In recent decades, Somali women have shown their entrepreneurial spirit, from managing small tuck shops in the villages to the big shops in Bakaro and Xamar Weyne, from online product sales to medium-sized enterprises. The achievements of Somali women engaged in Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) increased; they created jobs and supported many Somali families. The victory of such women-owned businesses is inevitable, and it made a massive difference in the country’s recovering economy.
Looking back at the decades of political conflict in the country, Somali women have also achieved an incredible triumph in operating MSMEs and existing informal businesses. They played a vital role in the survival of many families. Today, women traders are visible in all giant and small markets, selling clothes, foodstuffs, and all manner of items. For many families, women-owned businesses are the primary income source. However, the majority of these businesses are informal. As per NBS, the country’s overall informal economy makes up 51.4%. Women-led businesses are the main component of the informal economy, with 44%. Most of these women-owned enterprises were formed as a form of family survival, and the growth of these businesses is non-existent.
Further along, the country’s unemployment rate is shocking, at 67%; the percentage is even higher among females, at 74%, it is estimated. According to the NBS report, the country’s national budget is minimal, and the available funds are allocated to focus on critical priorities, including security and political stability. Therefore, investment in creating jobs has become insignificantly vital to the Somali government.
Therefore, because of the limited jobs in the market, the unmatched skills, and the gender barriers, it makes less compatible for women to access full labour force participation. The question is, what are the other alternatives? In my opinion, promoting women’s entrepreneurship is a much-needed intervention that should be focused on by all relevant stakeholders. In this article, I will shed light on the importance of promoting women’s entrepreneurship for its economic growth and the challenges that surround it.
Women’s Financial Services
Access to finance remains one of the critical challenges for many growth-oriented MSMEs. This is an undeniable fact. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) data, 42% of Somalia’s informal enterprises are heavily in need of credit but do not have access to any. However, for the last five years, local banks have been introducing bank services tailored for MSMEs and especially for women entrepreneurs. In the case of Dheeman Mastercard (IBS Bank), Dahabo (Dahabshiil Bank), and Maandeeq (Premier Bank), to assist women entrepreneurs. These services attracted many female entrepreneurs. Through these unique bank cards, they can receive up to a $15,000 loan amount with zero charges that should be paid within 12 months. Primer Bank offers its female clients the use of an overdraft service, meaning that women entrepreneurs can withdraw excess money from their accounts. The same goes for eDahab at Dahabshiil Bank. For the IBS bank, using Dheeman Mastercard is charged only $6 annually, compared to the standard $10 annual bank fee. Additionally, Dheeman Mastercard gives access to the asset financing of women’s businesses at a 7% rate for the first year and a 14% rate for the second year, compared to the usual 12% and 24%, respectively (ILO, 2021).
However, although there are limitations to these bank services, such as the repayment period and the number of loans, yet, only a few female entrepreneurs can exercise these services as the banks require business documentation such as a business registration certificate issued by the government, which many women do not have. Hence, women entrepreneurs need the support of non-financial services such as documentation and mentorship to formalise their businesses.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry introduced the Business Registration and Licensing System (SBRL), which was launched recently. The e-business registry portal (https://ebusiness.gov.so) is intended to speed up the business registration process in the country. There is also a recent development in the Somali Trade Information Portal (STIP). All businesses can access the trade laws, regulations, policies, and procedures to start a business. These are significant steps towards creating a conducive environment for businesses, including MSMEs. However, the mandatory certification fee does not favour entry-level and existing women-owned businesses in getting their business licenced and registered.
Thus, the government must introduce policies that favour these businesses and promote them—a significant reduction in the fees and tax exemption will be an incentive for women entrepreneurs—to unlock their market opportunities. If this is implemented, women entrepreneurs will have access to other services supported and offered by the local private and international entities, which are indispensable in promoting women’s entrepreneurship.
Incubation Center for MSMEs
Developing entrepreneurial skills also significantly impacts on empowering and promoting women’s entrepreneurship. The need for knowledge, information, entrepreneurial mindset and technological skills to operate businesses exists. These kinds of services should be provided by the Business Development Service Providers (BDSPs). Women-owned companies either fail or grow slowly, mainly due to a lack of mentorship and incubation services. However, there are hubs launched in many parts of the country—iRise, SIMAD iLab, and Har Hub are among them. The rise of these initiatives is becoming the new normal in Somalia. The hubs should prioritise training young people and women. SIMAD iLab hugely encourages women entrepreneurs by reserving a 50% quota in the entrepreneurship, incubation, technology, and employment mentorship programs to develop and grow their start-ups. Other programs are dedicated exclusively to female entrepreneurs to raise the bar. This includes the Ladies Talk Event—through this social event, aspiring women entrepreneurs get connected, and exchange insights with pioneered women entrepreneurs. Webinars and Field Tours are among the programs intended to increase women’s engagement in mentorship programs. SIMAD iLab also hosts a Product Fair Day, which showcases the products and services of the start-ups accelerated or incubated at the centre. The product fair is an opportunity for young female entrepreneurs to exhibit their businesses and market their products and services.
Nevertheless, promoting women’s entrepreneurship is a multi-stakeholder approach. All relevant stakeholders, including governments, banks, academia, and innovation and entrepreneurship hubs, must work together and encourage collectively to boost the country’s economic growth.
Bahja Ali Shuriye, Head of Women Enterprises Development, SIMAD iLab
This is a wonderful article, which touched on many important areas.
Interesting topic that arrived with potential solutions and advises in promotion of womens’ entrepreneurship in somlia.
Thanks dear for highlights
This is timely and beautifully written piece. Thank you Bahja and Simad iLab. Hope you make extensive detailed research on the subject note near future.
Bahja and simad iLab—-
You have done a great job in sharing this information. Your effort is highly appreciated. Keep up the good work!
This is a well organized article which underlined the acheived victories by the women entrepreneurs. Also is advising to promote women entrepreneurs not only Financial support but they needy capacity building on bussines skills.