In another special segment to showcase the beating heart of Somaliland’s entrepreneurial spirit, we caught up with Mr. Abdirahman Hirsi, the founder and the CEO of Horn of Africa Strategic Initiative (HASI) to get him to divulge the secret to his success and encourage the next generation of Somaliland entrepreneurs.
Mr. Hirsi and his business are entirely unique in Somaliland and are taking a different approach to business; he is not in the import and export business, build houses or run a non-governmental organization. What he does is rather novel and smart; he is probably the first person to create an entire business around management consultancy in Somaliland.
Mr. Hersi, explain to us your business and how you got started
What we do is pretty straightforward, we develop leaders and help businesses to adopt a strategic posture to think beyond today and help them create a plan for success.
As you know Somaliland’s business environment is becoming more competitive so one area we focus on for private businesses in marketing and customer acquisition and retention while helping them understand the value of their employees.
Leadership is an area that is somehow misunderstood where the head of company or a government entity is unapproachable and the only means of communication are a memo or notice stuck on a wall but we see it differently, leadership is a science and one of our specialty is leadership development.
Another area that we focus on is is change management and help businesses and individuals understand that a change is not a threat to them when properly managed.
The easiest way to understand what HASI Consulting does is that we help businesses convert their human capital into a structural capital.
Who is your customer, is it mostly private, government and NGOs or combination of all.
The majority of our customers are from the private sector but we also have some government clients though those are mainly individuals in public service who want to take advantage of our expertise.
We hope to work more with the public sector as we see the current challenges faced by our government, at the risk of sounding bit political, I am always amused when I see a government agency announcing a new effort for this and that and claiming it is the first time and I remember hearing similar announcements from that same ministry, the issue here is the lack of continuity between appointees.
This is an area we can bring in a lot of value in creating institutional memory and ensuring knowledge does not walk away when someone is replaced but is distilled into a repeatable and measurable business process.
This is certainly an unconventional business, what are the challenges you face?
We have had a lot of doors shut in my face over the years but tenacity definitely pays off but the main challenge is how some businesses and most NGOs value our expertise compared to an expatriate. There is an assumption that an expat flown in from Nairobi is more knowledgeable and this is something we have managed to overcome.
It surprised me when I learned there were two different rates for us, local management consultancy and training versus an expat, they call it local or international rate. We have always had a policy of not accepting this and clients have recognized the value we bring to their business and especially our deep understand of the local market.
Even Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund thinks it’s a waste of precious resources and unworkable to use international consultants for developing strategic plans.
How did you get started in this business?
Well, the short version is that I did not have a half a million dollars to start a hawala or a construction company so you can say it was out of necessity to start a business that is built on what I know and my core competency but I have always dreamed of having my business. I had the privilege to work with an NGO called PSI that has done similar things where I have learned the robes.
You have traveled extensively outside of Somaliland and have been to Europe and North America, have you thought of staying there?
Perhaps, if I were in my teens but the hustle overseas especially in America is a young man’s game. It’s funny, every time I travel to one those countries everyone I know urges me to stay and apply for asylum and are always shocked when I tell them that I am not interested in living there and my reason is simply there are more opportunities in Somaliland.
What is your advice to young people who are looking to enter the workforce or are looking to start a business?
I am biased and will always be on the side of the entrepreneur but it is not for everyone, some people prefer the security of a paycheck and the structure of 9 to 5 but I would advise young people to start somewhere and not wait for a government appointment, or getting hold of that half a million to start your dream job, start somewhere, put your soul and heart into it and you will see it grow.