US Entrepreneurs Making It In Somalia

US Entrepreneurs Making It In Somalia

American entrepreneurs Alisha Ryu and David Snelson run the Aran guesthouse and security company in Mogadishu, employing close to 40 Somali men and women and indirectly supporting another 400 extended family members.

International visitors — diplomats, aid workers, and the occasional businesspeople who pass through there — likely remember the names of Aran guesthouse employees, writes Curtis S. Chin in a guest column in in CNNMoney.

Few may have the nerve or heart to do what this couple is trying to do in Somalia — build a profitable business while promoting economic growth — Chin said.

By creating jobs for three dozen Somalis who would otherwise be prey for pirates and religious extremists, perhaps they offer a bit of hope and an example that a small business can have an impact, regardless of how long or how fleeting, even in the most troubled places in this world, Chin said.

Ryu is a former combat journalist, and Snelson, a retired U.S. Army warrant officer. They’ve been living and running their business in Mogadishu full-time since 2011 and were recently in the news for finding and returning to the U.S. the remains of the helicopter shot down and made famous in the book and Hollywood blockbuster, “Blackhawk Down.”

The American military raid to capture a Somali warlord in Mogadishu sparked a deadly battle that killed hundreds of Somalis and 19 Americans 20 years ago.

Investing in Somalia is not for the fainthearted, Chin said. Somalia didn’t even show up on the World Bank’s 2014 Doing Business report, which assesses the ease of doing business in economies around the world. Lawlessness in many parts of Somalia and a general inability to collect reliable data are likely reasons.

Ryu said she and Snelson took a calculated risk opening a business in Somalia. Both spent many years working there and knew the opportunities and pitfalls.

“It was, and still is, our hope that by showing it is possible to do business in Somalia in a smart, knowledgeable way, others will follow our example,” Ryu said, according to CNNMoney.

It’s small businesses and entrepreneurs — regardless of nationality — who will drive long-term change and job creation in Africa, the couple said. “Business investments that can make money and simultaneously empower communities at the grassroots level are key to economic growth and the reduction of poverty-related violence in Somalia and everywhere else in the world,” Snelson said.

Chin, the author of this report, was a board member and U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), sister institution of the African Development Bank. He is a managing director with Alexandria, Va.-based advisory firm RiverPeak Group LLC, and a board member of World Education Services and Community & Family Services International.

One clear lesson from his time spent in both the corporate and diplomatic worlds is that the private sector, he said, must be a critical partner in sustainably lifting people out of poverty.

While development banks and aid agencies can provide incremental help, it is good governance and a strong rule of law that are critical to businesses and essential to driving long-term growth. Easier said, though, than done, Chin said.