Enas El Masry

Value is essentially what everyone’s investing in when they choose to purchase a product or service. Although direct and tangible value is the easiest to spot and evaluate, intangible value is equally important. In fact, it may as well be the key market differentiator that makes your business stand out and succeed.

An excellent case in point is Kuwait’s VOL. 1 Roast Lab whose team continues to work tirelessly to ensure that the value they offer doesn’t stop at their premium coffee.

To fully understand how VOL.1 came to be the purposeful brand that it is, it is inevitable to take a look at the journey that inspired it all; that of its co-founder and head roaster Nora Al-Roumi.


Politics, Coffee, and Everything in Between

Like many diplomats’ children, Nora grew up as a third-culture kid who spent the bigger part of her childhood living abroad among various cultures. This unusual experience opened her eyes to the beauty of diversity and the empathy, empowerment, and growth that come with accepting it.

Since school, Nora’s interest in advocacy played a big role in her life. While she simply pursued it as a student council president in Sweden, later in college, she continued down the same path as an undergraduate political science student at the George Washington University in the US. During college, Nora honed her understanding of politics and diplomacy through her internships at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations’ permanent mission of the state of Kuwait. Shortly after graduating, she got her first job as a policy analyst at the International Peace Institute (IPI) in New York.

Despite Nora’s burgeoning political journey, it was slowly fading into a new chapter. Instead of moving on to a new blank leaf, Nora took the best of her experience in politics and chose to mold it into her own calling. Her study and practice of politics taught her a lot about building strategies, decision making, and the diplomacy that guides it. Meanwhile, her cross-cultural upbringing allowed her to appreciate differences while acknowledging the undertone of similarities that bind them.

She saw the universal need to belong to a community and how it manifested differently from East to West. So she set out to brew the best of both worlds into VOL. 1 Roast Lab.


A Physical Space Worth Returning To


“VOL.1 Roast Lab is a lifestyle. It is a brand that has pushed social boundaries,” explains Nora. “We wanted to break the status quo of where coffee sits in your day and to reinvent the oldest cultural and social affair in the region and Kuwait: coffee.”

In a country where expatriates make up more than half of the population, variances are an everyday reality that require openness and humility to navigate; a reality that calls for a melting pot where opposites can attract.

To facilitate the right atmosphere, VOL.1’s physical space had to feel like a social hub for Kuwait’s culturally diverse market. And thus, the Diwaniya-style bar came to be.

“The bar has social significance in the West as a social hub; a place to socialize with one another and a place to celebrate,” explains Nora. “The Diwanya-style seating offers the same significance to the East. And combining the two is a form of cultural expression.”

Thanks to the open spaces of conversation that they allow, Diwaniyas have for centuries shaped Kuwait’s political and social life. Similarly in the West, a bar resembles a shared touchpoint. Unlike table seating that sets clear boundaries, the bar’s structure and design enable strangers to come together at a shared communal space where acquaintanceship may form.

Successful as the Diwaniya-bar mashup style was, Nora was keen on encouraging conversation that extended outside of VOL.1 and its flowing O Bar. She wanted the brand to spark conversation within the entire community.

“Our first VOL.1 unit was in front of the oldest and most prominent tailors in Kuwait City,” says Nora. “We believe that the articles of clothing we wear are a symbol of who we are and where we come from which is the first form of dialogue we can open with other cultures on the beauty of cultural diversification.

“[This] location allowed us to assimilate into the culture and social identity of Kuwait while bridging a global perspective through our interior elements and product offerings.”

And with VOL.1’s growing traction, it was time for its community engagement efforts to mature from conversation to action.

A Good Deed Never Goes Unnoticed

In a globalized and hyper-connected market, customers are more aware than ever of the impact that businesses have on their lives and the world. This realization prompts them to favor socially responsible businesses whose community engagement is motivated by achieving shared prosperity.

In 2018 and stemming from the same belief, VOL.1 launched its community engagement efforts: the Karma Initiative and the Eco Initiative.

Described as “a VOL.1 platform that was created to expand our humanitarian efforts and involvement in giving back both locally and globally,” the Karma Initiative has orchestrated multiple events inviting community members to donate to the less fortunate.

Responsive to the different needs of its community, the Karma Initiative is as much about distributing meal boxes to those in need as it is about donating clothes or toys and school supplies.

Following the Karma Initiative’s great success, VOL.1 expanded its efforts to contribute to more causes. This time responding to nature’s plea for help.

Joining a league of businesses worldwide that recognize the grave consequences of single-use plastic, VOL.1 launched the Eco Initiative in a bid to reduce plastic waste in their community.

What simply started with eliminating the use of plastic bottles in the office soon grew to replacing plastic straws and cup lids with 100% plant-based renewable resources. VOL.1 also encouraged its community to take one extra step away from single-use plastics by offering reusable shopping tote bags.

Since 2013, VOL.1 has built its success around a commitment to its community’s growth. And the VOL.1 community truly starts with its own staff. A brief scroll through VOL.1’s online presence and it’s clear how values of diversity and cultural appreciation are instilled through everyday practices and are not exclusive to marketing campaign memos.

“I believe that diversity and exposure to it are one of the main pillars of growth and empowerment because it allows you to see different perspectives,” says Nora. “A VOL.1 member is not someone who just works for the company - a VOL.1 member has the support system that helps them reach the highest form of self personally and professionally.”

And with this sentiment at heart, VOL.1 continues to look out for its family and community on an endless mission of mutual growth.

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