Opportunity begins at home


By Conrad Young

Suad Ismail is not the kind of person to say no to a challenge: she plans to open the first women only gym in Somaliland’s capital.

An information technology graduate and previous owner of a kindergarten, Suad is one of many young Somalis trying to break the mould and start up a business.

She has not had an easy ride and Hargeisa is not conducive to business. The unemployment rate for 14–29 year olds is 67%, a statistic that becomes even more worrying when over 70% of Somalia’s population is under 35.

Ali Xirsi, a 27 year old business graduate from Bosasso, is another would be entrepreneur. Ali is seeking to start a paper factory in Somalia which he believes is the first of its kind. Like most things, stationery in Somalia is imported. “Local production is what will save the country and provide the jobs we so desperately need,” he says.

Many of Ali’s friends left Somalia after graduating, migrating to Europe in search of better opportunities. Ali, however, insists: “I am not giving up on my country”.

But Ali and Suad’s enthusiasm and business acumen may not be enough to keep their ventures alive. Unlike young companies in the UK, Somali businesses do not have ready access to loans and support.

In an atmosphere of financial uncertainty where banks are few and skittish, starting up a functioning corporation and finding the right staff is a huge challenge.

This lack of financial literacy and capital is being addressed by projects such as the Somalia Stability Fund’s Youth Enterprise Initiative. The initiative, led by a consortium of Somali companies, is providing over 200 small businesses with financial training and selecting a smaller group of 15 to receive loans and further support.

In the words of the Fund’s Country Manager Abdullahi Abdi Gabho:

“By providing business mentors and financial training programmes in Hargeisa, Bosasso, Mogadishu, Beledweyne and Kismayo, the project is reaching out to entrepreneurial youth across a wide area. Investment portals and business profiles on the internet will provide the new ventures with invaluable connections to potential investors”.

“The project ensures that the young Somali entrepreneurs know that the loans are Halal (in accordance with Islamic financial rules) and are part of a legitimate operation that will monitor and support their growing enterprises”.

The risk involved with starting up a Somali business for Suad and Ali is a painful reality. This new initiative will provide them with the confidence needed to let their companies flourish and help to improve the homeland that they will never stop believing in.
“I have high hopes for the future,” says Suad, “soon things will change for the better”.