How a food bank recipient became a major food bank donor

The philanthropic mission of grad Moe Barzagar and his brothers

Moe Barzagar (Construction Engineering Technology ’16) doesn’t shy away from telling people about how his family struggled when he was growing up as a new immigrant to Canada.

They’d come from Kuwait after the eruption of the Gulf War, looking for a better life. His mom spoke no English, and they – Barzagar has five siblings – had nothing. The local food bank and the support of the community in Halifax, where they’d landed, was their lifeline.

“These are events that made us who we are,” says Barzagar.

Today, they’re also events that guide the actions of him and his two older brothers, Matti and Hani. Together, they own Edmonton-based Hibco Construction, which the elder Barzagar brothers started after heading west to find work, eventually bringing Moe on board after he agreed to get the formal education they felt was needed to grow the business.

Now that the business has grown to a comfortable size, including a staff of 55, they’ve built the practice of giving back into its culture – including making good in a big way on a debt of gratitude to the food bank. After their story was shared in a recent video (below), we followed up with Moe about that decision, how it has been affected by the pandemic, and what his mom thinks about it all.

Techlifetoday: Tell me about starting Hibco.

Moe Barzagar: We started in 2009. It was the perfect time not to start a business. A lot of people told us, “It's a recession right now. It's not a good idea.” In the beginning, we did a lot of basement restoration: floods in the summer, foundation issues. It's tough work that a lot of people don't want to do. We'd always say yes to it. We saved up some income and expanded and started reaching up to new sectors, [like] commercial construction as well as restorations.

How did philanthropy become important to the company?

We actually sat down one day and said, “OK, what is our actual goal? To make a lot of money? That's never been the why behind this. And if that's not a goal, what's the next step? Where do we go from here?” We said, “Let's find a way to give back.”

And one of those ways ended up being the Edmonton Food Bank?

We found out that the food bank needed to do a renovation and got in touch with them. We dropped our bid significantly so that we would for sure get the job because it means so much to us – we grew up on the food bank. [When the job was done] we said, “We're not going to charge you.” It's a personal thing. We want to be able to tell ourselves and to tell our mom that we're in a position in life to give back to the food bank.

Since then you’ve been supporting other organizations and initiatives as well.

That [work with the food bank] kind of spun off to, “OK, what's this Ronald McDonald House we keep hearing about? What's Kids Up Front? The MS Society – what are they doing? We've reached out and gotten to know all these people that run [these organizations]. There is no lack of amazingly genuine people in Alberta.

Barzagar brothers: Hani, Matti and Moe (who are cohorting)

Is it just you and your brothers in the company who drive these efforts?

The entire culture of the company has become [about] giving back. We found out last year that our employees had gone to our payroll and said, “We want to give to the food bank personally. If you could garnish $50 off our paycheques for a period of this many months, we could give back without it affecting us greatly.” We didn't even know this was happening. Everybody's on board.

How has the pandemic affected your outlook and efforts to give back?

The pandemic has really opened our eyes to things that we did not know were problems. A good friend of ours is a videographer [who’s] working with Edmonton Police Service. He wanted to use our office. He was going to [various] locations and turning off the lights and recording the settings going dim.

The pandemic has really opened our eyes to things that we did not know were problems.

He said, “The reason I'm doing this is to show people that all these places are closed now, and people who are suffering from domestic violence have no safe place. They're stuck at home, potentially with their abuser.” I was just mind-blown. That's not something that I have ever even considered.

So then we reached out to the women's shelter and asked them if there's any construction services that we can provide. They've told us about a couple of concerns they have with their facility. If construction is our specialty, we can do that without any markup.

Your mom is mentioned in that video. I can't help but wonder what she must think of you guys now.

That's honestly one of the biggest motivators. She's so selfless and she's never asked anything of us at all. Talking to her now, she's constantly like, “I'm so proud of you guys. You've made the struggle so worth it.”

I can't imagine the struggle she went through – with six kids, no financial support and being in a brand new country, not speaking English. Everything that could possibly be against her was against her. The only thing that was there for her was the community. And that's why we feel so dedicated to the community.

Why Moe Barzagar chose NAIT

“It was pivotal. When I went to my brothers and I said, ‘I want to be part of this full time,’ They flat out said to me, ‘We have street skills, we have negotiating skills, we have construction skills that we've gained through experience, but we are not formally educated. Can you please get an education and then join us?’

“My first thought was, ‘I'll go get a degree at university.’ But before doing that, I contacted multiple people that I trust, and they all said to me, ‘If you want skills that you can apply to your day-to-day activities, go to NAIT.’

“I'm so glad I took people's advice. I got so much out of it. It was all practical, technical knowledge that I could apply right away. And that helped our business tremendously.”

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