Laying the foundation for the private sector in Somalia

Jamila Said

The Swedish Somali Business Program (SSBP) was initiated in 2016 and have since supported roughly 100 companies. It assists entrepreneurs to lay the foundation to an ethical private sector in Somalia. 

One of the mandatory events within the program is the annual capacity development conference.  Meet two of the participants ready to venture into businesses that will help rebuilt the country. 

Participating for the first time in the last conference was Jamila Said and she describes how SSBP took her into business.

“My background was never in business. I’ve been a gender activist all my life.”

Jamila comes from the coastal city of Bosaso in Puntland where she owns a strip of land. The land has however been laying idle as Jamila herself has spent much of her life advancing women’s rights and equality while working as a gender consultant.

Somalia being a big trader and exporter of livestock and Bosaso being a harbor city, she got word of the challenges to feed live livestock when transported by ship.

“So I thought, why don’t I plant grass and sell to the ships transporting animals? For that I needed water. I contacted a drilling company to fix a well. I was now set to finalize my proposal to SSBP.”

Her business idea was accepted for the so-called module 1 phase which means she is funded to do an in-depth feasibility study in Bosaso. The conference did however prove to be a pilot to the study.

“I’ve learned a lot and gotten a lot of inspiration from and connected with other people who came into the program earlier than me. I am for instance in talks with another participant on possibilities to connect my well to an environmental friendly water pump,” Jamila explains.

Mohammed Abshir

Attending the conference for the second time was Mohamed Abdi Abshir who has long experience in the truck and heavy vehicle industry.

Through SSBP he is well on his way to open his business that will deal with truck and spare parts and help improve the infrastructure of transport in Somalia.

“Throughout my carrier I have dealt with heavy machinery, from mechanics to marketing and sales. I’m now done with the first phase of analyzing the market and I’m ready to start up the business,” Mohamed says confidently.

Equipment is on its way to Jubaland, the workshop is being renovated and Mohamed has recruited five workers for a trial period. He thought he would have come further by early 2019 but he needed to slow things down as he realized the company cannot open without him being on site.

Running the company from afar while being employed full time in Sweden is simply not an option. Mohamed explains how it doesn’t matter just how much you plan; in Somalia you will still run in to one unpredictability after another. This is partly why he was attracted to SSBP, to get mentorship and increased competence that would help him manage unplanned situations of business implementation. 

SSBP can give you inspiration and a head start to the business operation you wish to develop. It’s also great to have access to staff of Forum Syd in Somalia, Mohamed explains.

The unpredictable nature of establishing a business is something echoed by many. Jamila finds the SSBP processes of pre-analysis and reporting rather thorough but necessary for lasting change.

She believes SSBP participants include perspectives the government doesn’t consider; environment, gender and human rights. Social aspects of the market that will secure change for the long-term.

She compares starting a company to constructing a foundation to a house: “It’s like building a house, the fundaments are the hardest part. To add the second or third floor is easy!”