In his native Ethiopia, where he’d earned an economics degree and held a government job calculating GDP statistics, Mahfuz Mummed faced a quandary. He’d given eight years of loyal service when his bosses began pressuring his department to falsify data. Mummed watched as colleagues who protested faced violent reprisals. “I thought I was going to be next,” he says. “I was afraid for my family, so I started looking for opportunities to leave.” Mummed won a scholarship to an economics master’s program in Belgium, after which, he sought asylum in the United States. “I was really lucky to escape,” he says.
He arrived in Alexandria in 2004 and began doing tax-prep work. “Because of my educational background, I was able to learn the tax system easily,” he says. He started small, then branched out, becoming an agent for Nationwide Insurance and launching his own businesses in 2009. “It hasn’t been easy, but over time I was able to build a customer base,” he says. “It’s become my livelihood.”
Today, Mahfuz runs Insurance Agency and Remedy Tax Services, has 4,500 clients across the Alexandria region, brings in over $390,000 a year, and provides work for three year-round employees, plus four more workers during each tax season. “Helping my clients understand the tax code always makes you happy,” he says. “You get an income, and you also help people, so that’s a good combination.”
Since many of Mummed’s clients are East African, he has a unique perspective on the contributions of the 200,000-plus Ethiopians in the DC metro area. “You see a lot of Ethiopian businesses,” he says. “We’re contributing, not just in Alexandria, but in all the surrounding cities and counties.”
You see a lot of Ethiopian businesses. We’re contributing, not just in Alexandria, but in all the surrounding cities and counties.”
Now a U.S. citizen, Mummed tells his two young children how lucky they are to be Americans, growing up safe and free in a land of opportunity. Mummed hopes they will grow up to give something back to the country they call home.
“They have the things I never did,” he says. “In this country, in this city of Alexandria, we’re able to push ourselves higher, and build something for ourselves and for our community.”