Businesses feted at first ever award ceremony in Somalia

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Special Correspondent

Advisor of the first ever Somali Annual Business Awards (SABA), Sultan Amri Nassor Sultan pays tribute to the resilient spirit of Somalis. He says SABA is important because it will help streamline, organise and formalise business in Somalia

When the history of Somalia’s renaissance after decades of war is written, January 12, 2017 will be remembered as Somalia witnessed the first ever Annual Business Awards despite skepticism from some quarters.

Known as Somali Annual Business Awards (SABA) and organised by The Somalia Investor Magazine consortium, recognised big and small enterprises that have been a cornerstone in the rebirth of the country’s enterprise.

In total, nine categories saw individuals and organizations feted at the gala event held in the clear skies of Mogadishu. According to the awards’ advisor, Sultan Amri Nassor Sultan the event was more than just giving trophies and certificates to winners. “It was in recognition of Somalis spirit of resilience and entrepreneurship,” said Sultan who has worked with Somalia’s government, civil society and education institutions for close to 15 years training them on leadership and project management.

Sultan, whose first trip to Somalia in 2002 was aboard a miraa (khat) plane to Hergeisa acknowledges the transformation the country has undergone since then.

“Over the years, I have come to appreciate Somalis resilience and innovativeness. Somalis are risk takers and can plan a trip to the moon even without proper equipment,” he noted. Sultan, a Kenyan native, has traversed Somalia over the years and gives his assessment of Somalia by using one of the country’s athletes the late, Samiyo Omar, spirit of competitiveness.

Samiyo represented Somalia 2008 Olympics held in Beijing, China. She competed in the 200 meters, a race she trained for under difficult conditions. Few people outside Somalia if any had heard about the girl, but when she crossed the finish line, even though she was the last, there was a standing ovation. She had beaten many odds to compete and had risked the wrath of Islamic militia’s controlling Mogadishu then. She had trained in a pothole filled track and didn’t even have the right shoes. In fact, the shoes she used during the race were donated by Ethiopian amateur athletes. After the Olympics Al-Shabaab banned all Somalis from participating – or even watching – sports or wearing sports jerseys. Determined to continue competing, she crossed over to Ethiopia hoping to train for the 2012 Olympics.

Asked why she braced all the dangers and even risking her life she said: “We Somalis don’t look back. We just keep going!!”

Sadly, she died while trying to cross from Libya to Italy in the same year. She was among the migrants who drowned after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, her courage and words did not die with her. True to her words, after decades of war, Somali has risen and it keeps going. Business is thriving and the economy is growing, a fact even the World Bank acknowledged in its report this year, Transition amidst Risk.

In the report released in April 2016, the World Bank says the country has the potential to overcome what it described as “immense challenges” to attain meaningful reforms towards sustainable development.

“So far, there are positive signs that the economy is responding: Somalis are returning from abroad, shops are opening, new financial institutions have been licensed and property markets are booming. Somalia is at a turning point. Creating a workable system of government will be central to its recovery,” says the report.

“Somalia’s history is replete with such stories of resilience and determination,” says Sultan, who is also a motivational speaker and has helped design over 10 awards in Kenya, some of which have been replicated in countries like Malaysia.

He cites an example of resilience of a hotel bombed in Mogadishu in 2015 by Al Shabaab.

“They bombed parts of the hotel at around 6pm and by 8 O’clock the same night, the hotel the management had started repairing the rooms that were destroyed. The work was done overnight and the morning, everything was good as new and new security measures had been put in place,” he says.

“We had cases of good performing businesses by way of history being told by the owners, but there was not documented proof of how they got there.  The hallmark of a well-run business is the ability to plan, practice and proofing it.”  Sultan Amri Nassor Sultan

“Somalis don’t resign to fate. For the years I have done trainings in Somalia, I have seen individuals and businesses rise from ashes days after attacks,” he adds.

Thus, when he was approached by Mohamed Dubo, who is the publisher of The Somali Investor Magazine and a key pillar of the consortium that organised the awards, Sultan was more than willing to design the tools of the historic awards.

One of the key objectives of the awards was to encourage formalisation of business in Somalia that for over decades have operated informally.

According to Dubo the uncompetitive nature of the private sector in Somalia is what informed this award and the fact that Somali people have business acumen that needs to be supported.

Assessors and participants were trained on the requirements and expectations. In total, 24 finalist companies, small and big, took part in the process overseen by five assessors and presided over by five judges.

Sultan says some of the main challenges he noted were lack of proper planning, poor documentation, human resource management policies and documentation.

“We had cases of good performing businesses by way of history being told by the owners, but there was no documented proof of how they got there,” he says adding that the hallmark of a well-run business is the ability to plan, practice and proofing it.

Sultan notes that there was a running fear among some of the participants that showing financial records could expose the business to unnecessary public scrutiny and competition.

“My advice to such people was that if you have a daughter and hide her, you will not be a grandfather after all,” he says and adds that SABA has a confidentiality clause and information given by participants cannot be disclosed to third parties.

Sultan stresses that SABA is important because it will help streamline, organise and formalise business in Somalia, but is also quick to add a rider that entrepreneurs should not just follow entry guidelines to win certificates and trophies.

Organisers of SABA say the main objectives of the awards are to strengthen business acumen in Somalia by encouraging entrepreneurs to be formal and structured and to celebrate success and learn from failure.

A plus for participants is the fact that they had an opportunity to be connected to banks and other business financiers. This networking chance was created because Somali banks and other financiers have expressed willingness to provide supply-chain facilities and financial streams to entrepreneurs who are well organised and in need of help.

On the authenticity of the awards, organisers say: “The SABA process is ring-fenced with water tight integrity in all stages from the selection of participants, evidence collection, analysis and the award declaration.”

This they say is to increase the credibility of the award and prevent any chance of guesswork or rumors surrounding the process.

Sultan encourages more businesses to take part next year adding that SABA is a step in the right direction in creating awareness among entrepreneurs and also sending a message to skeptics of Somalia’s recovery from decades of war and the loosening grip of instability.

“Undeniably, security is still an issue of concern, but the resilience of the Somali people is noteworthy and is something that those who know only about war in Somalia should be made aware of,” he concludes.