Melissa Rudd-Africa Business Review
The story behind international money transfer Dahabshiil truly is one of rags to riches. The company, now one of the largest money transfer businesses in the Horn of Africa, was started by African entrepreneur Mohamed Duale.
In the 1970s, he fled Somalia with his family when civil war broke out in 1988 to England. With very limited resources, Duale set about rebuilding his business in his mission to serve African communities.
With an ever-increasing Somali population, Dahabshiil flourished in London and has gone from strength to strength. In 2009, Dahabshiil made banking history and launched the first ever debit card in Somaliland and the following year opened an Islamic bank in Djibouti. Then in 2010, a telecommunications provider, Somtel, was launched. The organisation is largely owned by Dahabshiil, and provides telecommunications services in the Somaliland region.
More than 40 years on and Dahabshiil still ensures the values it was built on are adhered to – trust and responsibility. The business has zero debt, remains entirely family-owned and is committed to its fair commission fee policy.
CEO Abdirashid Duale spoke to African Business Review exclusively to discuss how the company means much more to him than just making profit, demonstrated by its recent $100,000 investment in helping the Somalian health and education service in the wake of the devastating drought, working with many NGOs.
“We target migrant communities wherever they are. I am a migrant and my father who founded the company was a migrant – so we understand completely the service required. People need to be able to send money back to home to help their families in a way that is easy and safe,” he said.
“In the high street you will see internet cafés, food stores, aimed at the migrant community – if they are buying or selling from these places then we offer our services.”
Dahabshiil employs nearly 5,000 people in over 150 countries. With offices in London and Dubai, Dahabshiil provides services to some of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations, including the United Nations, Oxfam, the Department for International Development, Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI) and Save the Children.
Taking its corporate social responsibility seriously, it continues to support the Somali community both in Africa and abroad, investing 5 percent of its profits into community regeneration projects involving the development of schools, hospitals, agriculture and sanitation.
Running a business involving operations in Somalia certainly poses its problems, as Duale explains. “It is of course a challenging environment, but we are a trusted organisation there. We are impartial and not involved in any politics, all our staff are from different regions and parts of different communities.
“The African economy is really getting stronger, with diversifying trade making it less prone to the economic downturn. Many African economies have had too much reliance on commerce but now there are real investment opportunities in management, public finance and an increasing private sector, with an abundance of natural resources, it is set for organic growth.”
“I believe the African disapora community sent home around $40 billion last year. Of course it is going to be in many different forms, with some investments etc. However I think it will only increase, because although the economical downturn in 2008 affected people’s finances things are on the up.
“To many people, remittance payments are a lifeline. It is very, very important and provides a lot of income to the national economy which boosts the private sector growth. People wish to invest in Africa because it is the future in many ways – and we are very proud to be part of that.”
So what tips does Duale have for African entrepreneurs trying to get businesses up and running today?
“It is not easy, you have to believe in yourself and have an attitude that anything is possible and work hard. You must find the right people you can trust and believe in and rely on.
“I also think that if you don’t take risks you will never make money. The business operation should look at local companies to help, giving people opportunities. But it’s a lot about looking at the long-term picture and investing in that, then the day-to-day survival will be more manageable with customer service being key.
“The biggest challenge for Africa is providing jobs for the next generation – it is up to the businesses to do this and reap the benefits later on.
“The environment in Africa is changing, nowadays the Chinese invest so much and in a way I wish they would work alongside African companies instead of competing with them to help boost trade further. But the interest is good – it brings about opportunities and optimism. People talk about doom and gloom but there are a lot of positive stories to be found in Africa.”
With the man at the helm having this kind of attitude, Dahabshiil’s star will certainly continue to rise.