Champions of Change 2023

Champions of Change 2023

Nora Fitzgerald Belahcen; Damián Diaz and Othón Nolasco

The pioneers bettering society through food and respect

The Champions of Change Award recognises and celebrates unsung heroes of the hospitality sector who are driving positive action in their communities and creating blueprints for a more inclusive society.

Part of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 programme, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, Champions of Change forms a key pillar in the ever-evolving 50 Best for Recovery initiative. After being introduced in July 2021 in response to the sector rebuilding and remodelling itself as it emerged from the pandemic, the award continues to support the powerful work of individuals effecting meaningful change. A donation will be made to the winners’ causes, allowing the recipients to continue building their initiatives and supporting long-term progress in the food and hospitality sphere.

Meet the Champions of Change 2023:

Nora Fitzgerald Belahcen, Marrakech, Morocco

Driven by a desire to empower the disenfranchised, Nora Fitzgerald Belahcen opened the first Amal Centre in 2013 in her home city of Marrakech, where she trained the first cohort of local women in the culinary arts and associated hospitality skills. The Amal organisation focuses on equipping those disadvantaged by prejudice – such as single mothers, who are frequently shunned in Moroccan culture – with the means to provide for themselves and their families, but also with the confidence to ensure they are “comfortable taking up space in society”.

The social enterprise now operates a thriving restaurant and a separate catering business staffed by a mix of trainers and students, with 15 people graduating every eight months from each. Most graduates progress into long-term careers in the restaurant sector, with some opening their own food-related businesses. Amal’s latest project is the Sign Language Café in Marrakech, which is staffed by deaf women. The deaf community is also largely invisible to much of society and this café, located within a language school and serving some 4,000 students, acts as a prototype for deaf-run businesses.

Fitzgerald Belahcen, who has American heritage but has lived in Morocco throughout her life, has long believed in the power of food to nourish, heal, bring people together and change lives. But she also stresses the importance of seeing the individuals that her organisation helps not as victims but as experts in resilience. She is a champion of the all-too-invisible – and a true Champion of Change.

Damián Diaz and Othón Nolasco, Los Angeles, US

Los Angeles residents and long-time friends Damián Diaz and Othón Nolasco reacted to the pain of the pandemic by creating non-profit food security project No Us Without You LA. Having worked in bars and restaurants in California for many years, the pair has seen first-hand the plight of undocumented workers who make up the backbone of so many food and drinks businesses in the US. No Us Without You provides support in the form of food relief and advisory services to the families of immigrants working in the sector, who are not legally recognised as US citizens and therefore cannot benefit from government assistance.

The non-profit began by feeding 30 struggling workers and their dependents in early 2020, initially using the founders’ own money, and now supports 700 families per month across Los Angeles, utilising an army of 85 volunteers. Nolasco (a born and bred Angeleno) and Diaz (who grew up between the Bay Area and Mexico) have also transformed an old dirt lot in the city into an organic garden growing fruit and vegetables for their food packages. The garden also acts as a fund-raising event space for the organisation.

The duo see their work as an opportunity to give back, saying: “We are proud to feed those who have fed us for years.” But No Us Without You is also about signalling to hard-working cooks, pot-washers and servers that they are not forgotten, but heard and respected – and in that respect Diaz and Nolasco are championing long-term change in hospitality.

The Champions of Change awards are among a number of special accolades that have been announced as part of the lead-up to the 21st edition of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, which will be announced on 20th June 2023 in Valencia. Tune in to the livestream of the awards ceremony on YouTube or Facebook from 20:40 local time.

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