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Changing patriarchal Somali culture, one business at a time

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Two female farmers harvesting onion in their farmland in Dollow town, Somalia. Two female farmers harvesting onion in their farmland in Dollow town, Somalia.

Despite the various challenges of running a business in Somalia, and specifically the barriers that women face in financing, owning, and growing a business, Somali women entrepreneurs play an important role in Somalia’s economy by boosting growth and creating jobs. Some of the constraints are detailed in the Somalia Country Economic Memorandum which show how these challenges have a negative impact on job creation and economic growth in Somalia. In celebration of International Women’s Month, we spoke with Mrs Hersio Abdulle Siad, founder and manager of SomFresh Fruits and Vegetables, and Chairperson of Somali Women in Business, a nationwide organization promoting women in entrepreneurship, to share her experience.

Hersio Abdulle Said started out in textile, embroidery and costumes, a traditional business venture for most Somali women. When her business wasn’t enough to meet her family’s needs, she decided to diversify and in 2014, established SomFresh, a fresh fruit and vegetable market business in Mogadishu. SomFresh primarily supplies its products to Mogadishu and Banaadir areas. Over the years, the greengrocer has maintained steady relationship with suppliers as far as Hargeisa, Bossaso, Garowe and beyond Somalia (in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Djibouti. As Chairperson of Somali Women in Business, Hersio trains and mentors female entrepreneurs through meetings and workshops to share her knowledge, experience, and lessons learned from her business. She also offers encouragement and financial support, whenever possible.

Q1. What are the challenges faced as a female-owned business?

Somali women in the agricultural sector face several challenges including negative perceptions and attitudes about women’s roles and abilities. This disadvantages women in building networks and relationships compared to men. Women in Somalia are traditionally viewed as caregivers and are often treated as outsiders when starting a business. 

As women, we have less access to financial support and whenever we apply for loans, we are often denied compared to our male counterparts, even if we have the same assets and potential.  Most financial institutions require us to have male signatories/guarantors to get support. Also, many women don’t have access to information on starting and running a business. In the agricultural sector, women farm owners or those in fisheries have challenges accessing capital and equipment for their businesses. They lack basic equipment and training which negatively impacts production. In addition, women entrepreneurs’ access to markets is limited and remains challenged by infrastructure such as roads and electricity that are lacking or in bad condition.

Q2. How have you sensitized Somali men to be champions of SomFresh and women to be in business?

I encourage men to support women in entrepreneurship. When I needed financing to buy farmland for SomFresh, the bank declined, and I was asked to get a male co-signer/guarantor. I found a man who trusted me to be my co-signer/guarantor. I encourage my male colleagues to support their sisters, wives, and daughters to navigate these challenges, and not insist they stay home to take care of the home and the children. I use myself as an example and persuade them to support their women to start a business.

Q3. What can the government of Somalia and development partners do to make it easy for women-owned businesses like SomFresh?

Providing women with information on starting and running a business and resolving financial constraints for women need to be prioritized.  Government can support businesses, by giving attention to irrigation systems, agricultural infrastructure, and capacity building needs of women farmers and farm owners. In addition, the government should leverage initiatives like SomFresh, who train and mentor women, to upscale into a recognised association of women in business and offer a mandate for issuing of licenses.

Development partners can continue to support women in business with capacity building, equipment to ease work, upscale production and support the Public-Private Dialogues forum for Somalia to enable women’s businesses to be profiled. They should also offer networking opportunities for investments, partnerships, and collaborations. For example, development partners have invested in a cold storage at SomFresh and a solar-run energy system to power it  This helps keep my products fresh and retain quality. These simple interventions can change the course of a woman’s business.

Q4. What is most rewarding about starting and running a business?

It is worthwhile for me to see women start businesses, have income, and feed their families. Whenever women get paid and support their families, I find it fulfilling. Somalia is a patriarchal society and because I own and operate my own business, I am an inspiration to many women who see me as a role model… and I always offer encouragement to women who want to establish businesses. When I see women achieving, even in extremely male-dominated businesses, it is not a reward for me, but for all Somali women. I get to mentor other women on how to start a business or offer potential solutions based on my own experiences. Even though the business profit is small, the encounter with the people, and the changes happening in the society about perceptions of women and businesses is an important factor. I continue doing my business because it reminds many Somali women that they too can do the same. 


*This blog is part of a blog series curated by the World Bank’s Somalia Women’s Empowerment Platform to highlight evidence and solutions on women’s and girls’ empowerment in Somalia. Read more blogs in the series: 



Hersio Abdulle Siad

Founder and executive director of Somfresh Company

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