Go ahead and make a big deal of all the small and big wins — you deserve to celebrate your achievements. To strengthen your resilience muscle, it’s important to keep a record of all of the obstacles you’ve already tackled and demolished. When doubts and fear creep in, you can look back at your past successes with the knowledge that you’re armed with the emotional resilience to cope with and overcome any difficulty that strikes.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Najwa Khan.

Najwa Khan, MPH is the Founder and CEO of dalci, a gut friendly dessert brand. As a public health advocate, she has spent the last decade understanding social determinants of health in order to promote meaningful changes within underserved communities. Najwa has over a decade of experience in the health and wellness space working in various roles for non-profits, market research firms, healthcare technology startups, where she served the uninsured, and direct-to-consumer wellness brands.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Thanks for having me! I have quite an interesting journey from birth to where I am today. I was born in Rabat, Morocco, moved to Sylhet, Bangladesh, at nine months old, and lived there for about four years until my parents decided to move to the United States for a better life. I grew up predominantly poor for most of my adolescence and was taught about self-resilience and determination from an early age.

My parents worked really hard to change our circumstances. Their main goal in the ’90s was to save as much as possible so they could purchase a home in a suburb with great schools for my sister and I to attend. Their sole purpose was to offer us a good education, as that was their gift to me to escape a cycle of poverty.

There was a lot of pressure in my household to become a doctor or a lawyer (neither professions were my passion) so that I could provide for my family as an adult in return. My first real test of resilience and defiance came at 17 years old when I had to shatter my family’s desires and build towards my own. I decided at an early age that I wanted to give back to other underserved communities, which is why I pursued a Biology degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology and received a Masters in Public Health with a focus on community health. In most households, that would be quite the achievement, but it meant I was a failure in mine.

I went on to love public health and dove right into everything community health, from moving to South Africa to work with HIV/AIDS patients in townships, to doing medical brigades in Honduras, and working with companies like United Health Care, Humana, and Anthem on making health insurance and health care accessible to the most vulnerable populations. I’m proud to have worked with such an amazing team that helped over 2 Million citizens get access to care in 2018 through thoughtful technical solutions.

Currently, I am on a mission to change the food landscape. When I started dalci in 2020, it was from a need I had as a consumer to find ready-made real and clean desserts. As I worked to formulate our brownies and build a business around the concept of gut health focused desserts, I realized there was a major gap in the current food landscape in America. That gap is a lack of understanding of our food system, our FDA approval process for ingredients, ingredient transparency, and overall food and health knowledge.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

That would be finalizing terms for our first funding round during labor. The day I soft launched dalci online in July 2020 was when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. My first year of building my company was also my first ever experience being pregnant. On top of that, I was told I was a high-risk patient and had to be on rest for the second half of my pregnancy. This was a problem since I was the formulator, baker, packer, and fulfillment arm of dalci, all while doing my Chief Everything Officer role.

I found myself in a tough situation where I didn’t want to harm myself or my child but didn’t want to see dalci on pause. Our current angel investors know this story now, but at the time, they didn’t realize that during one of our Zoom meetings where I was not on video, I was sitting on a birthing ball having early contractions. I would mute every contraction and try my hardest to hear their questions and then unmute myself to answer. It was funny and surreal at the same time.

In the hospital, while at triage and in my birthing room, I was going back and forth on texts to finish discussing terms and then relaying them back to our lawyers so that when I got home from the hospital, we could have the signed paperwork and capital in hand.

The best part of this story is that I had a healthy baby boy and was able to go home knowing I could continue pursuing my dream of building a gut health brand because discussing terms while in labor landed us our first round of funding.

From this experience, I learned that perseverance and optimism are key. If I didn’t believe in dalci, I don’t think I would’ve been able to fight through pre-labor pains to continue funding discussions. Sometimes when we are faced with difficult situations, what gets us through them, is a belief in ourselves.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

dalci is intimately a part of the formulation and production of our brownies. By doing so, we are able to hold ourselves accountable and ensure we’re providing consumers with the highest quality. To keep production going, we rely on hiring talented bakers. Most don’t know that we started our business during the pandemic, which saw a rise in unemployment, particularly impacting the hospitality industry the most. This enabled us to do some good while also building our business. We saw a need to hire bakers and chefs who recently lost their jobs and give them a chance to learn about building a startup and formulating CPG products.

When a customer orders a dalci, they are ordering a brownie made with love by a real baker and not a machine. I’ve also learned a lot from working with real bakers and chefs. We have a family meal every week in the kitchen and become a family.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My husband has been my rock and the biggest dalci fan I have ever met. Not only did he let me give up my salary to pursue my dream, but he also invested part of his savings into dalci and has been in the trenches with me.

When I first started dalci, I was the only team member. The day we launched online was both exciting and scary as we didn’t know what the reception would be like or how anyone would react to our brownies. But to our surprise, we amassed 500 orders (3000 brownies) within just our prelaunch week. The real scary part was how we’d bake, cut, pack, and ship all these brownies out within a week. After work every evening, my husband was by my side well into the night, getting dalci prepared for our customers. He and I did all the production work for the first five months of our business to ensure we’d get customers their dalci.

