MA: I incubate and nurture youth entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries, starting with my country of birth Somalia, as a tool to accelerate peace and promote stability. I believe that entrepreneurship can change the world and use my organization, Iftiin Foundation, connect and foster an ecosystem of young entrepreneurs doing extraordinary in countries like Somalia. Iftiin means ‘light’ in Somali and the organization was established to inspire hope and lasting peace and prosperity in impoverished conflict-affected communities. The foundation seeks to foster economic growth by implementing positive youth development programs to assist local populations in emerging from poverty and preventing youth involvement in conflict, terrorism and piracy. I also engage Somali youth in leadership and training initiatives to effectively address the complex issues hindering the success of youth in a post-conflict environment.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
MA: I recently held a youth leadership and entrepreneurship summit in Mogadishu. We brought together 80 youth leaders, activists and entrepreneurs to brainstorm entrepreneurial projects and enterprises to the address greatest challenges facing the city. Ideas ranged from creating a private ambulance service to fill the gap of emergency services to micro-enterprise programs addressing the needs of street children. I was inspired by their creativity and their commitment to making their city a better place to live. The best part of my job is interacting with this new generation of young innovators, leaders and social entrepreneurs living in Somalia and in other conflict affected regions. These are dynamic, innovative and courageous young people who are transforming their country and contributing to peace and development.
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
MA: Countries like Somalia for too long, have become synonymous with images of violence, anarchy and civil-strife. When I mention Somalia and entrepreneurship in the same sentence, the reactions vary from skepticism to surprise. This single narrative has been my biggest challenge in engaging impact investors in support entrepreneurs in the region.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? / What is the secret of your success?
MA: There are stories of hope, resilience, strength, courage, and persistence coming out of Somalia. It is telling these stories, and giving youth entrepreneurs a platform to broadcast their passion and ideas, that has been my greatest tool in addressing this challenge of shifting the narrative.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
MA: I began my journey in law, immigration and human rights law in fact. Entrepreneurship and youth social enterprise were not things that were in my vocabulary. During my work in human rights sector, I came to realize the important link between human rights and development and that economic and social development provides the basis for the general attainment of human rights. I began reading articles and blogs like Business Fights Poverty on the subject, connecting with online networks of social entrepreneurs and changemakers and attending seminars and workshops.
BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
MA: There are amazing entrepreneurs and changemakers who are fighting poverty and promoting development everyday in the BFP Community - I read their articles and blog posts and am inspired and excited by their work, ingenuity and passion. I hope to be continued to be inspired and use what I learn from them to support and promote the projects and ideas of the youth entrepreneurs I work with.
Thank you to Mohamed Ali for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.