Laying the Foundation for Startups in Somalia
1 Oct 2014

Ahmed Ali Jama is a program specialist at Shaqodoon, the official GEW Somalia host organization. Over the course of the last eight months, he has run a successful training program for hundreds of young entrepreneurs throughout Somalia to help combat the country’s rising youth unemployment rate.

Jama shared his thoughts with us on entrepreneurship in Somalia and what lies ahead for GEW 2014.

When and how did Shaqodoon first get involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week?

After hearing about GEW from our Qatar partner Silatech, Shaqodoon joined GEW in 2013 as the host organization for Somalia. We saw getting involved in GEW as a great opportunity to promote and foster the culture of entrepreneurship in Somalia and further incubate and nurture entrepreneurial youth. Over the past few months, Shaqodoon has hosted a number of events to inspire Somali youth to awaken their entrepreneurial spirit. We have used different mechanisms including:  

  • Countrywide radio-based weekly entrepreneurship programs with public SMS participation;
  • Television programming supporting entrepreneurship;
  • Networking and matchmaking events; and
  • Employment and entrepreneurship trainings.

Why is Global Entrepreneurship Week important—overall and to Somalia, specifically?

GEW fosters a positive culture of entrepreneurship, something that we desperately need in Somalia. It empowers ambitious young people to lead their conflict-stricken communities into prosperity.

Last year, Shaqodoon partnered with the University of Hargeisa and brought together youths, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors for a handful of GEW events that sought to incubate business ideas and teach participants how creating businesses can transform lives. Keynote speakers of these GEW events included professors and businessmen. These events impacted thousands of potential entrepreneurs willing to start their own businesses and through GEW events, they learnt the basic ideas, activities and skills needed to successfully launch and grow small businesses. Additionally, as part of GEW, Shaqodoon, Silatech and Bulsho TV partnered to launch Somalia’s first Business Plan Competition for youth. A two-part documentary was aired nationally and internationally in November 2013 reaching thousands of Somali youth, entrepreneurs in the Somali Territories and the Somali Diaspora.

What are the key differences in entrepreneurship in a developed nation and entrepreneurship in a developing country?

The key differences are that in developed nations, entrepreneurs are able to easily access startup capital, free education, free mentoring and quality business development services. Entrepreneurs in developing nations are experiencing a lot of difficulties including, business duplication, limited access to capital, too much red tape and entrepreneurs don’t get the chance to take entrepreneurship trainings to explore their potential. I have observed in Somalia that many young entrepreneurs who have excellent ideas seek to support themselves and their families by starting their own business but often don’t have the skills, confidence or knowledge to be successful.

Are there challenges or barriers that you would like to overcome to increase participation?

In the past, our private sector has been reluctant to sponsor GEW events, but I would like to overcome that barrier using innovative ways of communication and strategies to engage sponsors this year.

What event(s) are you most looking forward to for GEW 2014?

I am looking forward to celebrating women in entrepreneurship during the week, the first time we have globally focused on female entrepreneurship that will be held this November.We aim to bring together female Somali entrepreneurs, young women who are eager move ahead through self-employment and entrepreneurship activities, startup financing institutions from several sectors, mentors, business development service providers and professors to showcase female owned businesses. Three successful Somali women entrepreneurs will present motivational lectures during the day to share their business experiences and inspire aspiring female entrepreneurs.

What kind of tools are available in Somalia for a person with no experience whatsoever in business? Is there a role for government to play in the process?

In Somalia, there are no government efforts supporting entrepreneurship activities, but Shaqodoon has secured, with the support of Silatech, a number of entrepreneurship materials. These include:

  • Build Your Business, an entrepreneurship training course designed to introduce young people to the basic ideas, actions, and skills needed to successfully launch, lead, and grow a micro or small business produced by Microsoft with partnering from the International Youth Foundation,
  • Financial Literacy, a practical financial guidance produced by Silatech; and
  • Tahmeed Psychometric Assessments.

The Shaqodoon program team has also developed some entrepreneurship materials including mentorship training materials and work readiness skills training materials that we make available to entrepreneurs.

Who are the local stars promoting entrepreneurship in your country?

Some influencial players in Somalia are:

  • Havoyogo, a company that provides sanitation, counseling, education and vocational training in Somalia.
  • Kaaba, a micro finance institution and financial service provider that aims to strengthen the economic base of the low-income women and youth in Somaliland.  
  • Dahabshil Bank, a full service Islamic Bank licensed by Somalia. The bank′s primary markets are in the Horn of Africa and the Somali Diaspora in the Gulf Region, Western Europe and North America. The bank combines world-class customer service, the highest ethical standards of Sharia and the latest technology, to bring cost-effective products and services to its customer base.


How do we create an environment for more entrepreneurs to be successful in Somalia and beyond?

Promoting a positive environment for entrepreneurs begins by enabling motivated entrepreneurs to access startup capital and facilitating a broad range of services. These services include high-quality mentoring, ongoing support and providing entrepreneurship trainings and fellowships to get more experience in real life business operations. We need to facilitate linkages to potential mentors and investors, stimulate entrepreneurs’ potential and create successful short term and long term goals and strategies. If an entrepreneur is passionate, skillful, confident, dedicated, committed to explore their own potential, then perhaps that entrepreneur will be successful.