There was a point where my husband became known in our facility as the brownie baking king. He made the best dark chocolate OG dalci anyone has ever tasted, and that was because he made every batch with love.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I think from a societal standpoint; we see resilience as equaling someone outwardly strong. I believe resilience comes from within. One can be emotionally, mentally, and/or physically resilient.

I define resilience as the ability to experience difficult situations and push through them only to come out on the other side as an evolved person. A resilient person is someone that can stay positive even when faced with adversity and continues to be hopeful even when they are on the other side of a hurdle.

A few key characteristics of a resilient person are positivity, self-awareness, a big picture thinker, strategic, productive, and compassionate.

I don’t think it’s bravery or fearlessness that makes someone resilient. I personally survived the toughest parts of my life by staying hopeful and working towards an exit plan. I never succumbed to a feeling that my now was my forever, but that my now was a brief moment of my life and that I had the ability to overcome it.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

I’ve always viewed courage as the ability to embrace fear and step into the unknown. On the other hand, resilience represents the ability to cope with the stress and anxieties that often stem from the unknown. Similar to resilience, courage then requires putting faith into the universe and your own capabilities to steer through uncharted waters.

When you step out of your comfort zone and delve into your passions, you need a sense of inner courage to take that first step toward your goal. Resilience is needed when you’re in the thick of your day-to-day. It’s the strong inner knowing needed to continue working on the passion project or business you took a risk in pursuing.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I think of resilience, I’m brought back to memories of my immigrant mother attempting to find her place in a foreign country. In the early nineties, my Moroccan mother encouraged my father to take the little money and belongings they had and invest in a future for their daughter ocean’s away in the United States.

From learning English to balancing a career as a mother of two, she is the most resilient person I know. A master manifestor. She envisioned a new life for her family, providing her daughters with the professional opportunities she lacked growing up. With her optimism and resilient nature, she paved the way for her daughters to aspire to new heights, whether that looked like the ability to thrive in the male-dominated tech industry or pursue entrepreneurship.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Yes, I got told that a lot growing up. My parents had high expectations of me, but when it came to my dreams, they treated them as fantasies. The only path they saw for me was to work my way through school, become a doctor, get married in my twenties, and have children. There weren’t any alternative plans. So when I told them I wanted to study public health and get into healthcare tech to make a change in this world and do some good for people, they looked at me like I had five heads.

I still have the same big dream today that I had as a child, except now I know how I want to accomplish ‘doing good for people,’ and that is through dalci and launching the Gut Health Food Association in 2022, where our work will focus on making food, gut health, and health information accessible and shining a light on packaged consumer goods and the ingredients that are in our food system.

Food is such an important part of our overall well-being. Regardless of financial status, everyone deserves access to clean, real, naturally occurring functional foods that strengthen the gut and empower healthy microbiomes.

When I was 18 years old, my dad told me I was stupid for attempting to become someone I wanted to be. Now at 33, I can say that I helped over 3M Americans get access to health insurance, started a business celebrating clean and gut-healthy desserts, and worked with like-minded individuals to make clean foods the norm in America.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I wasn’t proud of my time at one of the companies I worked for before dalci. I went into this role hoping to work on innovative products with a purpose. The role was described to me as an opportunity to build a solution from scratch that would change the way consumers integrated oral health into their everyday health routine.

However, I found that I didn’t fit in with the culture, the team, or the approach in building this solution. The people were great, and so was the mission, but I lost all passion and motivation when I realized I wasn’t going to have an opportunity to really challenge myself and build a solution that directly improved oral care in America. Instead, I was taking on more of a project management role versus a leadership role in which I could have the autonomy to research and discover ways of truly shaking up our healthcare system and changing the landscape of oral care.

From the get-go, I let this impact me. I wasn’t my optimal self at all, and I let office politics prevent me from doing a great job. Even when I wanted to do a great job, I found that the role expected more diplomacy from me than actual strategic thinking and creativity.

I was essentially failing for the first time in my life at a job, and it devastated me to the point where my mental and emotional health was impacted. I wasn’t at this company for long and found myself in this weird place of worrying this would prevent me from achieving my career goals to being extremely elated that I never had to think about that job ever again.

Because of this experience, I realized I didn’t want another job where I couldn’t directly see how my actions were a part of a bigger change. I was motivated to take a risk and start my own food business with no prior experience in CPG and take on the challenge of building a brand from scratch.

I could’ve let my experience shake my confidence and prevent me from believing in myself, but instead, I let it push me to take on even bigger risks.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

As the daughter of immigrant parents, I’d like to think resilience has been ingrained in my DNA since arriving in America at the age of four. Growing up in the nineties and early two-thousands, there wasn’t much representation of brown women in the media or an interest in ethnic foods. Growing up in a period where diversity wasn’t so readily embraced and in a not-so-diverse suburban neighborhood came with its fair share of bullying.

