ALMA: Access to Language Methods for Increasing Migrants' Abilities to Start Their Own Business

alma: Access to  Language Methods

ALMA: Access to Language Methods for Increasing Migrants’ Abilities to Start Their Own Business is a European cooperation project aimed at stimulating migrants to begin a new business, to inspire and provide them with practical guidelines in order to start and run a successful company within a new cultural and linguistic context.

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Role Models' Guide / Profiles

The guide introduces active entrepreneurs with migrant background who have become successful thanks to their language and intercultural competences in the partner countries. Promoting real people with real stories, the project provides clear picture on what knowledge and skills are important and needed to be improved and what steps migrants should take towards establishing and running an own company.

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Photo of Mohamed Mozahem Rahif al-Atassi

Mohamed Mozahem Rahif al-Atassi

Atassi & co.

The company owned by Mohamed Mozahem Rahif al-Atassi, an Italian citizen of Syrian origin, is “Atassi & co.” It is an “export trading company”, operating in the kitchen components sector for all types of furniture and production machinery, with thirty years' experience in the Arab markets, particularly in the Persian Gulf area. The company is 33 years old and is based in Poggibonsi in the province of Siena.

The start-up of the company “Atassi & co.” took place following a trip to Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the sale of chandeliers. It was in fact the client himself who supported and encouraged Mr. Al-Atassi, at that time a student in the Faculty of Medicine, to start the export business. The company was established in 1975 with two other Italian partners, the main activity was initially the export of kitchens, as one of the two partners produced kitchens. Following the tragic death of one of the two partners, the company was dissolved 33 years ago. Therefore, Mr. Al-Atassi set up the company “Atassi & co.” autonomously, remaining in the furniture and kitchen sector, but progressively changing the sale of articles and components for domestic kitchens, specializing in the sale of built-in appliances.

Mr. Al-Atassi had no particular initial training nor did he attend any initial preparation courses, he started his company practically from scratch. He financed his own business little by little first of all leaving the profits mainly to the company, which allowed him to have liquidity to enlarge the work. From the very beginning he benefited from the help of an accountant and a bookkeeper who provided him with the necessary help to set up the company. The company's customers are usually either wholesalers or large factories with over two hundred employees. As far as communication is concerned, there is a company website ( with all useful information and contacts. The promotion of products and services, however, takes place mainly through trips aimed at meeting customers directly, but also through direct telephone contact with interested parties. These contacts are useful for Mr. al-Atassi in identifying new clients and new product sectors.

The promotional material used is that of business cards. The network of business contacts was created by meeting directly with those interested in the sector who in turn have provided further contacts over time. All this has allowed the creation of a portfolio of important clients. Mr. Al-Atassi, in order to maintain and expand this network, usually goes to events organised by others, especially suppliers. What drives and motivates Mr. Al-Atassi to move forward is the work itself and the success that comes with it, but also the fact that he has trusted employees at his side. Mr. Al-Atassi does not believe that his work currently involves particular sacrifices, but at the beginning there were difficulties.

In Mr. Al-Atassi's view, it is very important to be able to seize the right opportunities in order to achieve success, so it is often a matter of luck. The advantages on a personal level are above all linked to profit and earnings, on a social level Mr. Al-Atassi certainly sees the possibility of contributing to the growth of the companies he does business with by buying their products and in the sale of quality products made in Italy. These products, being a guarantee and symbol of quality abroad, have always been highly appreciated by his customers and throughout the Arab world. The most important skills and competences for Mr. Al-Atassi to carry on the business successfully are essentially the choice of reliable and capable employees and collaborators; he also considers it essential to be able to make important decisions in a short time trying to meet as many needs as possible. As far as soft skills are concerned, Mr. Al-Atassi mainly refers to the ability to listen and recognise the merits of employees and to enhance their skills.

The experience that a person should have today to start an entrepreneurial activity is certainly “the in-depth knowledge of the person is going to deal with”, which in his case, corresponds to a full knowledge of the reference product sector. The advice that Mr. Atassi gives to immigrant citizens who intend to start a business is essentially to “not be intimidated by any apparently adverse circumstances” and to “know how to recognize and seize the right opportunities at the right time”. During the COVID emergency period the company had to close its offices for several weeks, although both he and his employees continued to work remotely. The company's activities are now fully and safely resumed, allowing employees to return to the offices, with a recovery of losses incurred during the months of closure. Travel and customer meetings are currently replaced by video calls.