WorldRemit founder Ismail Ahmed launches $500m Somaliland fund

WorldRemit’s founder, Ismail Ahmed, has launched a new foundation fund to drive entrepreneurial development in Somaliland.

Ahmed, recently said that aid agencies are hindering development and undermining efforts to attract investment in Somaliland.

Ahmed, who has launched the Sahamiye Foundation, with a 10-year plan to give away more than half of his wealth, amounting to $500m (£365m), to help Somaliland, said the country has had to battle “negative PR” from aid agencies exaggerating their role to protect their interests.

The fund will help Somaliland, primarily in health and education.

Though Somaliland has 4.4 million inhabitants and its own currency, army and parliament, it remains an unrecognised country and so does not receive funds from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

“In choosing to move away from traditional solutions offered by the aid sector, Somaliland has received very little development assistance,” said Ahmed.

"The group therefore wants to help the country move past “traditional models of donor funding and towards a more entrepreneurial, scale-up approach."

In the early days of the pandemic, Ahmed said, the World Bank predicted that remittances – money transferred back to their country by migrant workers – to sub-Saharan Africa would drop by 23%.

The Somali government forecast that transfers would fall by up to 40%. Aid agencies claimed remittances would “more or less collapse”, Ahmed, told the Guardian, adding that as the media reported this, food prices went up and businesses cut investment.

“This did more harm than good in Africa. They had no basis to say this,” he said. “I’ve been involved in remittances for 40 years. We have hard data to show what was happening. They never bothered to check the facts.

Ahmed came to the UK as a refugee from the war that broke out in Somaliland in 1988. Arriving with $60 to his name, he spent his summers picking strawberries in Kent to send money back to his family, then in an east African refugee camp. He returned to Somaliland in 1992 for his PhD research into remittances.

He worked for the World Bank and the UN, where he thought he “could make a difference”. Instead, he witnessed corruption while working in Nairobi and became a whistleblower, which lost him his job.

Four years later, he won compensation from the UN and he used the money to launch WorldRemit in 2010. It has gone on to become one of the world’s largest digital cross-border payment companies.

Meanwhile, other organisations other than the Sahamiye Foundation have invested in the country over the years.

Port operator DP World announced a $442 million investment into the country back in 2018. Then last year, GUUL Group announced a $100 million, five-year investment.

The Sahamiye Foundation has already launched a number of initiatives. These include free app Daariz, which helps those with low literacy skills learn the Somali language.

‘Books for Change’, another of Ahmed’s initiatives, supplies one million low-priced books every year to the country. Whilst ‘Resources for Schools’ provides a range of digital and print educational materials to schools and colleges.

The WorldRemit founder has also donated $1 million worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 laboratory testing equipment to Somaliland.