Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Hasan Siber of Colive Is Helping To Change Our World

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Happiness is the journey, not the result. You need to remind yourself to be happy while working towards a goal, and not only when you reach a goal, as the journey will take much longer than the end result. I had a mindset of pushing and being miserable until I reached a goal, but eventually realized that you have to be content as you take the steps towards a goal.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hasan Siber.

Hasan Siber is the founder and CEO of Colive and a certified olive oil sommelier. He is active in all aspects of Colive, the finest Cypriot extra virgin olive oil, including working with farmers to ensure the olives are of the highest quality, harvesting and transporting olives from both sides of the conflict zone in Cyprus to be processed, and ensuring the highest standards of extra virgin olive oil are met with the final product enjoyed on tables globally. Prior to founding Colive and becoming an olive oil sommelier, Hasan served as the chief operating officer (COO) of a virtual reality company and consulted or worked with more than 12 startups across Europe, the US and Asia on business development, finance and strategy.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After the division of Cyprus into northern and southern parts in 1974 following civil unrest, war and displacement, a 112-mile ceasefire line was created to separate the island with barbed wire and concrete. Although born and raised in diaspora as a result of the conflict and division in Cyprus, I consider myself a Cypriot, so I am thrilled to have recently connected to my Cyprus roots to start the first company to operate across the division in more than 50 years.

Prior to founding Colive, I served as the chief operating officer (COO) of a virtual reality company with offices in London and New York. After leaving that position, I traveled across the Mediterranean tasting olive oils and attending olive oil sommelier training to become an expert in evaluating olive oil. Since 2018, I have been dedicated not only to producing the finest Cypriot extra virgin olive oil, but also to bridging the divide in Cyprus. My hope is to help create an example of cooperation in Cyprus for Cypriots and others around the globe.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most interesting thing that happened since I began leading Colive was learning more about my great grandparents, who left Peristerona, a town in Cyprus that is now on the opposite side of the ceasefire line from where I live currently, before I was born. Because of the division, we were not able to visit this town until recently.

I only knew my great grandparents from the dusty photos on the wall and through my dad’s stories whenever I visited Cyprus. Their son, my grand uncle, was the founding vice-president in the short-lived multi-communal Republic of Cyprus, so he naturally grabbed more of the spotlight in family stories. For example, he met Lyndon B. Johnson when Johnson was the US vice president, and there is a photo of them on our wall.

I started working with some olive farmers around Peristerona, and they happened to know my great grandfather. These farmers were supposed to be my family’s “enemies” in the civil war, but they were also neighbors and friends. These farmers shared what they remember of my great grandparents and how things were back then, so I ended up learning about my family from a very unlikely perspective.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The mistake I made when I first started was thinking elaborate packaging would sell itself. Our first products had this interactive packaging that took too long to create, assemble, and we had problems with shipping. We quickly learned the lesson that simplicity always wins.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are the first company in 50 years to operate across the ceasefire line in Cyprus. We hope to be an example of peace and collaboration on the island of Cyprus and the Middle East region.

To help foster peace and a united Cyprus, we donate 10% of profits from each bottle sold to organizations/NGO’s dedicated to peace education and social entrepreneurship, so people taste a more peaceful world with every drop. Organizations we have partnered with include CyprusInno — a non-profit that offers a bi-zonal, inter-communal entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cyprus to use entrepreneurship and technology as peace-building mechanisms and entrepreneurs as peacemakers — and the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR), which is a renowned intercommunal civil society organization working in the fields of history and peace education and promoting contact and collaboration among the communities in Cyprus.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

AHDR, one of our beneficiary organizations, works to bring together school-aged children from both sides of the conflict for contact and collaboration, and we have been so pleased to help contribute to that program.

In addition, we have developed partnerships with 15 family farmers and have personal relationships with each one, educating them on the most sustainable and climate-friendly farming practices, including regenerative farming and water conservation, to ensure a sustainable world in addition to a peaceful one.

We encourage our farmers to hand-pick the olives at harvest instead of using large machinery to avoid damage to the trees, olives and a negative impact on wildlife. Farmers also learn the benefits of raising animals like goats along with olives so that the manure can be used as a natural fertilizer. Lastly, instead of pesticides, Colive farmers utilize natural sticky bonds/tape to catch flies and other pests to keep the trees safe and healthy. All of these practices benefit the farmers and the land so we can continue to partner for years into the future.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As we aim for the end of political conflicts and peace across the globe, we would love to see communities around the world be more inclusive, open and understanding. The root of the problem is that we, humanity, view the Earth as divided into pieces belonging to certain groups of people, certain nations. We need to realize that the Earth belongs to everyone, and the decisions we make need to benefit us all.

The first thing to help solve the root of this problem is that politicians need to think in terms of the globe now. We need more international cooperation for global solutions to conflicts, climate change, financial crises, and political crises. Second, I think we need a global legal and trade system that lowers the sometimes invisible and sometimes real barriers between communities. The third is speed. Within Cyprus specifically, we want politicians to move faster towards a just solution based on equality and unity for all.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is a combination of courage and caring.

A leader is courageous because he or she is leading a group through uncharted territory for desired goals. The leaders by their very nature are change agents. Change requires diverging from the common and comfortable. Change requires courage.

A leader should also care about and take responsibility for the group he or she is leading. A leader needs to consider the benefit to the group more than his or her own. For example, the people that will reunite Cyprus need to care about reaching peace, and keep the community in mind in the journey towards reaching peace.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Happiness is the journey, not the result. You need to remind yourself to be happy while working towards a goal, and not only when you reach a goal, as the journey will take much longer than the end result. I had a mindset of pushing and being miserable until I reached a goal, but eventually realized that you have to be content as you take the steps towards a goal.
  2. Relax, it will take a while. Patience is not one of my virtues and I am learning that growing a business takes time. For example, it took more than a year to secure our first retail partner in the U.S., Whole Foods, but now we have a collaborative partnership that we hope will be mutually beneficial
  3. Don’t listen to everybody all the time. Everybody will give you their opinion of how they would do things, but you need to trust your gut on which advice to take and which to ignore. You will make mistakes, so pre-meditate them as much as you can, but when they happen, learn the lesson and move on.
  4. Everybody has their own journey, don’t compare. You will naturally compare yourself to competitors. Sometimes, you need to keep in mind that they have different circumstances than you and are on different journeys. Stay focused on your own journey.
  5. It takes a village. You can’t build a company on your own. People make or break a company and a movement. You need to be very careful about who you take into the village to nurture and look after the baby that is your company.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Food connects people. This cooperation in Cyprus is a unique starting point to nurture a more unified world. I, along with my team, want to inspire others to do the same around the globe. Beyond Colive and continued success with extra virgin olive oil, our hope is to bring this mission-based entrepreneurship to other products and areas of the world with the same goal of pursuing peace.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” by William Shakespeare.

I remember this quote certainly when there are mistakes and seemingly “bad” things happen to me. I think of this quote to remind myself that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad”, but there is a flow of life that I try to navigate. Whatever happened, happened, and I need to accept that and move on.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private conversation with?

Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of Kind, because I want to understand what he learned in his first food venture, MedItalia and Peace Works, Inc. MedItalia is very similar to our concept with Colive, and I learned about the venture after reading his book. I would ask him how he balanced social mission with food, and his success with his mission and Kind.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best way to connect with us is through @colive.oil on Instagram.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Hasan Siber of Colive Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.