Born and raised in Ethiopia, Alfa Melesse Demmellash came to the United States at the age of twelve with a keen interest in poverty alleviation and conflict resolution. She graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2003, where she majored in Government. During her time at Harvard, her interest in conflict resolution brought her to Rwanda.
Recognizing the role poverty played in fueling conflicts, Alfa turned her focus to economic empowerment as a strategy to achieve peaceful societies. Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Alfa co-founded Rising Tide Capital – a nonprofit microbusiness-development organization that supports underserved entrepreneurs in the low-income urban communities of Northern New Jersey.
Since 2004, Alfa has been the Chief Executive Officer of Rising Tide Capital, headquartered on Martin Luther King Drive in Jersey City. The organization runs the Community Business Academy – an intensive business training session coupled with year-round coaching and mentorship that equips marginalized entrepreneurs to better operate their small businesses. Many of these individuals use the increased earnings from their business to supplement their low wages, allowing them to better provide for their families and transform the face of their communities. To date, there are 728 graduates of the Community Business Academy. There are 335 Rising Tide Entrepreneurs currently in business, with another 324 in the planning stages.
In August 2012, Alfa was recognized as one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women Changing the World with Philanthropy. In 2010, Alfa was awarded honorary doctorates from St. Peter’s University and New Jersey City University. She also received the Future Global Leader award at the World Business Forum and the Humanitarian Award at the American Conference on Diversity. In 2009, Alfa was selected and profiled as a CNN Hero, and recognized by President Barack Obama during a speech at the White House. Alfa and Rising Tide Capital have been featured in a number of major media outlets including the Suze Orman Show, The Larry King Show, O, The Oprah Magazine, Inc.com, BusinessWeek.com, The Star-Ledger, Entrepreneur.com as well Essence Magazine’s 40th anniversary edition where she was recognized as a “40 under 40 Dream Maker.” Alfa was the 2007 recipient of the Redbook Strengths and Spirits Award and Avon’s Hello Tomorrow Fund Award for working with women entrepreneurs.
Alfa currently serves on the boards of St. Peter’s University and Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.She is passionate about social entrepreneurship, education, conflict resolution, and the environment.