.

Obada Otabashi

The idea behind We Exist is that good meal can bring people together to create a warm and convivial atmosphere. And this is something they have already done. Exchanging experiences, culture, food, living together and sharing – that is We Exist.

After facing many obstacles in finding a job and apartment, Obada decided to create a place that can offer jobs for people with skills and a willingness to work, but who face difficulties in finding a job. He says, “I realised that looking for a job or even just volunteering, for me and for everyone else in a similar situation is practically mission impossible. So, I decided to create an organisation that could help people to show their skills and that would later open jobs. I had the idea and a strong motivation to create We Exist. That is crucial for the start. There are some obstacles on the way – prejudice and discrimination make things difficult, but some great people who understood what we wanted to achieve, were of great support.” One of the biggest challenges was to find space, as many owners refused to rent to Syrians. But in the end, they managed to find their own place.

Obada already had an entrepreneurial background when arriving in Belgium. He and his team also had coaching at the restaurant Le Damoiselle, which was the most valuable contribution to their work at all levels. In addition, they also took training organised by AFSCA (Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain).

Obada found the human approach of many people in Brussels amazing. He adds, “We have a really huge network of clients and people who stand by us. Our clients are the biggest support to our work. We had amazing support from the beginning from the Quaker House and from the restaurant Le Damoiselle. They are always with us.

Obada’s highly-motivated team of people, who are always ready and happy to work, have been crucial to the success of We Exist. This reliability enabled them to establish the trust of their clients and partners, helping the activities to grow. He adds,Every time we bring a smile to someone’s face is a success to us. Every day is different, and every day is a new success. We created an amazing network of partners over the years (organisations, companies, individuals) – that is just wonderful.”

What's next?

Their future plans are to get through the crisis caused by the global pandemic, hoping that we can all live normally at some point. As the restaurant was opened in the middle of sanitary restrictions and it was very difficult to function, the future plan is to make it work normally and to continue with all the activities as before. All they need for that is a normal life. In the meantime, We Exist’s meals are available for the delivery or take away from Wednesday to Sunday.

Advice for prospective entrepreneurs

Obada is originally from Syria, where he was working in different companies and managing several projects. “Once it was a lovely place, I still remember it.”  He is living in Belgium since 2015.

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