The investor helping Somali businesses

Published: April 21, 2014
The investor helping Somali businesses
Mohamed Ali, who left Somalia aged three, stands outside the Mogadishu hospital where he was born

By Jane O’Brien
BBC News

Earlier this year Mohamed Ali was reminded once again of the dangers of living and working in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Islamic militants attacked the presidential compound on 22 February, when his father was praying inside its mosque. Mr Ali’s dad escaped injury, but nine others were killed.

“It was a very emotional moment,” says the 33-year-old founder and boss of the Iftiin Foundation – an organisation that seeks to promote stability in Somalia through entrepreneurship.

That understated reaction is typical of Mohamed Ali, who was three when his parents fled the civil war and came to the US as refugees.

They settled in Columbus, Ohio, home to the country’s largest Somali community, and Mr Ali was brought up in what he describes as a relatively privileged middle class home.

But as he grew older he became aware of the problems many of his native countrymen and women were facing, with few resources at their disposal.

Nobody in the 50,000 strong US diaspora was a lawyer so Mr Ali decided to study immigration law at Ohio State University, and began working in the community.

But he also knew he wanted to use his skills to help Somalia itself rebuild, and so he spent several years visiting diaspora communities in Europe to find out what was needed. The idea for the Iftiin Foundation occurred during a trip to Rome.

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