When Mohamed Ali was three years old, his family was forced to leave Somalia and seek refuge in the United States. They moved to Columbus, Ohio, which is a place where many Somali immigrants live. Ali grew up in the U.S. in a pretty good situation, but he soon became more and more worried about what was happening back home.
He decided to go to Boston College to study immigration law and started working in the Somali community. Ali also wanted to help the people of Somalia, so he spent years traveling around diaspora communities in Europe to learn what they needed. During a trip to Rome, he came up with the idea for a foundation.
“At the time, Somalia didn’t have a central government, and the embassy in Rome wasn’t being run by anyone,” he told the BBC. “About 150 young men were camping there. They had all crossed the Mediterranean to get to Italy illegally and were looking for work. My family left Somalia because there was a civil war, but these kids left because they couldn’t find work. That’s when I realized that business could be used to help people.
In 2010, the U.S. State Department took notice of Ali’s good work in the community. As part of the government’s Generation Change initiative, he was then invited to Washington to meet then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 80 other young Muslim leaders.
After the meeting, Ali was inspired by what other young Muslim leaders in places like Indonesia and Malaysia were doing, so he started the Iftiin Foundation to help people in his own country. In 2011, he went back to Somalia to plan a conference on youth leadership and innovation.
Ali and his sister, who was 27 at the time, started the Iftiin Foundation in Somalia in 2012. The foundation is based in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. It teaches people how to start their businesses and helps small businesses. It also gives job training, training on how to deal with conflicts, counseling, and help with reintegration.
He said that the idea behind the foundation was to build peace through business. He said, “The basic idea is active capitalism, which means using capitalism as a tool for development instead of aid.” “We put money into these businesses and own a piece of them. Instead of just giving grants, we have a stake in how well they do. If they do well, we make money that we can use to keep doing what we do.
When he started his foundation, he didn’t have any help from the government, so most of the money came from private sources, like money sent from Somali communities in the U.S. or Europe. Investors were not willing to put money into a country with a lot of fighting.
Ali wasn’t scared, though. Through its “Mini MBA” program, the Iftiin Foundation has taught more than 1,000 Somali youth how to run a business. The foundation has given its graduates a lot of help after they finish their training. This includes helping them start their businesses and giving them ongoing mentorship.