Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu is defined by a complex mix of challenges and opportunities. Despite political and economic struggles, Somalis are innovating to break the chronic cycle of vulnerability. Supported in many cases by the international Somali diaspora, people in Mogadishu are using technology to solve problems and tap into new markets.
One initiative poised to accelerate this is the iRise Tech Hub, Mogadishu’s first innovation hub, co-founded by Awil Osman. iRise connects entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups to share ideas and collaborate on a variety of issues ranging from developing an online food delivery startup, to creating an open space for Somalis to incubate ideas. The Somali concept of Ilawadaag — roughly translated as ‘share with me’ — is put into practice at iRise to help entrepreneurs get feedback and network with other innovators.
iRise co-facilitated an innovation camp with UNDP last September, and will be launching its first incubation program for local entrepreneurs this week, challenging the idea that technology and incubation hubs are limited to high-income countries.
With the right support, there is huge potential for home-grown digital solutions. Existing examples include the high prevalence and use mobile money, which allows rural and inaccessible communities to receive remittances and humanitarian support. The Aamin Ambulance service, which is a 24-hour ambulance service in Mogadishu, is the only first responder agency. Abaaraha crisis mapping platform provides relief responders with timely geospatial information.
These cases demonstrate the breadth of innovation, which is not isolated from the contextual challenges in Mogadishu. During the devastating bombing in October 2017, iRise was busy coordinating efforts and established an ad hoc national emergency call center and information support team, collaborating with mobile operators, the government, and civil society.
These initiatives could not have been possible without the internet. The internet brings local skills to an international market, and solutions to challenges in Somalia readily find applications elsewhere. However, one area that has lagged in Somalia is the availability of reliable and relevant data to support the implementation of businesses and social projects. Open tools like OpenStreetMap have the potential to help innovators overcome this hurdle by creating new solutions for accessing and producing extremely useful data. While this has not yet taken off in the private sector in Africa, projects like Missing Maps and the Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team have shown the potential for humanitarian and development work.
Yet, the limitations to developing digital skills are significant. Although more and more residents are gaining access to high-speed internet, there are limited opportunities to acquire the skills that are needed to succeed in the digital economy. Moreover, as the Somali government mobilizes more revenue from its traditional sectors, it has become important for the country to diversify its economy through digital innovations.
Supported by a small grant from the World Bank’s Youth Innovation Fund and a contribution from the Digital Development team, we are working with iRise to develop these skills and allow young people in Mogadishu to work on life-improving innovations. The Bank is also supporting the Mogadishu Watt Innovation Challenge, which aims to unearth and support energy innovators across Somalia who may have solutions that deliver affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy through new sources, and use creative business models to improve access to clean energy.