Zahi Khouri’s peaceful childhood ended abruptly when he was ten years old. Born in Jaffa, Palestine, his family joined thousands of other Palestinians a decade later as they were driven into exile in 1948. The family settled in Lebanon; Khouri pursued his education in Germany and France.
After moving to Richmond, Virginia, in 1967, he worked for various multinational corporations in New York City, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. Then in 1993, Oslo Peace Accords were signed. The agreement, brokered by Norway after secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, included mutual recognition of each entity and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, with limited self-governance of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Encouraged by the Accords, Khouri joined with several partners to create businesses in the West Bank and Gaza. They formed the Palestinian Development and Investment Company (PADICO), the largest Palestinian investment company in Palestine, and set up PalTel, the Palestinian Telecommunication Group.
In 1995, Khouri and his partners entered into an international venture, in partnership with the Coca-Cola Company, founding the Palestinian National Beverage Company, holder of the Coke franchise for the West Bank and Gaza. “For me, it wasn’t about money. Coke could put Palestine on the map,” Khouri told the Institute for Middle East Understanding in 2013.
The beverage company has undertaken many corporate social responsibility projects, including building libraries for children in Palestinian hospitals in Ramallah, Gaza, and Nablus; two wastewater treatment units, and creating a Back to School campaign for impoverished children across Palestine.
This year, the Palestinian National Beverage Company plans to build its first factory in Gaza. Khouri discussed the Gaza venture last fall in a Jerusalem Post interview: “This is something that’s extremely important if we want to talk about peace and coexistence. It’s about where business can contribute to peace – don’t talk to me about the word process, I mean actual peace – by creating jobs and facilitating the life of the private sector,” he said, adding, “The only enemy of extremism is good jobs.”
Khouri’s commitment to peace led him to establish the Zahi Khouri Fellowship Program, in partnership with Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, an American-based organization working to enable Palestinians of all ages living in disadvantaged areas of the Middle East to become healthy, active, and responsible family and community members.
The Khouri Fellowship Program places Palestinian-American students and graduates in the most underprivileged areas of Nablus, offering them the experience of professional development in education, youth/female empowerment, and economic development. Fellowship projects have included educational programming for women and children, professional competency courses at An-Najah National University, and working with in the Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus and in Lebanon programs.
Khouri also serves as Chairman of the Palestine International Business Forum (PIBF), the Carter Advisory body in Palestine, and chairs the largest Palestinian NGO, the NGO Development Center in association with the World Bank.
He remains committed to building businesses and encouraging entrepreneurs, and building peace. He put it succinctly in 2013: “The best engine driving peace, stability, and growth is a healthy business environment.”