Thinking back, he could see the significance of how a lot of his interests developed around the concept of nature. At first, he wanted to become an astronaut, then a pilot, and like a lot of us when we were growing up, his list kept evolving with time. Over the years, it translated into conservation-related work. Today, we know him as the owner of Meraki Coffee Roasters, or more popularly as the ‘Face of the Pandemic’ in the Maldives.
We had a sit down with Mabrook Azeez to piece together his story about the journey of becoming one of the most prominent personalities in the country. He is currently serving as the Spokesperson of The President’s Office, and it has been quite a ride up to the position.
Mabrook’s interest in politics began when he was pursuing higher studies in Thailand. Voluntary work he did during this time drove him towards community engagement and social work. Most of the contributions were democracy related outreach programs in the form of public speaking, critical thinking training sessions, and so on that were focused on building civic engagement with the youth.
The experience of working in a multinational background gave Mabrook an insight and exposure into different cultures and people. This, in turn, pivoted his interests towards bringing about a disruptive change in the community and pushed him to encourage others to face and challenge the everyday life.
The development was perfectly timed with one of the most significant turnarounds in the Maldivian government when Mabrook returned back home. In 2008, right after Mohamed Nasheed was elected as the President, Mabrook signed up to be an active member of the Maldivian Democratic Party. He was determined to contributing towards reinstating a democratically elected government.
In the last year of his university studies, Mabrook also stumbled upon a different interest that captivated his focus entirely. The specialty coffee movement was merely on the rise then but it was very much in line with Mabrook’s vision of how he wanted to contribute to the society. Coffee being a universal industry, this movement was a breath of fresh air for people involved at the very core of this immensely commercial business. In a nutshell, highest-grade coffee is sourced directly from producers and served to customers with as much love and charm brewed into the cup. Having a cup of coffee had taken new meaning and Mabrook was fascinated.
Mabrook began to invest all his time into learning more about the human involvement in all stages of coffee. He took courses as a barista and hung out with World Barista Champions to grasp their ideas of the movement. The more he learnt, the more he wanted to share his knowledge and change the way people ‘grabbed a cup of coffee’. Meraki Coffee Roasters was born out of this hobby.
Though challenging, he managed to establish the business with the involvement of a number of significant contributors. Mabrook considers himself very lucky to have been afforded the resources to initially start the business at a time when investment banking was not so much a culture in the Maldives. He also had to do his own research about how he would deploy his vision that seemed to be a fairly new concept in the society.
When you set out with an idea, the number one rule is to be bold about it. Your belief in it working out is what will set you on the path to success and Mabrook believed that he could open a café where all employees were local, had a welcoming ambiance in a non-smoking area, had no set menu, and served a curated cup of coffee that was more expensive than any other coffee served in the rest of the city.
Once he shared his idea with his mentors and loved ones, they posed their doubts but Mabrook was convinced otherwise. There already were establishments in the city that were serving signature experiences to niche groups. He said that if he could imagine the concept and trust in its potential, there could possibly be a couple hundred other people who think the same way. An idea doesn’t have to be for everybody and a good idea definitely isn’t.
The cool thing about brewing coffee is that there is no right formula for the perfect cup of coffee. It is always different considering the journey the coffee beans made from the farm to your cup, depending on details as small as the part of the world where it came from to the microclimate it was brewed in. Mabrook wanted his customers to know this story.
Boy, did it require patience. His first priority was to gather a team that would share the same passion for the experience that Mabrook himself did. Rather than making a business of it, Mabrook wanted to share moments that would last with his customers and hence, a lot of time was spent as a buffer to personally invest in training the right people for the job. Baristas at Meraki Coffee Roasters spent countless hours patiently practicing the art and worked their way up to build a theme. They had to get creative in managing their finances during the training months too.
If you have been to Meraki Coffee Roasters, you would feel the difference not only in the experience but in the café too. Every little detail of the establishment was intentionally thought through to execute a different piece of the story. From the brick walls to the chairs and tables, the materials and craftwork were personally selected and presented according to how Mabrook saw the world accepting this art and tuning in to the lifestyle. More importantly, the focus was on making people understand the difference. Meraki to him was an expression that was put together with creativity challenged by very limited resources.
