Social entrepreneurship ‘key to fulfilling Somalia’s potential’

Somalia_potentialSomalia can stage its own recovery from issues that have plagued it for more than 20 years - Abdirashid Duale, CEO, Dahabshiil.The CEO of Somalia’s largest private sector employer has called for the international community to help unlock the potential of social entrepreneurship in the region

Abdirashid Duale, CEO of Dahabshiil, Africa’s largest money transfer business, said that Somalia can stage its own recovery from issues that have plagued it for more than 20 years. He spoke ahead of the recent London Somalia Conference, which was chaired by British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

“Somalis have high hopes that the international community will develop a concrete plan to improve the region’s future,” said Duale. “The key to unlocking Somalia’s potential is international investment in social entrepreneurship and education.

“It will help Somalis help themselves by teaching them how to create new business opportunities, more jobs and a more sustainable economy. These practical alternatives will protect vulnerable Somalis, particularly younger generations, from the pressure put on them by extremist groups linked to piracy and terrorism. As the Somali proverb goes ‘the worst man is he who never sows, never consults and never economises’, meaning that our communities most value those that use their minds or assets to help themselves and others.”

The conference, organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was attended by more than 40 governments and international organisations, including the UN, African Union, European Union and the World Bank. Somali officials, including the Presidents of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug and Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaah were also in attendance.

The conference, held at Lancaster House on 23 February, aimed to deliver commitment and coordination for a new international approach to tackle Somalia’s problems of terrorism, piracy, food shortage and the political vacuum affecting the region. Addressing an audience of Somalis at Chatham House recently, UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said he was confident the conference would mark a turning point by, “putting the needs of Somalis front and centre.” Hague also emphasised that solutions must be Somali-led. “We can help get Somalia on its feet – we cannot do the running for it,” he said.

Mr Duale said, “The conference addresses issues that are highly political, but if the Somali region is to be rehabilitated, then its business community – domestic and international – must be central to any agreed plan. Diaspora-led businesses in Somalia play a crucial role in bringing expertise and investment to the private sector.

“Those Somalis with the most at stake, who understand the many complex issues first-hand, tend to be those who live and work within the region. In pursuit of sustainable development, stability and effective government, multi-lateral organisations such as the African Union, UN, EU and World Bank need to find ways to help these various groups play to their strengths.”

Dahabshiil, which handles the majority of the US$1.6bn remitted to Somalia by its diaspora, has a long history of partnership with international organisations, supporting development initiatives and providing financial services to 95 per cent of NGOs operating there. Dahabshiil Group spans money transfer, banking and telecoms, and employs around 5,000 people within Somalia itself, across regional and clan lines.

As part of a wide-ranging corporate social responsibility programme financed by five per cent of its annual profits, the company funds the main hospital in Mogadishu and is a major donor to healthcare programmes throughout the Horn of Africa. At the height of last year’s drought, Dahabshiil donated over US$200,000 to the relief effort and called for other businesses to follow suit. The firm contributes to infrastructure projects and makes regular donations of cash and equipment to schools and universities throughout the region.

“There are now ten universities in Hargeisa and an increasing number of young people are choosing to pursue further education within the Somali regions instead of leaving,” said Duale. “It is vital that we, alongside the international community, continue to make strenuous efforts in education as it will play a vital role in the development of a sustainable economy.”

It is being recognised increasingly that the Somali youth represent a great challenge both in the diaspora and in the region itself. The international community has already stepped-up its efforts to engage disenfranchised young Somalis in the UK, Mogadishu and elsewhere, with part-government funded organisations such as the London Somali Youth Forum playing a particularly active role.

Referring to recent actions of a Minnesota bank in the US, which stopped money transfers to Somalia in fear of prosecution under US anti-terror laws, Duale expressed his concern for those who rely heavily on remittances to survive.

“Annual remittances to the Somali region are greater than funding from international aid,” he said. “The flow of financial and human resources between the diaspora and the domestic population is crucial to sustained development, and the international community should not obstruct the efforts of Somalis to help themselves, whether it’s by sending money or by travelling to and from the region.”

Following the global media’s recent focus on the international impact of piracy and terrorism, Duale was keen to highlight the effect on day-to-day business in the region itself.

“The threat of piracy and insurgent groups translate to increased business costs, such as insurance, shipping and internal security for firms trying to operate in these areas,” he said. “Greater stability and continuity in the Somali government is a prerequisite to any long term solution. The conference must lay the foundations for this, as businesses are currently at the mercy of the government’s constantly changing nature and its lack of effective authority.”

Looking ahead, Duale said that to secure a brighter future for all Somalis it is imperative the international community help to build better infrastructure – citing roads and hospitals as necessary sources of investment. He added that Somalia would benefit from greater UN involvement, including closer collaboration with the private sector and greater investment from Turkey, the Middle East and other members of the Arab League. Duale also welcomed recent aid from international donors, but said further humanitarian support is still required.

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