We sat down with Moataz Aouf, a seasoned entrepreneur whose international experience spans Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Netherlands. We delved into how his exposure to diverse cultures has profoundly influenced his business leadership and decision-making approach.


We sat down with Moataz Aouf, a seasoned entrepreneur whose international experience spans Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Netherlands. We delved into how his exposure to diverse cultures has profoundly influenced his business leadership and decision-making approach.

Your international experience spans across Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Netherlands. How has exposure to diverse cultures influenced your approach to business leadership and decision-making?

“When you only, let’s say, live in your country and speak your language, you see the world from one dimension. When you travel to another country, learn another language, and interact with other nationalities, especially in Saudi Arabia, I used to interact with many nationalities, not just one. So, right now, the orders have two dimensions. 

So, now, you see the order in a multi-dimensional way, and you see spots you didn’t see before. Let’s give you an advantage. So if you sit with, let’s say, a Dutch person or German person or American person who hasn’t lived in their country, you’re going to see that they have only one dimension of their perspective, which is provided by their culture and education and work and so on. So, having an international background helps you see things from different perspectives. So, when you start your business, consider aspects you wouldn’t have considered if you had only one dimension—perspective. Historical help and the international experience helped me in that way.”

And what are some values from each place that you say you picked up and are different from each other? 

“For me, as a Syrian, accepting others is within our DNA. Because Syria is a mosaic, if you look deeper from… let’s say, the 1800s, Syria started to receive, or even much before, Syria began to receive wave after wave of newcomers from various nationalities, from different places in the world. So that’s made Syria a beautiful mosaic of people who accept each other. So that’s before the war, of course. Now, you have diversity to build here in the Netherlands.

We have that in our DNA as Syrians. So that gives you an advantage when you seek diversity or talk about it. The other thing that helps others is our culture as Syrians. Islam has influenced the culture of Syrians, whether they were Christian, Jews, Arab, or Muslims, because Syria has all. But we were influenced by the culture to help others. We say in Islam that helping others is the road to heaven. And more than that, I’m from Aleppo, located on the Silk Road. In Aleppo, if you find an engineer, he has to be an engineer slash merchant. A doctor has to be a doctor slash merchant. So, we practice trading and business by nature. 

So, that all came from the culture that I brought with me. And from Saudi Arabia, I learned how to deal with various nationalities. How to… For one thing, I taught myself how to communicate in more than one language. Even one or two words per language. So there are a lot of Hindus and Indians there. So I learned how to speak a bit of Urdu Philippines like how to say hi. It’s incredible, that one word in another language can break the ice suddenly and create warm contact with other people. So you pick all that up. All these things help you when you do business because culture care plays a significant role in customer satisfaction. And when you know how to deal with people, you know how to satisfy the customers. So you build an excellent company. Our company has a 9.8 score, the highest ever in our sector. Nobody scored more than 9.8. And we have been in the market for three years.”

As someone deeply committed to fostering ethical practices, how do you ensure that moral considerations are integrated into the fabric of your organizations?

“Three elements. The first element is my father. I have learned from him everything positive in my character. When I was very young in Saudi Arabia, my late father used to tell me more than once, so it stuck in my head. “Matas, you’re an ambassador for your country. Everything you do and your behavior and actions are always reflected. So when you do something good, they will say that Syrian is a good man. They’re always going to say this Syrian is a good man or this Syrian is a wrong man. So, always make sure to honor the name of your country or your culture.” 

So now I know I always need to do my best acting because as a newcomer, a migrant, or even a visitor or tourist, you’re constantly reflecting on your country. So be aware that if you respect your company and are proud of your culture, I will always present it in the best way. So that’s what I do in Syria, where I like to help people and show that we are here to help, not for other reasons. 

The other thing I mentioned before is that my religion says I need to help others. The third thing I fell in love with is corporate social responsibility. Since I came here, before learning about this concept and studying academically during my master’s study at Turkey University, I have made many initiatives to help newcomers. But it was based on skills, competencies, and tendencies. 

After the master’s, I excelled in that course. I took around 8.5 between the project and the exam. I also learned much about sustainability and social responsibility and how to model it professionally. So I took all that and melted it in one pot, and we have a sustainable Syrian cotton business model.”

Your achievements include receiving prestigious awards and press recognition for your work at Syrian Cotton NL. Could you share a memorable moment or milestone that stands out to you in your entrepreneurial journey?

“Well, when they announced my name and the talent award, which is a local talent award for our municipality, it was not that prestigious or not that big. It’s not national or international.

Nevertheless, I did my presentation. I did my best. And I was new to these aspects, to present myself in such a way. And all my competitors were really, really hardcore Dutch with Dutch businesses and Dutch presentations. And a lot of people came with them. I was just with my wife and co-founder, like three or four people, while the others went with the whole tribe to support them. So when they first said Syrian cotton, at the first one or three seconds, I was like, what? Not only did I not expect it, but I jumped from the chair, ran to the podium, welcomed the award, and gave a small speech. So that was a memorable moment because, how do you say it? What is the correct term? Like it’s the peak of your work. It’s finally the recognition.

 And when you’re a foreigner, the recognition means a lot for you because you started from beneath zero. When he starts, the Dutch entrepreneur starts with his whole network around him. His uncle may have helped him with the money. His father helps him with the connections and advice everywhere. He knows the laws, he knows the language, he knows everything. At least more than I know. So when I get this award and it doesn’t and start it from below zero, that means a lot. So that’s the moment I will never forget.”

Being recognized as a Guest Lecturer at top Dutch universities underscores your thought leadership in brand value creation and social entrepreneurship. What key insights do you impart to aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Well, depending on the lecture, for example, the lecture at Tilburg University for the marketing students, the advice was connected to the topic of the lecture. The lecture was about the value proposition of how to create value for your brand. I advise them to follow your target audience’s superficial or initial analysis and go deeper. Don’t just go for the first, let’s say, tier of demographics and Gen Z or Gen X or so. 

No, you need to go deeper within the market, within your analysis, which aligns with the kind of product. So that was my advice for them. The other thing is that my lecture at Amsterdam University was about social entrepreneurship. 

So my advice for them is that don’t underestimate yourself. Don’t say I’m one person with a small budget. What can I do no that’s not correct. The world would be better one step at a time, one action at a time. Do what you can within your circle. If everyone else thought the same way, we would have a lot of circles That would create a kind of synergy that would have a more significant wave of impact within society.”

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