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2nd SABA gala exceeded expectations and excited the business community

The second edition of Somali Annual Business Awards (SABA) was a surprising success; the positive enthusiasm from the business community remains a star on the lapels of the event… 

A young Somali woman standing before a 400 audience at 10pm in Mogadishu receiving the Best Women Entrepreneur of the year award, a thunderous applause follows- -can you believe this?

Yes-that is the new Somalia-the dream of the Somalia Investor Magazine’s new initiative to drive a wind of change in the Somalia business environment. I am talking about SABA-Somalia Annual Business Award- which has a dream where the Somali business community becomes the engine of job and wealth creation.

The night of January 11th 2017 when the Somali Annual Business Awards (SABA) gala was held at Jazeera Palace Hotel in Mogadishu, was a special night for a number of companies in Mogadishu. The night followed months of a top down corporate audit that saw several companies battling it out to win in various categories. For companies like Ocean Airlines, it was a big night as their CEO Abdikani Ali was awarded CEO of the Year award; that award not only recognised the CEO, it also singled out the company, Ocean Airlines, as the company to watch in the aviation sector.

Using key Organizational Performance Index and a Business Excellence Model developed by a team of experts, eight companies were feted with various award from  business entries of 60 companies. SOSTEC an ICT company won the woman entrepreneur award, Daauus advertising Agency took the youth SME award while the Best Bank of the year award was won by International Bank of Somalia, 2nd time. Target Group, was honoured with the Best Marketer award, CSR went to AAMIN Ambulance and the HR award was conferred to HASS Petroleum. To crown the event, Somali National University was honoured and Ocean Airlines deservedly won the CEO of the Year award, and at the peak of the event HASS Petroleum won the SABA overall Best Company for the year 2018.

SABA 2018 winner in the Woman Entrepreneur award, SOSTEC was quoted saying “when I joined SABA in 2017, I thought it was just a simple process of selecting good looking businesses. I was impressed that the SABA assessors were articulate and asked many questions that woke me up. I decided not to participate in 2017. This year I promised to do better and I won the award.I am glad that the award is a merit based’’ In a sense of humour, but she was serious, she added  “…and next year I want to compete with the big companies in the Four category.

The 60 companies that participated in SABA 2018 have a total declared gross income of USD 200 million and employ more than 2,000 persons. The repeat companies (who participated in 2017 and 2018) have increased their revenues by 32.8%, and grew employment by 20% within one year.

However, this is not the first time SABA gala took place in Mogadish. The first SABA gala was held in January 12th 2017. Over 40 companies applied to be included in the process, but only 27 met the required conditions (the conditions being that the participating companies have to be at least one year old and must be validly registered certificate). Out of the 27, Seven were announced winners in various categories.

In the first edition of SABA, of the 27 companies that took part in the competition, it was noted that the highest representation came from companies in the categories of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and youth owned firms, confirming the often assumed fact that the youth and SMEs are the bedrock of most economies.

In preparation for the award assessement, the organizers ran into a few challenges with some of the participating organizations. The main challenge was that most companies were not willing to share information, especially financial related information. Banks were especially reluctant to have a third party audit their books.

The SABA process involves asking the participating company to provide evidence of their policies and plans, their activities and operations and the results and profitability of the business. This is where SABA has challenges-the business owners resist to give such data; and without the data, SABA judges are faced with challenges to make the final decisions of the award. Good news though—after two years of SABA, the repeat participating companies are gradually opening up. They have felt the importance of providing data so that SABA can guide them to improve more and more.

The SABA process was looking for businesses that have entrepreneurs who are seriously organized, business people who have the culture of formal and organized systems, and those that build the capacity of their staff. SABA will strengthen business acumen among Somalis and generate sustainable businesses and growth.

Some SMEs actually qualified in 2017 but chose to opt out of the competition citing lack of preparedness and others argued that they didn’t feel comfortable taking such a public step. A number of such companies decided to compete in 2018, with two of them winning this year.

The organizers of the award say that for the companies that participated in 2017, SABA acted as a reminder, to them, on the quality business practices and standards that they have to uphold and for the companies that chose to abscond the awards, they realized that SABA is a credible, non-partisan improvement tool that is worth being part of.

“This realization was visible based on the interest expressed in SABA 2018. The awareness and uptake was high. We received 60 applications and all the 60 qualified to participate in the competition. The event was much more competitive with the desire to win being openly palpable amongst the participants,” explains Kadar Mohamed, Somalia Investor Magazine director .

But that is not all, the compliance rate, with the requirements that each company is needed to meet was higher than 2017. 60% of the companies that applied to participate in the event shared, without prodding, the needed information, including submitting to external audits of their financial records.  A good indicator by any standards.

SABA Awards at its core is a management audit. For every company that is participating in the competition, a team of experts will look through and rate its management structure, its company policies, its engagement with the public through CSR, its leadership, its marketing stryle and its Human Resource management procedures. All the participating companies are graded in broad categories as SMEs (by Youth and Women), Banks or Corporates. 

According to Mr. Kadar, two things stood out in this year’s event: One is that it was obvious that most companies in Mogadishu have realised the need and importance of such competitions. And that it is clear that they believe that winning or being favourably mentioned elevates the profile of the company. Two, there was increased jostling and excitement among sponsors.

SABA invites all businesses in Somalia to come forward and present their success stories. The SABA process has put in place high level integrity in all its  stages from the selection of participants, evidence collection, and evidence analysis to the award declaration.

The process also involves constituting an Award Management Team which has the task to produce the tool, then training and the whole process of data collection, data integrity and finally to organize and make Presentation to the SABA Jury for deliberation and awarding.

SABA 2018 Gala attendance was markedly improved. From 150 invited guests in 2017, to 400 invited guests in 2018. The key sponsors for this year’s event included GEEL/USAID, Turkish Airlines, MAAMUUS Events, Jazeera Palace Hotel, Sagal Travel, Daauus Advertising Agency and Astaan TV, which provided live streaming and media coverage.

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