From peers mocking the texture of my hair down to my “odd” sounding name and “smelly” lunches, I was quick to develop a hard exterior. Today, I’m so proud of the brown female entrepreneurs, content creators, and activists showing little brown girls across the country that they are powerful, beautiful, smart, and capable of pursuing their passions. Unfortunately, the identity crisis and hard shell I developed as a young girl took time to shatter.

It was the novel, The Namesake, written by the Bengali American author, Jhumpa Lahiri, that gave me the ability to empathize with the conflicting emotions I felt as the American daughter of a Bengali father and Moroccan mother. That small bit of representation and ability to resonate with a character, albeit fictional, gave me a newfound outlook of what it meant to be resilient. I read this novel the summer before I attended my first semester at Syracuse University and entered that new environment transformed, choosing to shed my hard exterior. Instead, I gave myself permission to delve into and embrace my emotions and to celebrate my multifaceted identity while making room to educate others on the realities of experiencing the world through my eyes.

As a female founder of color, I carry this same outlook on resilience today. I am kind to myself and embrace sitting with my emotions after a difficult or disappointing setback before springing back into action.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Step 1: Manifest

Resilience and faith in the unknown go hand-in-hand. The key to overcoming obstacles that may obstruct your path involves honing in on a key end goal. I believe in the power of manifestation. Crafting up a clear vision for your passion project or business, whether in the form of a board or list, will give you the strength to keep pushing through when times get tough.

Step 2: Meditate

Always take time in the mornings to clear your head from all the clutter, noise, and negative thoughts. Meditation can look different for any budding entrepreneur. On days when your to-do list is overflowing, it might look like a ten-minute stretch. When I feel overwhelmed or can sense negative thoughts creeping in, I like to switch on the Calm app and practice my breathwork. These few minutes of daily silence provide me with the space to center my thoughts and prepare myself for the workday ahead.

Step 3: Collaborate

Diving into the world of entrepreneurship can feel lonely at the start and even trigger imposter syndrome. Questioning your abilities and navigating a new professional terrain without support may trigger the urge to throw away the towel. To push through difficult times, I recommend seeking out the advice of other founders within your industry. I’ve learned that knowledge is at your fingertips if you make the effort to network, collaborate and ask questions.

Step 4: Create

Perfectionist tendencies can paralyze you, preventing you from taking the first leap in ideating a product or brand identity. Don’t let failure or the fear of criticism steer you away from tapping into your creativity. From overhauling our recipe to revamping our packaging, dalci has endured numerous transformations since its first launch. Through taking action, we’ve organically built a community of health-conscious eaters who give life and meaning to dalci’s mission to revamp the health food space. It’s the consumers facing food allergies and poor gut health that add purpose to our mission and give us the confidence to tackle any future difficulties.

Step 5: Celebrate

Go ahead and make a big deal of all the small and big wins — you deserve to celebrate your achievements. To strengthen your resilience muscle, it’s important to keep a record of all of the obstacles you’ve already tackled and demolished. When doubts and fear creep in, you can look back at your past successes with the knowledge that you’re armed with the emotional resilience to cope with and overcome any difficulty that strikes.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That is an easy question to answer. I have been working for quite some time to build a Gut Health Food Association (GHFA) with other amazing individuals. Our mission is to educate Americans on the impact of food, gut health, and how ingredients impact one’s overall health. We want to shine a light on the food production process by educating consumers on common ingredients used in packaged products and the impact such ingredients have on the gut.

Gut health is health, and with the popularity of gut health as a category, it’s important “good marketing,” fads, and diet claims don’t take away from scientifically backed information. I believe everyone deserves to understand how the foods they eat impact their everyday functions. I also believe brands have a responsibility to be honest with consumers.

GHFA will be launching in 2022 with our first campaign called ‘TurnTheLablel.’ The purpose of the campaign is to shed light on the ingredients used in the food and beverage industry and how some of those ingredients are contradictory to gut health claims. Additionally, we will be using this movement to educate consumers on gut health, elimination diets, and much more.

It can be very dangerous to sell elimination diets as lifestyle diets with claims they are better for you. We want to build a community to help Americans experiencing gut issues or who want a cleaner, healthier lifestyle, find the information they need to succeed.

It would be fantastic if ‘TurnTheLabel’ became a movement where Americans push the FDA to put stricter guidelines on packaged foods and restrict the use of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals and push brands to be truthful with their packaged food claims. As a brand founder myself, I believe this will be a part of one day achieving a healthier country.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

That would be Oprah. I would love to sit down with Oprah during a Sunday brunch and dive into all things food, health, and life. When I was younger, my parents didn’t have many TV stations to choose from on our cable package, so I would always watch Oprah. I loved the stories, the guests, and most importantly, how a good heart-felt story made me feel. One story that actually made me want to get into public health was Catherine Hamlin’s story. She is the co-founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the world’s only medical centre dedicated exclusively to providing free obstetric fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from childbirth injuries.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me on LinkedIn, where I’m always sharing exciting new updates on dalci in addition to content centered around my experience as a female founder of color and my knowledge of the health food space. Follow @dalciyourself on Instagram to learn more about my journey and the amazing team behind the first-ever gut-friendly brownie.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.