“Somali Excellence”: That’s the term used to describe the September 4 Somali Diaspora Conference that took place in the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel where over 500 young Somalis from around the globe took part in a two-day conference centered around culture and self-development.
“A group of young professionals, including myself, came together and started SNABPI [Somali North American Business and Professionals Inc.] at the end of 2017,” explained event organizer and founder Guled Ibrahim. “We saw the need and we filled the gap. Our purpose is to bring together the best and brightest Somali American minds here in Minnesota and in North America to share knowledge, resources, and make our communities better. SNABPI’s leadership includes lawyers, doctors, educators, health care professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs.”
The conference was hosted by SNABPI, a group that aims to engage and celebrate the next generation of entrepreneurs and business professionals in the Somali community. Chapters are located in cities with large Somali communities including Minneapolis, Columbus and Toronto. SNABPI hosts annual events in these cities to facilitate networking and forums aimed at creating a global platform for young Somali professionals to ensure success for the community at large.
Personalities like Neima Abdullahi, Ifrah Hussein, and the Twin Cities own Halima Aden were a draw for many. Aden is the supermodel who had captured the world’s attention when she became the first hijabi model.
A chance to connect
The day of the conference was shaped by a series of speeches, performances, and breakout panels. Panels covered several topics including what it takes to work at a top technology company, the impact of COVID on health care, and building power through civic engagement.
Faye Mohamed and Suleka Abdi are friends who arrived at the conference together seeking professional development and inspiration. Faye, who is an advertising and PR student, attended the social media panel. “I do some content, but I stopped. I went to get some inspiration so I can get back to it,” she said.
With an interest in the tech field, Suleka sat in on that panel to learn more about what her options would be after college. “Another panel that I liked was the tech panel ‘cause I’m a computer science student, so I was able to gain a lot of insight from that one,” she said.
They both attended a panel titled “Understanding Addiction: How to love someone in recovery,” which was led by Alliance Wellness Center, a treatment center based in Bloomington aimed at helping the East African community. They were touched as they heard from two young men, Abdullahi and Abdirahman, who shared their stories of substance abuse and how the center helped them overcome their addiction.
“That one was very powerful,” Faye said. “It touched me because I have family members who have dealt with addiction.”
With graduation around the corner, Safiya hoped to find potential connections to the tech industry and came away with plenty of contacts. “We networked and met a lot of people in the tech industry. We got people who were willing to help us find jobs.”
Promoting businesses and connections
The event also served as a platform for many vendors to get exposure to conference attendees and give them a chance to grow their business or organizations. The vendors included food businesses like Hooyo’s Hands who served baked goods, clothing companies like Cunug Clothing that carries apparel for babies, and nonprofits such as Tusaalo Mentoring, which is an organization dedicated to providing culturally responsive mentoring for East African youth by pairing them with young professionals who share the same background.
Jamal Adam is the director of advancement and evaluation at Tusaalo. He shared that the organization’s biggest request of young professionals in the diaspora is to donate some of their time. Whether it’s through mentorship or leading a workshop, “At the end of the day when they see themselves in you, in someone who has achieved some success and is able to go the distance, they’re more likely to say okay, I can do this too,” Adam explained.
He shared that he never had a mentor who looked like him, which made things difficult. Students in the diaspora are struggling academically, and Tusaalo hopes that showcasing individuals who have come from the East African community can have an impact on the youth.
Another vendor at the conference was PaySii, a mobile money transfer app that helps wire funds in a quick and secure way. The company has been around for nearly three years but recently has expanded to North America.
Abdul Suleyman, their chief financial officer, was at the conference. He emphasized how important remittances are to the global Somali community and how the adoption of new platforms like PaySii can keep that tradition alive.
“Remittances are something that’s needed in our community, especially for the people back home. It’s an integral part of our community. It’s always been the traditional way of sending money,” he said. According to a World Bank report in 2016, Somalia received $1.4 billion from the diaspora, which supported nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP.
The event was made possible by a number of sponsors and strategic partners including the Caspian Group, Sakoy Cleaning Services, and Afro Deli whose founder, Abdirahman Khain, has been a longtime supporter of the organization. During the conference, Kahin presented a scholarship award to four university students for their community work and academic achievements.
Kahin’s success has been a symbol for Somalis, representing what is possible with hard work while providing an example of how someone in his position can impact the community. He plans to continue his community work with the creation of the Afro Deli Foundation. He hopes to start a $200,000 scholarship fund for African students and tap into his network of business owners to make this work possible.
“We’re responsible for our community so we have to give back, and the best way to give back is to be engaged,” he said. Several young Somalis have approached Kahin and told him that he’s been an inspiration for them.
“I see that inspiration going far, because I’m sure that kid that got inspired by me will inspire others. I want this to be a cycle. We want to spread love and knowledge.”
Finding ways to give back
Paying it forward was another major theme throughout the conference, as panelists and speakers shared their professional advice with attendees. Yusra Mohamud co-hosted the conference. Like many, she discovered SNABPI through social media and has been a member for two years.
Giving back has been central to her development as a young Somali professional. Mohamud works in commercial banking at Wells Fargo, but outside of her job she teaches financial literacy through Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools. She also sits on the board of the Lake Street Council and is part of the lending committee for the African Development Center.
“A lot of people want to go back home and make a difference, but we just don’t have the opportunity to and a lot of people want to come here. So SNABPI bridges the gap,” she said. “Here we’re able to network with people who have never been to Somalia or with people who just came from Somalia, and we have a lot of professionalism.”
For folks like Suleka Abdi, setting an example has been a key goal in inspiring the community. “I feel like me succeeding is also a success for my people, so I just try to work hard and make sure that I succeed and they can claim me,” Abdi said.
Overall, the idea of holding onto the Somali identity and culture has been integral to pushing for a brighter future. “People from back home are able to see we’re not just Americanized or that we’ve lost our culture and we’re just doing our own thing, but no, we’re working hard and we’re sticking together as a community, especially here in Minnesota. There’s a reason we’re called Little Mogadishu,” said Mohamud with a smile.