Mabrook remembers that first cup of specialty coffee he had like it was yesterday. It turning into a hobby and becoming a business was definitely influenced by this experience. In the small time that has passed, Mabrook has learnt more than one important lesson on what he should have done differently. As an entrepreneur, had Mabrook worked with a partner, a number of things would have worked out better. Mabrook believes that every businessman needs at least one trustworthy colleague whose advise is invaluable. In the long run, a likeminded mentor to share the pressure and openly discuss matters helps make the responsibilities of the growing small business a comparably easier affair.
Coming from a loving family, Mabrook looks up to his parents as inspiration. They are interesting people with contrasting personalities and Mabrook likes to believe that he has taken certain traits from both of them to form his own personality. His mother is an incredibly kind teacher. She is always humble when she communicates with others and Mabrook learnt the importance of building relationships from her. On the other hand, Mabrook’s father is a man of calculated decisions, something that taught Mabrook how to be a rational businessman from a young age.
The people important to you need not be from the same field of interest. One of Mabrook’s most valued mentors is the renowned artist, Naushad Waheed. The way he embraced and viewed the world in a whole different perspective through his art sparked curiosity in Mabrook. It deconstructed his thought process regarding how authentic expression could create something beautiful and meaningful at the same time. This aspect is deeply reflected in the way Mabrook does his business, and his duties too.
One might think that political involvement means just going with the status quo but instead, overcoming challenges at work for Mabrook has mostly been about having the courage to say no. There have been times when Mabrook himself ran opposing campaigns within the party so far as to even submit a reform of its vision. He even ran for the parliament and failed, but his determination to contribute doing his part in making things better did not change.
What people outside the realm have a hard time understanding is that it gets tougher to take a stand when you move up to more responsible positions. This is partly why a lot of people choose to not get too involved in politics, says Mabrook. However, at the end of the day, we are all affected by it. Putting forward a constructive thought, Mabrook stated that though politics may not be relatable to the greater community, we won’t get anywhere if there were to be no differences. This has been proven with Mabrook stepping up as the Spokesperson of the National Emergency Operations in the onset of the Covid19 pandemic.
Our nation, for the first time, witnessed the power of media and one spokesperson in navigating through what can be deemed as the biggest crisis of our lifetime. Mabrook presented himself gracefully and honestly to the public, and interacted bluntly with the media to guide them in showcasing the truth about the situation of the pandemic to the community. Grateful for having received the opportunity, Mabrook also credits every single member of the heroic team behind him that worked literally around the clock to gather information for him to present to the public. He might have been the face of it all but 90% of the work was done by the people behind the cameras.
People always used to ask Mabrook what he got out of being involved in public related voluntary and social work. His interests provoked questions about where all the experiences would take him and it took a global pandemic to bring it full circle. Mabrook’s ability to face a crowd despite being nervous and exhausted, share the information and build a relationship is why he holds his close to his principles and experiences. It was a privilege for Mabrook to have made a difference, that too a disruptive one.
As life goes on, you make mistakes and learn through them. You have to get up the next day to continue fighting for what is right and accept that there will be good days when you achieve something and bad days when you compromise something. What Mabrook understood from the times that he too got frustrated was that the best things are not necessarily what you want and therefore, you should be willing to evolve and move on. If we take political incidents from around the world for an instance, major events have always been about making a change that is suitable for the majority, something that brings stability to the situation.
A wise man once said, ‘Don’t look up to someone too much.’ Mabrook reiterated on this statement and urges today’s visionaries to build their own thing. When you find out too much about successful people and try to replicate them, you start making too many mistakes. Taking inspiration from someone does not mean becoming them; rather, make it about being as great as YOU can be. Mabrook stands firmly against looking up to someone without a sense of skepticism, and not questioning the things strike as different to you.
In a fast-paced world like the one we live in today, people are quick to decide that they are failing when things slightly head south. Patience is a rare find and it is required abundantly by those who are willing to put in the grind into what they believe is good. Also, admitting it is a cheesy line but saying so anyways, Mabrook asks you to love what you do. The thing is, if you are trying to build something unique from scratch, it is logical that a lot of extra hours will have to be dedicated to establishing it. It could be a couple of months or years, and it is okay to take all the time you need in perfecting it.
Three years ago, Mabrook would not have been able to say that the internet could be a sole platform to grow and run your business but the recent events have forced the world to turn to this resource limitlessly. There are endless ventures awaiting enthusiastic creators and it is exciting to be a part of such a transformative period in time. Mabrook encourages young businesses to adapt to the internet as a resource, something the younger generation is better at doing which makes it a golden opportunity for them.
The right people that put their minds to the right solutions right now will change the way things are done. The opportunity is up for grabs right now, are you ready?